Tag Archive for physics

Scientific Images of Nanoparticles, Colliding Stars, Learned Words Win Annual Contest

We had 13 submissions this year.

Thirteen students, majoring in chemistry, physics, astronomy, molecular biology and biochemistry, biology, neuroscience and behavior, psychology, and quantitative analysis submitted images for the 2021 Scientific Imaging Contest.

At first glance, a viewer sees a single image of pink-tinted cubes, resembling a bacteria culture from high school biology.

But upon closer examination, the viewer begins to see a series of other shapes—triangles to hexahedrons to tetahexahedraons (cubes with four-sided pyramids on each face).

“If you stare at this image for a while, you can see that it’s actually a series of five images in the top row, and five images on the bottom row, and each of these images show us nanoparticles that are made of gold and copper,” said Brian Northrop, professor of chemistry. “It’s intriguing, captivating, and visually very interesting.”

The image, which depicts bimetallic gold-copper (Au-Cu) nanoparticles synthesized with varying concentrations and amounts of sodium iodide, was created by Jessica Luu ’24 using a scanning electron microscope. It also was the first place winner in Wesleyan’s 2021 Scientific Imaging Contest.

Jessica Luu

Jessica Luu ’24 took first place with a series of 10 images of bimetallic gold-copper (Au-Cu) nanoparticles synthesized with varying concentrations and amounts of sodium iodide. They were imaged using a scanning electron microscope (SEM).

The annual contest, spearheaded by Wesleyan’s College of Integrative Sciences, encourages students to submit images and descriptions of the research that they’ve been conducting over the summer.

Faculty Collaborate on New, Patent-Pending, Hypersensitive Accelerometer

Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics; Rodion Kononchuk, postdoctoral physics research associate; and Joseph Knee, Beach Professor of Chemistry

Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics; Rodion Kononchuk, postdoctoral physics research associate; and Joseph Knee, Beach Professor of Chemistry, are developing a hypersensitive sensor at Wesleyan.

When launching spacecrafts and missiles, small navigational mistakes could lead to catastrophic results. A satellite could spin completely out of orbit, a missile could mistakenly strike a civilian territory, or a spaceship could end up at another planet altogether.

Three Wesleyan researchers are collaborating on the development of a novel sensor that would benefit navigation and several other applications.

The new, hypersensitive acceleration sensor is based on a principle borrowed from nuclear physics and has been developed at Wesleyan. It provides enhanced sensitivity and precision compared to conventional sensors.

“Our underlying concept can be applied in a variety of sensing applications ranging from avionics and earthquake monitoring to bio-sensing,” said study co-author Rodion Kononchuk, postdoctoral physics research associate in Wesleyan’s Wave Transport in Complex Systems Laboratory. “We believe that our results will attract a broad interest from research and engineering communities across a wide range of disciplines, which could result in a realization of next-generation sensors.”

In a June 2021 Science Advances article titled “Enhanced Avionic Sensing Based on Wigner’s Cusp Anomalies,” Kononchuk, along with Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics; Joseph Knee, Beach Professor of Chemistry; and Joshua Feinberg, professor of physics at the University of Haifa in Israel, shared their study’s results.

The Wesleyan team has demonstrated a whopping 60-fold improved performance in acceleration measurements compared to conventional accelerometers (i.e. sensing devices that measure variations in the acceleration). Wesleyan has already supported a provisional patent application for this study.

Kottos, who spearheads the Physics Department’s Wave Transport in Complex Systems Laboratory, says a “good sensor” is characterized by two elements: its high sensitivity to small “perturbations” and its dynamical range. The latter is the ratio of the maximum to the minimum perturbation that a sensor can detect. And the larger the dynamic range, the better it is.

“Think of a spacecraft or missile. When it takes off, it develops high accelerations, but in the voyage, it needs to detect small accelerations in order to correct its trajectory,” Kottos said. “We believe that our sensor has the ability to measure such a large range of accelerations. Moreover, it is simple to implement and does not suffer from excessive noise that can degrade the quality of the measurements—as opposed to some recent proposals of hypersensitive sensing.”

Although the project is heavily physics-based, Kottos and Kononchuk knew they needed a chemist to help turn their theories into a reality. As it turned out, Knee—who is an expert on optical sensing—had laboratory experience that was applicable to the current project.

“It was wonderful to be brought into such an exciting project,” Knee said. “My research area is in laser spectroscopy which requires significant expertise and experimental capabilities in optical physics. Fortunately, my lab had some key capabilities which helped us put together an experimental prototype that ultimately was used to validate the theoretical constructs.”

“Joe’s experimental expertise in the chemistry framework was crucial for building the experimental platform,” Kottos said. “Our initial discussions helped us to better understand what can or cannot be done and allowed us to successfully design the experiment with a limited budget.”

Kottos began research for the new hypersensitive avionic sensor design in 2018 after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The guiding principles were to maximize the sensitivity of the sensor without compromising its dynamical range [i.e. the ratio between the largest and smallest perturbation that a sensor can measure] while making it as cheap and simple to make, as possible.

The current sensor design is approximately 4 inches long, but the size could be reduced depending on the application. Smartphone sensors, for example, measure about 1/4 of an inch, but they are far less sensitive than the design created at Wesleyan. Wesleyan undergraduate Jimmy Clifford ’23 is currently working on simulations to come up with a miniaturized design of this concept.

“Once we have it, either we will have to partner with a fabricator or we will have to off-shore the design and test it at Wesleyan,” Kottos said. “We hope to take this concept to production and hopefully to the marketplace!”

Read more:
The Why Axis: Cutting-Edge Science at Wesleyan (Wesleyan University Magazine)

Kottos Awarded Simons Collaborative Grant to Advance Wave Transport Research

Kottos Awarded $2.8M DARPA Grant for High-Level Photonic Research

Kottos Awarded Engineering Grant from the National Science Foundation

Faculty Appointed Endowed Professorships

monogramIn recognition of their career achievements, the following faculty members are being appointed to endowed professorships, effective July 1, 2021:

Erik Grimmer-Solem, professor of history, is receiving the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Professorship in the College of Social Studies, established in 2008.

Abigail Hornstein, associate professor of economics, is receiving the Woodhouse/Sysco Professorship of Economics, established in 2002.

Edward Moran, professor of astronomy, is receiving the John Monroe Van Vleck Professorship of Astronomy, established in 1982.

Suzanne OConnell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is receiving the Harold T. Stearns Professorship of Earth Sciences, established in 1984.

Francis Starr, professor of physics, is receiving the Foss Professorship of Physics, established in 1885.

Tracy Heather Strain, associate professor of film studies and co-director of the Wesleyan Documentary Project, is receiving the Corwin-Fuller Professorship of Film Studies, established in 1986.

Also, in recognition of his outstanding research and teaching, Ilesanmi Adeboye, associate professor of mathematics, has been awarded the inaugural Faculty Equity Fellowship for 2021-2022.

Brief biographies appear below:

Ilesanmi Adeboye received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MS from Howard University. He taught at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, before arriving at Wesleyan in 2011. Adeboye’s scholarship is at the intersection of geometry, topology, and analysis, with a focus on the study of volume in non-Euclidean geometries. He has published articles on hyperbolic geometry, complex hyperbolic geometry, and projective geometry. Ilesanmi received the 2010 Mochizuki Memorial Fund Award at UC Santa Barbara in recognition of outstanding achievement in mathematics instruction.

Erik Grimmer-Solem was a Harper Fellow at the University of Chicago before joining the history department in 2002. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford University, M.Phil. from Cambridge University, M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and BA from Brigham Young University. Grimmer-Solem has published two books on the history of German social reform and imperialism, along with many articles and reviews in leading journals. He has received numerous awards, including the Binswanger Prize and a recent fellowship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). His scholarship on the Holocaust was covered widely in the German media and discussed by the Bundestag in 2014.

Abigail Hornstein joined the economics department after completing her Ph.D. and M.Phil. from Stern School of Business, New York University, and her AB from Bryn Mawr College. Her scholarship focuses on corporate finance, multinationals, business strategy and governance, and legal institutions, with particular expertise in the Chinese financial markets. Hornstein’s work has been published in many prestigious journals, including Journal of Empirical Finance, Journal of Comparative Economics, Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Journal of Corporate Finance, and China Economic Review.

Edward Moran arrived at Wesleyan in 2002 after serving as a Chandra Fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and an IGPP Postdoctoral Fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and receiving his Ph.D. and MA from Columbia University. Moran studies black holes in the nuclei of dwarf galaxies to gain insights into galaxy evolution, and the history of black hole activity in the universe via investigations of the cosmic X-ray background radiation. He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Suzanne O’Connell arrived at Wesleyan in 1989 after receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia University, her M.Sc. from State University of New York at Albany, and her AB from Oberlin College. O’Connell studies marine sediment cores recovered through scientific ocean drilling (DSDP, ODP, IODP) to understand past climate change, which helps to understand and model future climate change. She is the 2001 recipient of the Association for Women Geoscientists Outstanding Educator Award and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA). Currently, OConnell serves on the United States Science Advisory Program committee for the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and on the governing council for GSA.

Francis Starr joined the physics department in 2003 after serving as the deputy director of the Center for Theoretical and Computational Materials Science at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). His research focuses on the emergent complexity of soft matter physics and biophysics. Starr has authored or co-authored over 120 refereed publications and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is the former director of the College of Integrative Sciences and currently directs the Integrated Design, Engineering, & Applied Science (IDEAS) program.

Tracy Heather Strain received her Ed.M. from Harvard University and her AB from Wellesley College, and is currently an MFA candidate at the Vermont College for the Arts. Strain is an award-winning documentary film director, producer, and writer whose work tells stories with a goal of advancing social justice, building community, and empowering the marginalized. Her films have received two Peabody Awards and have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Ford Foundation, Independent Television Service, and LEF Foundation, among other funding organizations. Her most recent work is American Oz, which premiered April 19, 2021.

Stewart Leads Annual Earth Rant in Honor of Earth Month

In honor of Earth Day, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart hosted his 14th annual Earth Week Rant titled "Last Call." During his hour-long talk and Q&A, Stewart discussed global warming, fracking, fossil fuels, consumption, geoengineering, natural gas, and creating social change.

In honor of Earth Day, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart hosted his 14th annual Earth Week Rant titled “Last Call.” During his hour-long talk and Q&A, Stewart discussed global warming, fracking, fossil fuels, consumption, geoengineering, natural gas, and creating social change.

stewart

Stewart began his talk by showing the New York Times’s breaking news story, “Biden Will Commit the U.S. to Halving Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2030.” “I’ll just give you my ask right now,” Stewart said. “How can you help make this possible? If we are to truly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases level that enables humanity as well as the other beings we share Earth with to exist, what will be necessary? Think about ways you can contribute to an avalanche of public opinion that eventually makes this possible.”

"Thanks to the superb record-keeping in Japan," Stewart noted, the cherry blossoms in Kyoto peaked on March 26, the earliest in more than 1,200 years.

“Thanks to the superb record-keeping in Japan,” Stewart noted, the cherry blossoms in Kyoto peaked on March 26, the earliest in more than 1,200 years. “This record is another indication of phenological change—that is to say the changes in the behavior of natural organic systems—responding to climate change.”

Kottos Awarded Simons Collaborative Grant to Advance Wave Transport Research

kottos

Professor Tsampikos Kottos is one of 11 researchers worldwide to receive funding from the Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and the Physical Sciences Initiative. Simons is awarding $16 million total in funding over the next eight years.

With support from the Simons Foundation, Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of physics, will work on groundbreaking wave transport research, ultimately benefiting a broad range of technologies ranging from wireless communications and efficient energy harvesting, to biomedical and avionics sensing technologies.

Kottos is one of 11 principal investigators (PIs) from 12 universities and research institutions across the globe to receive funding from the Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and the Physical Sciences Initiative. The group’s project, “Harnessing Universal Symmetry Concepts for Extreme Wave Phenomena,” is based at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. (Read Kottos’ ASRC bio online here.)

During the first four years, Simons is awarding ASRC $8 million, out of which Wesleyan is receiving $600,000. In the second phase, Simons will award an additional $8 million.

The grant aims to stimulate progress on fundamental scientific questions of major importance in mathematics, theoretical physics, and theoretical computer science. This research aims to further the fundamental understanding of and ability to manipulate light and sound waves in order to facilitate the development of novel wave-based technologies.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Wesleyan to be part of this international coalition, which hopefully will address the next generation’s needs of classical wave-based technologies,” Kottos said.

Kottos’s research interests include linear, nonlinear, and non-Hermitian wave transport, mesoscopic transport, and mathematical physics. He has published more than 140 papers. During the 2020–21 academic year, Kottos is teaching PHYS 324: Electricity and Magnetism; PHYS 521: Physics Colloquium; PHYS 214: Quantum Mechanics; and PHYS 510: Theoretical Physics Seminar II.

In addition to participating in the research, Kottos also is serving on the Simons Collaboration Initiative steering committee.

Late Professor Cady Honored for Founding the Quartz Crystal Oscillator

lady

On Nov. 5, former Wesleyan Professor of Physics Walter Guyton Cady (1874–1974) was celebrated during a virtual program sponsored by Wesleyan and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society. Cady, who earned his PhD in physics in 1900, taught at Wesleyan from 1902 to 1946 and founded the Wesleyan Radio Club in 1914.

Cady's principal interests included electrical discharges in gases, piezoelectricity, ultrasound, piezoelectric resonators and oscillators, and crystal devices. In 1921, he developed the first piezoelectric quartz crystal oscillator, which advanced ultrasonics, sonar, radar and other electronic applications. They appeared in everyday life through their use in quartz wristwatches.

Cady’s principal interests included electrical discharges in gases, piezoelectricity, ultrasound, piezoelectric resonators and oscillators, and crystal devices. In 1921, he developed the first piezoelectric quartz crystal oscillator, which advanced ultrasonics, sonar, radar, and other electronic applications. They appeared in everyday life through their use in quartz wristwatches. Cady was featured in a September 1943 Middletown Press article for speaking in a film titled “Crystals Go to War.”

The virtual event was attended by 90 participants including Wesleyan faculty, IEEE members, and guests from around the world.

The virtual event was attended by 90 participants, including Wesleyan faculty, IEEE members, and guests from around the world.

Greg Voth, professor of physics, presented the IEEE Milestone Plaque, mounting it outside the Cady Lounge.

Greg Voth, professor of physics, presented the IEEE Milestone Plaque, mounting it outside the Cady Lounge in the Physics Department.

Janice Naegle, dean of the Natural Science and Mathematics Division, and Alan Dachs Professor of Science, spoke on "Cady's Groundbreaking Work on Piezoelectricity.

Janice Naegle, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division and Alan Dachs Professor of Science, spoke on “Cady’s Groundbreaking Work on Piezoelectricity.” “A quartz, under pressure, produces an electric current; or conversely, sending a current through the crystal causes the crystal to vibrate,” Naegele said. “And Cady discovered that when the frequency of an oscillating current is applied to the crystal and varied, the crystal responds vigorously. In other words, it resonates with a single frequency and could be used, therefore, as an oscillator to stabilize circuits.”

C. Stewart Gillmor, professor emeritus of history and science spoke on "Resonance and Renaissance: The Work of Walter Cady and Physics at Wesleyan, 1900-1940s."

C. Stewart Gillmor, professor emeritus of history and science, spoke on “Resonance and Renaissance: The Work of Walter Cady and Physics at Wesleyan, 1900–1940s.” Gillmor explained that while Cady was in high school, he hoped to become an electrical engineer, however, after two years at Brown University he decided to become a physicist. “But Cady also was a Renaissance man and contributed to early plasma physics, ergonomics, sonar and general acoustics, radio antennas, measurement standards, physiological optics, and bird studies.”

Ahmad Safari, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rutgers University, presented the event's keynote lecture on "Advances in Development and Applications of Piezoelectric Materials."

Ahmad Safari, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rutgers University, presented the event’s keynote lecture, “Advances in Development and Applications of Piezoelectric Materials.”

3 Students Win Scientific Imaging Contest

Images depicting star collisions, atom movement in yeast ribosomes, and herbaceous plant root scans were the winning entries of the 2020 Wesleyan Scientific Imaging Contest.

The Wesleyan Scientific Imaging Contest, held annually in August, recognizes student-submitted images—from experiments or simulations done with a Wesleyan faculty member—that are scientifically intriguing, as well as aesthetically pleasing. The contest is organized by the College of Integrative Sciences as part of the summer research program.

The winners included Osama Elgabori ’22, Carol Dalgarno ’21, and Jolie Villegas ’21. Elgabori’s advisor is Brian Stewart, professor of physics; Dalgarno’s advisor is Michael Weir, professor of biology; and Villegas’ advisor is Sonia Sultan, professor of biology.

Stewart Holds Annual Earth Day Rant on “Bending the Curves”

stewart earth rant

On April 22, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart held his annual Earth Day Rant through the Zoom application. This year’s topic was “Bending the Curves: Coping with Crises from Car Crashes to Coronavirus to Climate Change.”

On April 22, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart held his annual Earth Day Rant. This year’s topic was “Bending the Curves: Coping with Crises from Car Crashes to Coronavirus to Climate Change.”

During his talk, Stewart discussed and compared how a car crash, storm, epidemic, and climate change vary in terms of mitigation, adaptation, perception, agency, cost to the United States, and deaths per 100,000 people. The current epidemic has cost the U.S. more than $2.5 trillion, whereas vehicle accidents amount to $277 billion per year (excluding indirect costs), and storms cause $30 billion per year in damages. All contribute to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

“Now, time is extremely short . . . What are the mechanisms we can put into place to give ourselves a shot at retooling society in a sustainable way? Nobody knows. We haven’t figured that out,” he said.

Stewart pointed out one of the rare positive effects of the COVID-19 epidemic: It has slightly reduced the emission of carbon dioxide that leads to global warming.

“I’d like to say with the economy of the United States dramatically dampened . . . it’s possible that CO2 emissions will decline by 5 percent this year, owning to the cessation of much economic activity,” he said.

Stewart explained how a coordinated effort to reduce CO2 emissions would not necessitate such a large impact on the economy per unit of CO2 reduction, “but that the prospects are nonetheless daunting, and time is not on our side.”

Kottos Co-Authors Several Publications

Tsampikos Kottos

Tsampikos Kottos

Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society and professor of physics, is the co-author of several new publications.

They include:

Wave-Transport Lab Receives DoD, NSF Grants to Support Research

wave lab

Wesleyan’s Wave-Transport Lab recently received $709,000 in grants to study the movement of waves. The lab is spearheaded by Professors Tsampikos Kottos and Fred Ellis, pictured in the back row.

The Physics Department’s Wave-Transport Lab recently received awards totaling $709,000 to support its ongoing aim to understand and manipulate the movement of waves—sound, mechanical, or electromagnetic—through natural or human-made materials.

The lab received a $340,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation program titled “Engineering Dynamical Symmetries for Extreme Wave-Matter Interactions in Elastodynamics,” and a $369,000 grant from the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) titled “Waveform Shaping Techniques for Targeted Electromagnetic Attacks.”

The Wave-Transport Lab was established in 2016 when Fred Ellis, chair and professor of physics, and Tsampikos Kottos, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society and professor of physics, developed arguments for a mechanical system that would detect very small surface cracks, like the micro-cracks an airplane’s exterior collects after many hours of flight.

Undergraduates Share Summer Research

poster session

Ben Sullivan ’20 presents his poster titled “Tracking New York Times Coverage of Every Senator First Elected in the 1990s” during the Summer Program for Research in the Sciences Poster Session on July 25. His advisor is Logan Dancey, associate professor of government.

The Summe Program for Research in the Sciences culminated with a research poster session in the lobby of Exley Science Center, with more than 100 students participating.

The program, held May 29 to July 26, was open to frosh, sophomores and juniors currently enrolled at Wesleyan. Wesleyan science faculty members served as mentors for student research in their laboratories. In addition to the closing poster session, the students participated in weekly seminars and workshops, a symposium, and various social events. After the poster session, students displayed their posters in the hallways outside the introductory biology laboratories.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News
1. Inside Higher Ed: ‘Safe Enough Spaces’

President Michael Roth is interviewed about defending free speech, inclusion on campus, and affirmative action, among other topics, in connection with the forthcoming publication of his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses, due out Aug. 20 from Yale University Press.

2. The New York Times: “The World’s Smartest Chimp Has Died”

William Griffin Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen writes in this op-ed about the legacy of the “world’s smartest chimp” Sarah, who died recently in her 50s after a long career working with researchers. Sarah taught the world about animal cognition, including chimps’ understanding of the thoughts and desires of others. Her career showed us that “not only do chimpanzees have complex thoughts, but also distinct personalities with strong preferences and prejudices,” Gruen writes.