On Tuesday, Oct. 1, nine students presented their progress on different physics and biology research projects. The speakers took five minutes each to explain what they were researching, and some applications of their research. The first speaker, Elaine Rhodes, is researching nanoindentation, and is aided by the California Institute of Technology. By making microscopic dents in a small sample, Elaine can find the Young’s modulus and Poisson’s ratio of the material. This allows for testing of scarce materials without large samples, but the machinery is difficult to calibrate and maintain in working condition. Next up was Brady Gough (assisted by Dr. Ratchford), a Space Physics major who is using the Kepler Space Telescope to find exoplanets using the drop in flux received by the telescope when a planet partially blocks its star from view. Kepler is preferable to ground-based research because Kepler is not hindered by atmospheric turbulence, light-pollution, or the day-night cycle.
David Stiles, advised by Dr. Hughey, was the third speaker, and presented his research on improving our capability to detect gravitational waves using the CONDOR sensor array. Such waves are released from binary neutron stars, when a star’s crust shifts, or from supernovae. Basically, David is trying to measure gravity, since current instruments cannot do this yet. Speaker number four was Matt Stone, aided by Dr. Zanolin. Matt, who is also studying gravitational waves, explained what gravitational waves really are – perturbations in space-time, like the waves from an explosion, but gravitational waves consist of only one wave per event. Matt is working on expanding the area in which we can detect these waves by setting detection thresholds too high for most of the noise to set off the LIGO sensors, but not too high so real gravitational waves are not detected.
Meredith Hainsworth, the fifth speaker, presented on butterfly mimicry. This is where butterflies that taste good to their predators evolve over time to look like other butterflies that do not taste so good. This is an important evolutionary perspective on how butterflies came to act and look the way they do. Meredith collects samples before sending her samples off to Colorado State University for processing. Next was Victor Rice who, with the assistance of Dr. Callahan, researched applications of Percolation Theory. This is where a given system with a number of entities and a probability that each entity is a logical ‘true’ or ‘false’, there is a certain probability that the system can be crossed through entities that are ‘true’ forming a link from one side to the other. This has many applications, such as how forest fires spread and how crystals form.
The next speaker, Shane Brouillette, works with Sophia Schwalbe and Dr. Smith to detect muons coming out of the atmosphere using a complex apparatus involving a liquid that emits light when hit with a muon. Muons form when pions decay in the upper atmosphere after being hit with solar radiation. Shane and Sophia want to detect the ratio of positive muons to negative muons, but such an experiment has never been done at this latitude before. After Shane went, Kelsey O’Connor, advised by Dr.Smith, who is researching application for a cyclotron – a circular particle accelerator that can easily fit in the wind tunnel lab. Within a year, this may be a reality according to Dr. Smith. The cyclotron accelerates particles to about 0.184 times light speed in a radius of about half a meter, and can make many applicable substances this way. The last speaker in this fascinated series was Amanda Gaska, who is researching the Arcjet, and Electro-Thermal Rocket propulsion system. It was built last year, and Amanda is continuing the research of the graduated seniors. The rocket works by passing a gas through an electric arc, and then focussing the superheated gas through a nozzle. Amanda is working on optimizing the gas flow rate, thrust and the duration of the rocket’s thrust.