Southwestern

Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

Physics

Notables

Spring 2014

  • Junior physics major Garth Ornelas has been selected to participate in a unique research and mentoring program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The program is called Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science for Students, or RESESS, and it is designed to increase the number of historically underrepresented students entering the geosciences. Ornelas was one of 11 students selected to participate in the program in summer 2013 and will be participating again in summer 2014. His mentor for summer 2014 will be Matthew Pritchard, an associate professor of geophysics at Cornell University. Read more here.

  • Junior computer science major Rebecca Wilson presented a poster titled “An Open Source Voting Machine” that resulted from her King Creativity project with political science major Elizabeth Bell and physics major Eric Oden. The project was supervised by Steve Alexander, professor of physics.

  • Lois Ferrari, professor of music, conducted the Austin Civic Orchestra in a sold-out performance of “The Planets” in the Alma Thomas Theater Feb. 1. Mark Bottorf, associate professor of physics, gave a pre-concert lecture on the planets in our solar system. Dana Zenobi, part-time assistant professor of applied music, and Nicholas Simpson, part-time instructor of applied music, sang operatic arias with the orchestra. Ferrari also supports an ongoing collaboration with music majors Mattie Kotzur and Lai Na Wang, who are both members of the ACO.

Fall 2013

  • Steven Alexander, professor of physics and holder of the Robert Sherman Lazenby Chair in Physics, presented a paper at the 2013 Fall Meeting of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society at The University of Texas Brownsville Oct. 11. The paper was titled “Calculating Relativistic Atomic and Molecular Properties Using Monte Carlo Methods.” At the same meeting, senior physics major Vicente Estrada-Carpenter presented a poster titled “Examining XMM Observations in the Galactic Bulge Survey Region.” This poster won the award for best undergraduate poster at the conference.

Spring 2013

  • A design to build a low-cost dome structure has earned three Southwestern students a $2,500 prize. Kelsey Abel, Nathan Balke and Chandler Johnson were awarded the Walt Potter Prize for the project they did with the support of the King Creativity Fund in 2012-2013. The prize is awarded to the best King Creativity Fund student or project in a given year. Balke, a sophomore who is majoring in physics and German, said he came up with the idea for the project after talking to physics professor Steve Alexander last summer.“I wanted to do something to broaden my experience outside the classroom,” he said. “Professor Alexander mentioned a dome project and it seemed like a good fit.” While people have been building dome structures for many years, Alexander said he presented Balke with the challenge of making something that would be more efficient and less expensive than what is currently on the market. Read more here.

Fall 2012

  • Becca Edwards, part-time assistant professor of physics, presented a paper at the Applied Technology Council-Structural Engineering Institute Advances in Hurricane Engineering Conference held in Miami in October. The paper was titled “Effect of averaging duration on differences observed between gust factors from tropical and extratropical winds.”

  • Junior physics major Curran Johnson and senior physics major Ryan Staten presented posters at the Joint Fall 2012 Meeting of the Texas Sections of the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers which was held Oct. 25-27 in Lubbock. Johnson presented a poster titled “Search for Z’ Bosons: A Summer Research Experience in Particle Physics Using Skype” and Staten presented a poster titled “A Computer Program to Search for Gravity Waves.” Johnson’s poster was based on work he did at Southwestern last summer in collaboration with Ballarmine University in Kentucky. Staten’s poster was based on work he did at UT Brownsville last summer as part of an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program. Steve Alexander, professor of physics, gave a talk on “Calculating Properties of Finite Mass Atoms” at the same meeting.

Spring 2012

  • Two Southwestern students have been selected to participate in summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Senior physics major Ryan Staten was selected to participate in a program sponsored by the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Texas at Brownville. Senior physics major Caroline Weston was selected to participate in a materials science research program at the University of Florida.

Spring 2011

  • Although electric cellos are available commercially, senior music major Natalie Phillips-Perkoff and senior physics major Will Hardy wanted to try making one of their own. So they teamed up to make one with the help of a 2010-2011 King Creativity Fund grant. Their work ended up winning them the 2011 Walt Potter Prize, which comes with $2,500. The prize is awarded to the best King Creativity Fund student or project in a given year. Read the full story here.

  • Steve Alexander, professor of physics, gave an invited talk titled “Nonadiabatic Calculations Using Monte Carlo Methods” on Dec. 16 at the Pacifichem 2010 Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Spring 2010

  • Two Southwestern physics students have been selected to participate in summer research programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The programs are all part of the NSF’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Students selected for the program receive travel expenses, room and board, and a stipend of up to $4,500.

    Will Hardy, a junior physics major, was selected to work at the Rice Quantum Institute, which conducts research in molecular physics. Although his specific project is still to be determined, he will be investigating properties of metallic carbon nanotubes.

    Amanda Jefferies, a junior physics major, will be participating in a physics and astronomy REU program at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She will spend 10 week working with Peter Frinchaboy, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, on a study of reddened star clusters, which can provide important information about the chemical and dynamical evolution of the galaxy.  

  • Four years of participating in the King Creativity Fund program has paid off for senior physics major Pelham Keahey. Keahey received the program’s first Walt Potter Prize, which comes with $2,500. The prize is awarded to the best student or project in a given year. Keahey received the award at a dinner marking the 10th anniversary of the King Creativity Fund. The program was established in 2000 with an endowment provided by Southwestern alumnus W. Joseph “Joey” King. It is designed to support “innovative and visionary projects” proposed by Southwestern students. King named the new award after Walt Potter, a computer science professor who was his mentor when he was a student at Southwestern. Read more about Keahey and his award here.

  • Students Mason Cradit, Will Hardy, Andrea Holland, Pelham Keahey and Steven Solis and advisor Gerald Wade have had a paper titled “Selecting Abandoned Industrial Innovations for Senior Student Science Projects” accepted as a virtual presentation at the International Technology, Education and Development Conference in Valencia, Spain, March 8-10. Their paper will be published in the conference journal along with the other papers. The paper stems from the team’s work on a 2009-2010 King Creativity Project.

  • Bill O’Brien, associate professor of physics, and senior physics major Connor Hanrahan, presented a poster titled “Increased Energy Return from Solar Panel with MPPT Charge Controller” at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last month. The presentation was based on their research undertaken in June 2009 in Juneau, Alaska, with support of a faculty/student research grant. It examined the applicability of a new class of charge controllers to govern circuits in solar-powered research equipment. The new MPPT charge controllers will soon be tested on glaciers in the Juneau Icefield in scientific instrument stations maintained by the Environmental Science Program at the University of Alaska Southeast under the direction of 1994 Southwestern graduate Matt Heavner.