Tag Archive for physics

Wesleyan Hosts Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

More than 200 women undergraduates from the North East who are majoring in physics attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)

Attendees from the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics gathered for a group photo. Wesleyan is the first liberal arts college to host a CUWiP.  Pictured in red at far left, assistant professor Chris Othon, and pictured at far right, assistant professor Meredith Hughes co-organized the conference at Wesleyan.

More than 200 women undergraduates from the Northeast attended the American Physical Society Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) Jan. 15-17 at Wesleyan. Wesleyan was one of nine institutions from around the country to host a conference. (View an extensive recap of the conference starting on Page 8 of this APS newsletter.)

The APS CUWiP provides female physics majors with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics with whom they can share experiences, advice and ideas.

The program included panel discussions about graduate school and careers in physics, presentations and discussions about women in physics, laboratory tours, student research talks, a student poster session, banquet and career fair.

Scientific American Editor Moskowitz ’05 is Woman Physicist of the Month

Clara Moskowitz. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Clara Moskowitz ’05. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

The American Physical Society (APS) named Clara Moskowitz ’05 the Woman Physicist of the Month for December 2015. A senior editor at Scientific American, she was an astronomy and physics double major at Wesleyan. It was in her senior year that she discovered her “favorite part” of her undergraduate career: her thesis.

“I was fascinated by science from a very young age,” she says, “but so many people feel separated from science—as though they can’t get it. I realized that I like writing and I like to communicate the concepts for nonscientists.” After earning a graduate degree in science journalism at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Moskowitz then joined the online publication Space.com, where she covered NASA’s space shuttle missions and other astronomy news. Two years ago, she joined the venerable Scientific American: “We try to keep it current and stay true to its legacy,” she notes.

Moskowitz recalls her favorite assignment at the magazine—which she focused on both historic import and present application: she served as editor of the theme issue on 100 years of general relativity (Sept. 2015, Vol. 313, Issue 3).
“Einstein is such a fascinating figure; he singlehandedly revolutionized science just by thinking about problems: he went through in his mind exactly what it would be like to ride a beam of light. A hundred years after he proposed the theory, we are still thinking about it, still using it—in our cellphones, GPS devices, and satellites.

“His realization that gravity is not so much a force that pulls things together—but rather that it comes from the shape of space and time—is such a beautiful idea.”

As for her success with the project, editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina wrote, “Issue editor Clara Moskowitz and the team have created a special report that is profound yet playful and sparkles with the wonder of discovery—rather like the great man himself. We hope you enjoy reading [this issue] as much as we did putting it together.”

Said Moskowitz, “I’m constantly working hard to make science understandable. I want everyone to see what’s so cool about it.”

Reached at the American Astronomical Society’s January 2016 meeting, which she was covering for Scientific American, Moskowitz was most excited about a recent talk she attended about astronomers planning to use telescopes all over the world in conjunction, in order to capture the event horizon of the black hole that astronomers think lies at the center of our galaxy. The project—which could further prove the theory of general relativity, or call for modifications—will take its first images of the black hole in 2017.

“A lot of us are on the edge of our seats until we get the results,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz also was back at Wesleyan on Jan. 16 for the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, where she spoke about her career path. She will present a Physics Department colloquium on March 3 about science journalism.

Morgan Speaks at Atomic Molecular Optical Workshop in Mexico

Tom Morgan

Tom Morgan

Tom Morgan, the Foss Professor of Physics, recently attended an Atomic Molecular Optical International Workshop held in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Morgan presented two invited talks, one on highly excited unusual electronic configurations of molecular hydrogen produced by laser excitation and another on laser interactions at the interface between water and air. These topics elicit novel dynamics and provide a different perspective on H2 and H2O behavior.

He also took the opportunity to reconnect with a Mexican colleague, Professor Carmen Cisneros, Institute of Physics, University of Mexico, organizer of the workshop, with whom Morgan has collaborated in the past.

Morgan Presents Phase Space Research at Gaseous Electronics Conference

Professor Tom Morgan, Andrew Murphy '11 and Jace Haestad '11 recently presented their research "Closed Orbits in Phase Space" in Hawaii. 

Professor Tom Morgan presented “Closed Orbits in Phase Space” in Hawaii.

Tom Morgan, Foss Professor of Physics, recently attended the 68th Gaseous Electronics Conference of the American Physical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii and presented a poster dealing with the behavior of giant atoms with an electron far from the nucleus in phase space. Andrew Murphy ’11 and Jace Haestad ’11 contributed to the study.

Phase space is a momentum-velocity space that provides a different perspective on atomic behavior. Looking at atoms from this viewpoint provides a mechanism to uncover new insight into their quantum nature.

Morgan also took the opportunity to reconnect with a Japanese colleague, Professor Tomoyuki Murakami, at Seikei University, Tokyo, whom Morgan spent the month of June visiting in Tokyo. Morgan and Murakami took the occasion to work on a paper on research undertaken collaboratively with Lutz Huwel, Professor of Physics, and Professor Bill Graham of Queen’s University, N. Ireland, on the behavior of the air-water interface after focused laser induced plasma breakdown. The air-water interface is ubiquitous with applications to biology, environmental studies, chemical analysis and medicine, but its detailed behavior is not well understood. The collaboration uses both state of the art computer simulation and experimentation to elucidate its dynamics and structure.

NIST Grant Supports Research on Biological Materials, Assembly Processes

Francis Starr, director of the College of Integrative Sciences, professor of physics, received a $282,000 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September.

The grant will support “Heterogeneous Dynamics and Assembly Processes in Soft and Biological Materials,” a collaborative research project between Wesleyan and NIST. NIST is expected to fund the project through 2018 with a total amount of $1.66M.

Soft and biological materials are commonly composed of synthetic or biopolymers, or are formed as a result of the supramolecular assembly of small molecule, nanoparticle, or protein molecules into dynamic organized structures. These materials are central to developing new materials for emerging technologies related to energy storage and production, energy-saving light-weight devices, and in the development of diverse new forms of medicine and medical materials that mimic biological processes.

The realization of the promise of this large class of new materials has been limited by the inherent difficulties in understanding and controlling properties and the structural stability of these inherently complex materials. The amorphous, and often hierarchical, structure of these materials make the effective modeling of these materials a challenge.

With support from the NIST grant, Starr and his peers will investigate ways to overcome these challenges and develop these materials for their many intended applications.

Petit Family Foundation Supports Women in Physics Conference

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Pictured, from left is Kimberly Petit, Chris Othon, William Petit and Meredith Hughes.

On July 15, the Petit Family Foundation awarded Wesleyan’s Physics Department with a $5,000 grant to support the 2016 Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). The three-day conference, scheduled for January 15-17, 2016, will showcase career opportunities available to physicists through plenary talks, panel discussions and a career fair. Attendees will have the opportunity to network and interact with more than 200 fellow undergraduate women physicists as well as a variety of industrial and academic leaders.

Chris Othon, assistant professor of physics, and Meredith Hughes, assistant professor of astronomy, are co-organizing the conference with help from Nisha Grewal ’17 (physics/economics) and Julia Zachary ’17 (physics/astronomy). The group is planning a career fair representing regional technology companies and graduate physics programs.

The 2016 CUWiP will be held at nine different sites including Wesleyan, Black Hills State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University – Jefferson Laboratory, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Syracuse University, the University of California – San Diego, and the University of Texas – San Antonio. For more information visit the CUWiP website.

Students Share Summer Research at Poster Session

On July 30, Wesleyan’s Summer Research Poster Session took place at Exley Science Center. More than 110 undergraduate research fellows from Math and Computer Sciences, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Quantitative Analysis Center, and Psychology presented research at the event. (Photos by Laurie Kenney)

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled "The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps." Bardos' faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and environmental studies.

Aidan Bardos ’17 presented her research titled “The Effects of Nutrition on the Immune Response of Wooly Bear Caterpillars Infected by Parasitoid Wasps.” Bardos’ faculty advisor is Michael Singer, associate professor of biology and associate professor of environmental studies.

A poster titled "Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor" was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

A poster titled “Immunohistochemical Analysis of Status Epilepticus Mice Treated with Striatal-Enriched Tyrosine Phosphatase Inhibitor” was presented by Matt Pelton ’17. His advisor is Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Starr, Mukerji Explore Ways to Better Engage Students, Faculty in the Sciences

Professors Francis Starr and Ishita Mukerji recently participated in the National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education at Princeton University.

Professors Francis Starr and Ishita Mukerji recently participated in the National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education at Princeton University.

For their efforts enhancing undergraduate science education and supporting teaching innovations, two Wesleyan faculty members were named National Academies Education Fellows in the Sciences for 2015-2016.

Francis Starr, professor of physics and director of the College of Integrative Sciences, and Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, received the fellowships while participating in the 2015 National Academies Summer Institute on Undergraduate Education, held June 14-19 at Princeton University.

The Summer Institute, a five-day program of discussions, demonstrations and workshops, brought college and university faculty together to develop teaching skills. Co-sponsored by the National Academies and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Starr, Mukerji and 44 other participants were taught ways to transform the undergraduate classroom and engage students and fellow faculty in the sciences. Current research, active learning, assessment and diversity were woven into the program, creating a forum to share ideas and develop innovative instructional materials to be implemented at each participant’s home institution.

Pictured at far right, wearing a striped shirt, Francis Starr worked with more than 40 other faculty from around New England at the Summer Institute. 

Pictured at far right, wearing a striped shirt, Francis Starr worked with more than 40 other faculty from around New England at the Summer Institute. (Photo by Jill Feldman/Princeton University)

“Wesleyan’s commitment to teaching innovation puts us at the forefront of improving undergraduate education that is essential to prepare future scientists and scientifically literate citizens,” Starr said.

During the institute, Starr and Mukerji developed a “teachable tidbit” with four other institute participants. These tidbits can be implemented in a course during the academic year. In addition, Starr and Mukerji are planning to speak about their experiences to fellow faculty at an NSM luncheon. They’re also working on creating an Academic (Technology) Roundtable meeting with one of the co-directors of the institute.

“Francis and I were both interested in learning these new teaching methods and we’re excited to share them with others on campus,” Mukerji said.

Morgan Models the Evolution of Plasma as a Visiting Professor in Tokyo

morgan

Tom Morgan is a visiting professor in Tokyo, Japan.

Tom Morgan, the Foss Professor of Physics, is spending the month of June as a visiting professor at Seikei University in Tokyo, Japan. He is collaborating with Professor Tomoyuki Murakami on modeling the evolution of plasma (an assembly of ions and electrons) created by injecting energy into water, “a substance with many interesting properties and applications,” Morgan explained.

The work focuses on water in both the vapor phase and as a liquid.

Morgan also is collaborating on this experimental work with Professor of Physics Lutz Huwel at Wesleyan. Huwel uses a pulse of laser light to provide the energy input to the water.

“The goal of the research is to understand the mechanisms responsible for the transport and evolution of the energy as time passes,” Morgan explained.

An additional focus is on how the laser light radiation energy that is deposited near the surface of water is dissipated into kinetic energy of ejected ballistic water droplets that have been observed in the lab to rise high above the water.

“There are many potential applications of underwater plasmas to the environmental, biotechnical and medical fields,” Morgan said.

The visit to Seikei University is partially funded by presidential initiative funds supplied by the Director of Global Initiatives. The funds support international faculty collaborations.

Morgan met Murakami several years ago through a common collaborator in Belfast, N. Ireland. The scientists share overlapping research interests and have published one paper together.

“Physics is a very global collaborative discipline,” Morgan said.

Learn more about Morgan’s research online here.

7 Faculty Promoted, 1 Awarded Tenure

In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance. He joins seven other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, seven faculty members were promoted to Full Professor: Mary Alice Haddad, professor of government; Scott Higgins, professor of film studies; Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics; Edward Moran, professor of astronomy; Dana Royer, professor of earth and environmental sciences; Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion; and Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below.

Associate Professor Krishnan teaches studio- and lecture-based dance courses on Mobilizing Dance: Cinema, the Body, and Culture in South Asia; Modern Dance 3; and Bharata Natyam.  His academic and choreographic interests include queering the dancing body, critical readings of Indian dance and the history of courtesan dance traditions in South India. He is a scholar and master of historical Bharatanatyam and also an internationally acclaimed choreographer of contemporary dance from global perspectives.

Professor Haddad teaches courses about comparative, East Asian, and environmental politics. She has authored two books, Building Democracy in Japan and Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective, and co-edited a third, NIMBY is Beautiful: Local Activism and Environmental Innovation in Germany and Beyond. She is currently working on a book about effective advocacy and East Asian environmental politics.

Professor Higgins teaches courses in film history, theory, and genre, and is a 2011 recipient of Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.  His research interests include moving-image aesthetics, feature and serial storytelling, and cinema’s technological history. He is author of Harnessing the Rainbow: Technicolor Aesthetics in the 1930s and Matinee Melodrama: Playing with Formula in the Sound Serial (forthcoming), and editor of Arnheim for Film and Media Studies.

Professor Kottos offers courses on Quantum Mechanics; Condensed Matter Physics; and Advanced Topics in Theoretical Physics. He has published more than 100 papers on the understanding of wave propagation in complex media, which have received more than 3,000 citations. His current research focuses on the development of non-Hermitian Optics. This year, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research has recognized his theoretical proposal on optical limiters as a high priority strategic goal of the agency.

Professor Moran teaches introductory courses such as Descriptive Astronomy and The Dark Side of the Universe, in addition to courses on observational and extragalactic astronomy.  His research focuses on extragalactic X-ray sources and the X-ray background, and his expertise in spectroscopic instrumentation combined with an insightful conceptual appreciation of galaxy formation have positioned him as a leader in observational black hole research.

Professor Royer offers courses on Environmental Studies; Geobiology; and Soils.  His research explores how plants can be used to reconstruct ancient environments, and the (paleo-) physiological underpinnings behind these plant-environment relationships.  His recent work on the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate over geologic time has had significant impact on the field of paleoclimatology.

Professor Rubenstein teaches courses in philosophy of religion; pre- and postmodern theologies; and the intersections of religion, sex, gender, and science.  Her research interests include continental philosophy, theology, gender and sexuality studies, and the history and philosophy of cosmology.  She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse.

Professor Ulysse offers courses on Crafting Ethnography; Haiti: Between Anthropology and Journalism; Key Issues in Black Feminism; and Theory 2: Beyond Me, Me, Me: Reflexive Anthropology. Her research examines black diasporic conditions. Her recent work combines scholarship, performance, and exposition to ponder the fate of Haiti in the modern world and how it is narrated in different outlets and genres.  She is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica, and Why Haiti Needs New Narratives.