Tag Archive for physics

Starr Elected Fellow of the American Physical Society

Francis Starr

Francis Starr

Francis Starr, professor of physics, was elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in October. This honor is bestowed upon only 0.5 percent of physicists nation wide.

The criterion for election is “exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise including outstanding physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education.

Starr received the APS fellowship for his simulation studies elucidating fundamental aspects of glass formation in bulk and ultra-thin film polymer materials. At Wesleyan, the Starr group focuses on soft matter physics and biophysics. Starr and his graduate and undergraduate students combine computational and theoretical methods to explore lipid membranes, glass formation, DNA nanotechnology, polymers and supercooled water.

Starr also is professor and director of the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS) and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry. The CIS is dedicated to providing students with translational and interdisciplinary science education through original research. The CIS summer research program hosts around 180 students annually.

Starr is the seventh Wesleyan faculty to receive the honor since 1921. He was nominated by the Division of Polymer Physics.

Speakers, Poster Sessions at Annual Molecular Biophysics Program Retreat

Wesleyan’s Molecular Biophysics Program hosted its 18th annual retreat Sept. 28 at Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Wesleyan affiliated speakers included:

Professor Francis Starr, spoke about DNA junction dynamics and thermodynamics during the 18th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat.

Professor Francis Starr spoke about DNA junction dynamics and thermodynamics during the 18th annual Molecular Biophysics Retreat.

  • Colin Smith, assistant professor of chemistry, on “An Atomistic View of Protein Dynamics and Allostery;”
  • Meng-Ju Renee Sher, assistant professor of physics, on “Tracking Electron Motions Using Terahertz Spectroscopy;”
  • Kelly Knee, PhD ’07, principle scientist for Pfizer’s Rare Disease Research Unit, on “Protein Folding Chaperones: Molecular Machines for Tricky Problems;”
  • and Francis Starr, professor of physics, director of the College of Integrative Sciences, on “DNA Four-Way Junction Dynamics and Thermodynamics: Lessons from Combining Simulations and Experiments.”

Arthur Palmer, the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, delivered the keynote address on “Conformational dynamics in molecular recognition and catalysis: Lessons from ribonuclease H, AlkB, and GCN4.”

The day-long retreat also included two poster sessions, where undergraduates, graduate students and faculty shared their research with their peers and colleagues. The event concluded with a reception.

The Molecular Biophysics Training Program, Chemistry Department, and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Department sponsored the event.

Photos of the retreat are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Makri Awarded Graduate Scholarship from Greek America Foundation

PhD candidate Eleana Makri and Professor Tsampikos Kottos work on reflective optical limiter research at Wesleyan. On Sept. 25, Makri received a $5,000 scholarship from the Greek America Foundation to support her research for the 2017-18 academic year.

For her ongoing research in developing electromagnetic filters that block high power radiation, physics PhD candidate Eleana Makri recently received a Constantine and Patricia Mavroyannis scholarship from the Greek America Foundation. The $5,000 award will support her doctoral research during the 2017-18 academic year.

At Wesleyan, Makri works with Professor Tsampikos Kottos in the development of the reflective limiter concepts that block high power radiation from damaging sensitive sensors, like the eye, while they allow low power radiation to reach the sensor for further processing. Kottos is professor of physics, professor of mathematics and professor of integrative sciences.

The Mavroyannis scholarship is awarded to Greek and Greek-American graduate students studying in U.S. and Canadian institutions and universities. After completing the scholarship, Makri will submit a brief progress report to the Greek America Foundation highlighting her research efforts.

“[Eleana] has distinguished [her]self as not just one of the strongest applicants, but also as someone whose scientific career we look forward to following,” said Jennifer Kellogg, executive director of the Greek America Foundation.

BA/MA Student Antonellis ’17 Awarded Scholarship for Energy Technology Research

BA/MA student Nicholas Antonellis ’17

Nicholas “Nicky” Antonellis ’17, a BA/MA student in physics, is one of 14 students in the U.S. selected to receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS).

Candidates for the award must be full-time graduate students who are interested in pursuing or are currently studying the directed energy technology areas of high-energy lasers or high-power microwaves.

Antonellis is interested in using his knowledge in photonic device design and computational simulations in order to eventually improve upon medical technologies.

Plasma Bubble, Stem Cell Images Win Scientific Imaging Contest

This summer, Wesleyan hosted the second annual Wesleyan Scientific Imaging Contest, which recognizes student-submitted images from experiments or simulations done with a Wesleyan faculty member that are scientifically intriguing as well as aesthetically pleasing. This year, 33 images were submitted from six departments.

The entries were judged based on the quality of the image and the explanation of the underlying science.  The images were judged by a panel of four faculty members: Steven Devoto, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of integrative sciences; Brian Northrop, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of integrative sciences; and Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics.

The first-place winner received a $200 prize; the second-place winner received $100; and the third-place winner received $50. Prizes were funded by the Office of Academic Affairs.

The three winning images are shown below, along with scientific descriptions, written by the students.

Yonathan Gomez '18 won first place with his image, "Jumping" Drop. The drop is an expanding partially-ionized plasma created underwater by a pulsed Nd:YAG laser, which pushes upwards on the surface of the water. As the plasma bubble expands, it disrupts the surface from below, which launches a water drop upward. The water drop shown has a diameter of approximately 2mm. The image was taken at 1/2,000 frames per second.

Yonathan Gomez ’18 won first place with his image, “Jumping” Drop. The drop is an expanding partially-ionized plasma created underwater by a pulsed Nd:YAG laser, which pushes upwards on the surface of the water. As the plasma bubble expands, it disrupts the surface from below, which launches a water drop upward. The water drop shown has a diameter of approximately 2mm. The image was taken at 1/2,000 of a second.

Stewart Leads Annual Earth Week Rant

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Brian Stewart, professor of physics, led his 10th annual Earth Week Rant on April 19 and 20.

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Brian Stewart, professor of physics, led his 10th annual Earth Week Rant on April 19 and 20. Stewart discussed energy and argued that a surprisingly simple, nature-oriented way of organizing public information can help us to make decisions as we navigate a murky future. (Photos by Will Barr ’18)

New Minor in Design, Engineering and Applied Sciences Announced

Professor of Physics Greg Voth, at right, will teach a new course, CIS 170, Introduction to Engineering and Design, as part of Wesleyan's new Interdisciplinary minor in Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences (IDEAS

Professor of Physics Greg Voth, at right, will teach a new course, CIS 170, Introduction to Engineering and Design, as part of Wesleyan’s new Interdisciplinary minor in Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences.

Amid rising student interest, Wesleyan has announced a new interdisciplinary minor in Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences (IDEAS), beginning in 2017-18. It will be hosted within the College of Integrative Sciences (CIS).

The IDEAS minor will introduce foundational skills in engineering and design, and bring together existing arts, design, and applied science courses to create a more formal structure to guide students interested in these fields.

According to Professor of Physics Francis Starr, a co-proposer of the minor and director of the CIS, “The new minor plays into Wesleyan’s unique capabilities and dovetails with Wesleyan’s commitment to prepare students for the challenges facing society today. Our aim is to provide students with practical design and problem solving skills, coupled with the context to understand the social and cultural implications of their work.” The minor passed the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) in April.

Wesleyan is at the forefront of an emerging approach in academia

Morgan Appointed Honorary Professor at Queen’s University

Foss Professor of Physics Thomas J. Morgan

Tom Morgan

Foss Professor of Physics Thomas Morgan has been appointed as honorary professor at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He will hold this title for the next three years.

Morgan was recognized for this honor for his broad research contributions to the fields of atomic and molecular physics and plasma physics. He has published over 90 research papers, including many with international collaborators from Germany, France, Mexico and Japan.

Morgan will continue his research work at Wesleyan on highly excited states of diatomic molecules, and, as an honorary professor title holder, he will have access to Queen’s University’s resources for his research in the area of low temperature plasma physics. The appointment provides him an opportunity to concentrate on specific research projects in this area with collaborators at Queen’s University.

Local Children Learn about Physics from Wesleyan Faculty, Students

Christina Othon, assistant professor of physics, assistant professor of integrative sciences, met with students enrolled in the Green Street Teaching and Learning Center‘s Discovery AfterSchool Program on Dec. 1. Othon and Wesleyan students Danielle Levinson ’19, Alexis Braunrot ’18 and and graduate student Stefan Kramel taught the AfterSchool attendees about physics through hands-on activities.

GSTLC s a community-based studio that develops, applies, and disseminates best practices in experiential teaching and learning which enhance Wesleyan and the greater community. The Discovery AfterSchool Programs offers a range of classes in the arts, sciences and math for children in Grades 1- 5.

The objective for the day was to investigate the properties of matter, to review the states of matter, and to discuss some of the ways we can change the properties of matter. Othon’s expertise is in soft matter, and therefore the group focused on fluids, gels and plastic deformation. After reviewing how to define the properties of a liquid, students were asked about how they would characterize some unusual materials like peanut butter or Jell-O.

“Of course these are materials which hold their shape, similar to a solid, but deform under stress or strain like a fluid. We therefore determined that the categories of liquid, gas and solid are not rigid categories, but that some materials have properties of both,” Othon said. “We then conducted some experiments on viscosity where students made predictions about which fluids would flow most quickly down an incline plane. The fluids were water, oil, chocolate sauce, honey and ketchup. The students observed that the ketchup behaved differently than all of the other fluids, and that the clumping of the ketchup dramatically impacted how fast it flowed.”

After investigating viscosity, the group discussed how to change the properties of materials. The students recognized that through temperature they could change water to a solid.

To demonstrate the change in structural properties, Othon and the students decided to make bouncy balls through chemical crosslinking. The students took two fluid solutions (glue and starch, and a salt solution in water), and mixed them to make their own bouncy balls.

“This is a messy project, but is highly engaging and the students greatly enjoyed it,” Othon said. “We always have a lot of fun working with the children at Green Street. We hope that this experience helps makes studying science exciting, and that they realize they can make observations of everyday objects and phenomena in their home.”

(Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

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Chemistry, Physics Students Attend Biomedical Research Conference

Contributed photo

From Nov. 9-12, two faculty members and five students from the physics and chemistry departments, attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Tampa, Fla.

Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics, and Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, were joined by McNair Scholars Luz Mendez ’17, Tatianna Pryce ’17, Stacy Uchendu ’17 and Hanna Morales ’17; and Wesleyan Mathematics and Science (WesMaSS) Scholar Helen Karimi ’19.

Students observed other research being performed around the nation by students who are members of underrepresented groups in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). In addition, the Wesleyan students presented their own research and Morales and Karimi were awarded Outstanding Poster Presentation Awards.

“Through the PIE Initiative, Wesleyan has a deliberate strategy to support underrepresented students and faculty in STEM fields by providing resources that increasing post-Wesleyan mentorship and exposure to research excellence, all of which were fulfilled through this conference,” said Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion/Title IX officer. “It cannot go without saying that without Professor Taylor’s and Professor Etson’s holistic mentorship approach, these type of opportunities for our young scholars would not be possible.”

Kottos Awarded Engineering Grant from the National Science Foundation

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Professor Tsampikos Kottos

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, professor of integrative sciences, professor of mathematics, was awarded a $400,000 Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) engineering grant from the National Science Foundation in October. This $2 million grant is equally split among a consortium of universities, including Stanford University, University of Minnesota, and University-Wisconsin-Madison, and will last for a period of four years.

The grant is associated with “New Light and Acoustic Wave Propagation: Breaking Reciprocity and Time-Reversal Symmetry” (NewLaw) and supports “engineering-led interdisciplinary research that challenges the notions of reciprocity, time-reversal symmetry and sensitivity to defects in wave propagation and field transport,” Kottos explained. 

Office of Naval Research Supports Microwave Limiter Study in Physics Department

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, professor of mathematics, and his graduate student, Eleana Makri, are studying photonic limiters, which can be used to protect optical sensors (for example, the human eye) against laser-induced damage. Kottos recently received a grant to advance his research on microwave limiters, an important class of such protection devices.

Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, professor of mathematics, and his graduate student, Eleana Makri, design reflective power limiters, which reflect radiation back into space. Kottos recently received a grant to advance his research on microwave limiters, an important class of such protection devices.

With support from the Office of Naval Research, researchers in Wesleyan’s Physics Department are working on ways to protect optical sensors (for example, the human eye) against laser-induced damage.

In August, Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics, professor of mathematics, received a three-year grant from the Office of Naval Research to further his designs of “Reflective Microwave Limiters.” Typical microwave limiters have the ability to block excessive radiation through absorption. However, absorption can lead to overheating, eventually causing the destruction of the limiter.

Kottos studies reflective power limiters with his graduate student Eleana Makri and Postdoctoral Research Associate Roney Thomas. The team hopes to develop realistic designs of microwave limiters that can tolerate high power radiation via direct reflection back in space (instead of absorbing it.)

“The limiter designs that we propose would reflect excess radiation back to space while providing broadband, omnidirectional protection from high-power electromagnetic radiation. As a result, they will be able to protect sensitive equipment by two or even three orders of magnitude higher power radiation than existing limiters,” Kottos explained.

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is an organization within the U.S. Department of the Navy that coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps through schools, universities, government laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit organizations. Due to the rapid development of high power directed energy weapons technology, the ONR is supporting research that explores new materials and protection schemes of electromagnetically sensitive components from high power incident radiation.