Focus on Physics - Fall 2022

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For the friends of the Department of Physics at Central Michigan University, Fall 2022




Recent graduates tell us their stories: finding a great rocketscientist job, furthering education a piece at the time, a rewarding teaching career, and landing a research assistanship in a top engineering school.

Undergraduate and graduate students are actively engaged in research projects in many fields: nuclear experiments, materials development, computational physics, astronomy, and quantum computing.

Physics is a leader on campus and beyond when considering the productivity in research. It’s not just the recognition in terms of funding and publications, it’s the contribution to the mission of furthering knowledge for the common good.




Cardboard boat race 2022. Honor to Kimberly, Dalton, and Jack.

Battery research: presenting at the PhyCon in Washington DC.

During Homecoming 2022, the Physics’s boat sunk faster than light. The three heros got wet but kept their smiles. See the joy of Jack, Kimberly, and Dalton after the race.

I am Cielo, a physics major (class of 2023). In Fall 2022, I presented my research at the PhysCon organized in DC by the National Society of Physics Students and the Sigma Pi Sigma Honor Society. My research involves the computational exploration of metal-ion electrode materials for rechargeable batteries, and I use the methods of condensed matter/ materials science/nano-science/surface. I was one of the finalists for the poster presentation contest and one of the recipients of the SPS Student Travel Award. I thank the Department of Physics and Dr. Barone for the help and support.

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Finalist for the 2021 CMU Goldwater Award.

Transversal skills. Get the right job for you.

Dakota (Physics/Astronomy major, class of

For several years, Physics has been offering

2023) works in the laboratory of Dr. Redshaw

“Career in the Physical Sciences”, a course to

and, among many tasks, uses machine learning

help students designing the best possible ca-

algorithms to optimize the experimental set-

reer for them and develop all that is needed

up and provide precise mass measurements.

to succeed.

From the basement Multiferroic materials combine an electrical polarization and magnetism and have been studied for their potential applications in fields such as spintronics, transducers, and memory-storing devices. Bismuth ferrite is a single-phase multiferroic; it exhibits a spin cycloid structure and it has weak magneto-electric coupling which hinders its use in practical applications. Adding elements such as La, Sm, and Eu during synthesis dramatically improves the properties. Under Dr. Petkov’s supervision student


The art and the science of making materials for practical applications. Adeel synthesized several materials in the recently updated laboratory. They learned to make new chemical compounds and characterize the results with Xray diffraction as well as measure their magnetic properties.

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V. Barone

he Department of Physics T provides a well-balanced education and fosters inte-

llectual growth to meet the global societal demand in all quantitative sciences with strong emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and data-driven reasoning. The main goal of the Department is to address the needs of our future workforce in basic and applied sciences, targeting technological areas such as energy, sustainability, and information technology. Experiential learning is the bedrock of all our academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Physics undergraduate students are

regularly hired on externally funded grants for summer research experiences and engage in valuable hands-on and mind–on learning in fields at the forefront of science. Many of them publish in peerreviewed journals and present at national conferences. Faculty and students collaborate daily to push the frontiers in astronomy and astrophysics, discover the origin of the chemical elements, as well as characterize and design new materials. The Department’s vision for the future encompasses a balanced integration of academic rigor, research excellence, and societal rele-

vance. As new chairperson of the Department of Physics, I have embraced this vision and I am proud to summarize for you the accomplishments of the past few years. It is a pleasure to report that over the last 5 years, 97% of PHY M.S. graduates and about 84% of PHY B.S. graduates were placed in either graduate, professional schools or jobs relevant to their degree. Students joining the workforce find jobs in technology sectors (working as data scientists, quality engineers, test engineers, technicians, etc.) or as high-school teachers. All Physics Ph.D. students

Chairperson Dr. Barone with the students inducted in the Sigma Pi Sigma Honor Society. From the left: Luca, Ahmed, Jack, Dr. Barone, Nova, Dakota, and Mickayla.

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“Integration of academic rigor, research excellence, and societal relevance” Dr. Barone joined CMU in 2007 and she is currently serving as chairperson of the Department of Physics. While teaching courses at the undergraduate and graduate level and directing the Science in Advanced Materials Ph.D. program, she established a strong research program in materials for batteries using quantum mechanical calculations and machine learning. Dr. Barone served also as diversity, equitity, and inclusion fellow and launched an initiative to address gender and race inequality in science and engineering fields.

graduated to date have secured employment as postdoctoral research associates in national laboratories. We are very proud of our majors who often receive awards and recognition. For instance, current student, Dakota Keblbeck was a CMU finalist in the 2021 competition for the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship. We also did great in research: from 2016, the Department’s publications received, on average, 89% more citations per paper than Central Michigan University as a whole. Additionally, 60% of the Department’s publications involve international collaborations. The Department of Physics brings to the University a substantial per capita dollar amount in external funding: in the last 5 years, external funding in the department amounted to approximately $157,000 per tenured/ tenure-track faculty member per year. The per capita amount received by Physics faculty during the 5-year period doubles the corres-


ponding amount in the College of Science and Engineering and, according to National Science Foundation, the external funding procured per faculty by the Department of Physics in 2019 was about 1.8 times the amount reported for Michigan Tecnological University and more than 4 times the amount reported for Western Michigan University. Physics faculty have established strong collaborations with National research facilities, which enhance the quality and visibility of CMU research and provide outstanding educational opportunities for CMU undergraduate and graduate students. Examples of collaborating institutions include the U.S. Naval Observatory and Lowell Observatory (astronomical observations), Argonne National Lab (Advanced Photon Source), ATLAS and the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory (nuclear physics experiments), NERSC (computing time

on DOE super-computer) and access to D-Wave and IBM state-of-the-art quantum computing facilities, the Army GVSC center based in Warren (MI) and the FRIB laboratory in Lansing. As the new academic year starts, I look forward to continuing our mission to engage students, further research, and advance the mission of Central Michigan University. Physics provides the foundation for all the natural sciences and drives the technological progress for the benefit of society. With extensive training in abstract and critical thinking combined with strong mathematical, data-science, and computational skills, our students will be prepared to champion an unpredictable future. We look forward to working with Dr. Ford, our new Dean, Drs. Galarowicz and Tycner, Associate Deans to improve our students’ experience even further. I thank all the friends of Physics that support our students and our mission.

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ALUMNI Alumna Jessica Mondoskin is working at Penn State to build the payloads for the tREXS sounding rocket project, a rocket for extended source X-ray spectroscopy.

Hi, my name is Jessica Mondoskin (Physics/ Astronomy major, 2021) and I’m a research technologist at Penn State University. I work in the department of Astronomy and Astrophysics with the McEntaffer group. The focus of this group is instrumentation, astronomy and sounding rockets. As a research technologist, I was brought in to support the tREXS sounding rocket project, which stands for the rocket for extended source xray spectroscopy. The goal of this rocket is to observe soft x rays within the Cygnus loop. The method of detection in our payload is fairly new to the astronomical community. It involves passive mechanical focusers and reflection 6 | Physics@CMU

gratings, used in conjunction with CMOS detectors. The project is funded by NASA and has provided many amazing opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, professors, and staff like myself. This past August (2022) we spent a month at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. There we went through many tests such as alignment, integration, vibration, spin balance, and moment of inertia. All of which are important to verify the future success of the rocket. The launch is scheduled for September 25th, as long as weather conditions are fair. The past nine months have been huge in my development as a scientist. I

have learned so much in the time I’ve been with Penn State. I’ve gained so many new skills and experiences that will help me in any future projects I join. It has also opened a new branch of interest in astronomy and astrophysics for me. With the experiences I’ve had, I now have a great interest in the development, and implementation of astronomical instrumentation. This provides me with more direction in my future goals as a scientist. As someone who did not get into a graduate program on their first attempt, this position has strengthened my resume and experiences as a whole, and will provide me PREVIOUS

NEWS The past nine months have been huge in my development as a scientist. with opportunities I did not expect to find outside of a graduate program. Positions such as this are fantastic for recent graduates to gain new skills, connections, and find their footing as scientists.

Megan Dubay (Physics/ Astronomy major). Since graduating in 2019, I’ve gotten my MS in Physics at Portland State University (PSU) and am currently pursuing my PhD in Astronomy at the University of North Carolina (UNC). While at PSU, I was working with a group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Our work focused on studying bacteria in extreme environments with the goal of sending a life-detection mission to Europa. In studying these organisms, I was awarded a summer internship at Jet Propulsory Lab and was part of a team to study organisms in hot springs in the crater of Mt. St. Helens. Hiking up to the glacier inside the crater was one of the coolest things I have ever done! We also began developing a microscope to send to the International NEXT

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Space Station to study how micro-organisms are affected by microgravity. Now, in my work at UNC, I am part of a team developing curriculum for undergraduate students using robotic telescopes and working on hardware/ software implementation for the Skynet Robotic Telescope Network. And yes, it is named after the Terminator movie! I had a great experience in my time at CMU, and that is largely due to the faculty in the Department of Physics. The faculty were so passionate and wanted to ensure we learned. The smaller class sizes meant that professors knew each individual and I received lots of helpful guidance. It was clear that they wanted us to thrive in whatever we did after CMU. A perfect example of such faculty is Dr. Aaron “Cluze” LaCluyze. I began

Megan hiking into the crater of Mt. Saint Helens. Her research group received a special permit to go into the crater via the Northern side, which was blown out when it erupted in 1980.


Love Central Many graduate students, while learning physics, discover the passion for teaching Fahim Ahmed (MS and PhD in Physics). I am currently a lecturer in the Physics Department of Central Michigan University. I received my BS degree in physics in 2008 from Dhaka University, Bangladesh, where Bose did his seminal work on Bose-Einstein statistics back in the1920s. Like many of my

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generation, my fascination with physics started while reading Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”. I continued with my graduate studies here at Central Michigan University with Prof. Mihai Horoi, working on neutrinos and double beta decay, obtaining my PhD in August 2022. My research


working with Cluze on his variable star research and helping with the monthly observatory open houses in 2017. His passion, enthusiasm, and mentoring inspired me at a time when I was debating whether I wanted to continue majoring in physics. Without the mentoring and advice I received, I know I would not have continued in physics and my work would likely look very different today. A

Collecting samples at Mammoth Lakes, CA in an area where deadly carbon dioxide levels are present but microbial life still exists.

focused on studying the properties of neutrinos, a pivotal ingredient of the Standard Model of particle physics. More specifically, I analyze the important nuclear process of neutrinoless double beta decay, which would establish that the neutrino is its own antiparticle. This would have significant ramifications for the Standard Model and beyond. In the broader context, I am interested in various aspects of nuclear and particle physics, like effective field theories, CP symmetry violation, leptogenesis and baryogenesis. I would like to further my research experience through postdoctoral training but right now I want to gain teaching experience.


I had a great experience in my time at CMU, and that is largely due to the faculty in the Department of Physics. Adam Zettel (Physics major, 2020 and MS 2022). Studying physics has given me the confidence to know that with enough time and effort I can solve even the most confusing problems. When I started my degree, I thought I would just memorize hundreds of equations. Instead, I learned to keep an open mind and study until I understand. In general, the world is a confusing place, but physics showed me that working through the confusion to understand "how" and "why" makes all the difference. In my education I learned that the facts we take for granted are based on subtle details. Take water; it can be hot, cold, turn into ice, steam or form droplets. For thousands of

years people knew about these phenomena, but only in the last 300-400 years have we begun to understand them. Scientists had the curiosity and persistence to understand how and why, and now we take for granted the thermodynamics learned over hundreds of years. Steam power changed the world, and to this day most power is generated with steam engines designed with physics principles. Physics taught me that having curiosity and problem-solving skills are valuable, more so than any specific knowledge. Curiosity will give you questions, and problemsolving skills will give you the ability to answer those questions. Now when I have a question, I know how to use a

I very much enjoy sharing the excitement of physics with students through teaching and classroom interaction. As a new faculty in the Physics Department, I hope to contribute towards the student experience and improve on my and students’ skills. Beyond physics and mathematics, I take an active interest in subjects like philosophy, science-religion interaction, history, and theology.

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You learn to ask your own questions, question your own answers, and answer your own questions

A. Fulk

Dr. Tycner didn’t really leave, he’s still a faculty in the Department. Since June 2022, however, he is also Associate Dean in the College of Science and Engineering; so we don’t see him often.

book, articles, and a search engine to learn the "how" and "why". While it may not be obvious, the exercise in studying everything from the quantum harmonic oscillator to the nuclear shell model can give you the potential to understand just about anything. Solving physics problems is like solving puzzles. And the more puzzles you solve, the better you get. I remember watching in awe as the physics tutors would explain to me why my answer was wrong and then in a couple years when I became a tutor, I was seeing the

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mistakes that students made. They seemed "obvious", but only by asking questions and working through problems was I able to learn how to see these mistakes. Additionally, I learned the converse is true: if you don't ask any question or do your homework you will not understand. In short, you learn to ask your own questions (curiosity), question your own answers (curiosity + problem-solving), and answer your own questions (problem-solving). Now, I am beginning my PhD in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University working with the AFLOW group. Our group’s focus is on automating the discovery of materials, with an emphasis on high-entropy ceramics. While this degree will no longer say physics, I can firmly say that I am still part physicist. Every day when I have to solve a problem for my research, I find myself falling back to the skills I learned as a physics student. I thought that the only things I would learn would be about equations and experiments, but I walked away with the knowledge that is gained between the equations and experiments.

Dr. Tycner took a chance and brought me into the Department in October 2017. He told me, in my interview, that Physics was the best department on campus… it took little time for me to realize that this was true. Being a department chair can be trying, but for 9 years Dr. Tycner went about his days with grace while maintaining integrity, honesty, and keeping a clear focus on Physics’s goals. Dr. Tycner’s dedication, guidance and advice has been invaluable and has played a key part in not only my professional success, but the success of our students and Department. He has been an excellent boss and a friend. PREVIOUS

45 years ago Wayne Osborn, Emeritus

This year I reached a milestone in life – 80 years. This is a time one looks back on all the things that have happened and been witnessed over the years – some good, some bad and some that make a nice story. Here are a few “look-backs” concerning the Physics Department. I arrived at CMU in the fall of 1976 as a new professor. Change was in the air as the Department was starting its transformation from “Physical Science,” with its focus on training science teachers, to a more researchbased physics and astronomy organization. As a start, three young Ph.D hires were made that fall to replace retirements – Joe Cleveland, Stan Hirschi, and myself. Stan and I completed our careers at CMU and saw the full transformation. I reported to the chair’s office on my first day and was greeted with “What do you need?” I was so young Chair Calman Levich had mistaken me for an undergraduate with a class-scheduling problem. Teaching assignments were four courses a semester, and senior professor J.R. Gump helpfully welcomed me with “Here is the book we use. What you need to cover is underlined.” How different is the Department 45 years later. Physics’ space is up from a few rooms in Brooks Hall to an entire wing in Dow (thanks are due the late Professor Dave Current for his strong fight for this). No more cobbled together “research” equipment in the corner of a classroom, an example being that made for CMU’s famous magnetized fish experiment (Prof. Helene Brewer studied the effect of a static magnetic field on guppies raised in a fish tank so narrow the fish were forced to swim in only one direction. See Brewer, H.B., “Some preliminary studies of the

effects of a static magnetic field on the life cycle of the Lebistes reticulates”, Biophys. J., 1979, vol. 28, pp. 305–314). Now Physics has labs equipped with dedicated apparatus for experimental physics and top-level computing facilities. In turn, faculty research activity has grown from essentially none to active cutting-edge programs in several areas. Papers are regularly published and grants received in such areas as computational physics, nuclear physics, polymers, astronomy and astrophysics, and atomicscale structure of materials. Besides undergraduates, there now are over a dozen graduate students in Ph.D and masters programs compared to the 1980’s graduate program of four masters students. What hasn’t changed for the better, however, is the number of tenure track faculty – then 12 and 11 now in spite of increased research expectations. Yes, 45 years leads to many changes. For CMU Physics these have been very positive.


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Undergraduate students are engaged in

the National Society of Physics Students. They organize enriching activies and help the Department toward its mission. Mickayla Dever, (Physics/Astronomy major, class of2023).

In the summer of 2022, the students in the Department of Physics engaged in many summer activities. Many of these students did research, both in and outside the university. Of those that did research within the university, many chose to get into projects related to classes they had taken throughout their undergraduate career. Many of their professors taught the

subject that had a role in their research, so it was easy for students to reach out to them about their work and the possibility of summer research. Those that did research outside the university wanted to broaden their knowledge of astronomy-related subjects. This led them to apply to REUs (a program of the National Science Foundation to support research experience for undergraduates) where

their knowledge can be expanded by learning through professionals and faculty they had never interacted with before. When asked what they had learned from their experience, most undergraduates brought up coding; coding is a huge part of physics and astronomy. Throughout the years, there have been many different coding languages used to do physics research, so it is essential to learn as much as possible about a programming language. Each undergraduate stated that through their work they learned at least one more coding language or became very familiar with a language for their project. These included Python, LabVIEW,TensorFlow,

SPS engages new potential students during CMU and YOU day.

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Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society, elects members on the basis of outstanding academic achievement.

Undergraduate and graduate students participate in the traditional poster presentation.

MATLAB, and LaTeX. Each undergraduate also conveyed that they learned many hands-on skills that they did not have the chance to experience in a classroom setting: things like gathering data during field trips, coding simulation software for a specific experience, hands-on approaches to experiments at National facilities, learning the inner workings of a computer, and applied quantum physics. Some of the undergraduates also spoke up about surprising parts of their project that they did not expect. One said that they were pleasantly surprised by the collaboration between the art students in the area and their program. They had not expected the artistic representations of certain physics topics to be a part of their program but said that it was a significant part of getting the everyday person to also enjoy their research. Another undergraduate spoke out about their mentor and how willing they were to continue their research with NEXT

the student after the summer ended. It was very common for many to be offered extensions on the research project they were doing. Something also mentioned by all the undergraduates interviewed was the aspect of presenting their work. Each student was able to present their findings, either at the university they were researching at or at conferences that will be taking place soon, such as the American Physical Society

meetings. Overall, all of the undergraduates conveyed that they enjoyed their summer research, even the unconventional parts of it. Some spoke about the greater perspective it gave them on research teams and being around others from around the country, while others spoke about the traveling that they did and the experience they gained from the many fields of physics.

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Study physics to understand the properties of exoplanets, neutrinos, and the origin of elements. G. Perdikakis

Thanks to a $1.8 million award from the US Department of Energy - Program of Low Energy Nuclear Physics, a 14person research group of three CMU physics undergraduate students, six graduate students, one postdoc, and four faculty (Horoi, Redshaw, Estrade, and Perdikakis) are spearheading new research into the role of unstable isotopes in the Cosmos. The team of nuclear physicists aims to further our knowledge of elusive neutrino properties, to decrypt puzzling aspects of the astrophysical origin of the

chemical elements, inform predictions of habitable exoplanets in nearby solar systems, and improve the prediction of quantum properties of highly excited isotopes for nuclear applications. At the same time, the funding will establish an increased local experimental capability for CMU students, with the commissioning of the unique CHIP-TRAP triple Penning trap facility, and the expansion of the instrumentation capabilities of our Radiation Detector Testing laboratory.

Dr. Perdikakis and Dr. Redshaw joined CMU in 2012, Dr. Estrade in 2015. Dr. Horoi has been a pillar of nuclear physics education since 1995. They are engaged in experiments and computations and spearhead the effort to train the next generation workforce.


Dr. Jackson has worked at Central Michigan University since 1991. He has been a staunch supporter of the integration of research and education. Dr. Peralta joined the deparment in 2007. The success of the FLOSIC Centre is only one of their great accomplishments.

K. A. Jackson

Last fall at about this time, the FLOSIC Center lead by Jackson and Peralta at CMU was happy to learn that its funding from the U.S. Department of Energy had been renewed for a second, 4year grant cycle, covering the period Sept. 2021 – Aug. 2025. The project is aimed at removing a nagging flaw in quantum mechanical calculation based on density functional theory (DFT): the problem of electron selfinteraction. DFT is arguably the successful and widely used theory in science today. It provides an approximate solution to the quantum mechanical many-electron problem, which cannot be solved exactly except for

Study physics to Discover new materials. NEXT

systems with very few electrons. By contrast, DFT’s power is that it provides usefully accurate descriptions of the properties of atomic matter at a low computational cost. This enables researchers to use DFT calculations to interpret and predict the properties of matter in a wide array of settings, from catalytic chemistry to materials science. Vast numbers of calculations are being performed by thousands of scientists to screen novel materials for key properties, guiding experimental groups to synthesize only the mostlikely candidates. And yet… DFT approximates the exact quantum mechanics of a many-electron system and provides a massive mathematical simplification of the exact problem that can be then solved for the most

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complex molecules or materials. However, this standard approach includes the effect of every electron interacting with itself. This self-interaction is normally insignificant when atoms are near their equilibrium positions, but can become pronounced when bonds are stretched, or, in some situations involving transition metal or heavier f-electron elements. The FLOSIC Center is hard at work finding effective and practical ways to remove the effects of self-interaction from DFT calculations. In the first cycle of funding the FLOSIC team demonstrated that our ideas were on target. With the new funding, we are excited to continue work on this problem with the goal “efficient density functional theory calculations without self-interaction”. For more about FLOSIC, see our website

M. Fornari

Since it first emerged in the 1980s, the field of quantum computing has promised to transform the ways in which we process information. The technology is centered on the fact that quantum particles – such as electrons – exist in ‘superpositions’ of states. Quantum mechanics also dictates that particles will only collapse into one single measurable state when observed by a user. By harnessing these unique properties, physicists discovered that batches of quantum particles can act as more advanced counterparts to conventional binary bits – which only exist in one of two possible states (on or off) at a given time. On classical computers, we write and process information in a binary form. Similarly, quantum bits (also known as ‘qubits’) are the native information carriers on

Dr. Fornari has been at CMU since 2001 and tormented generations of students in PHY 312. His research interests are in condensed matter physics and materials science. This new endeavor in quantum information is driving him crazy.

quantum computers and can exist in infinite superpositions. The promises of quantum computation are enormous: if the technology would reach maturity, computers could solve problems far beyond our current capabilities with applications ranging from cryptography, to materials prediction, to autonomous driving. In collaboration with University of Southern California, Dr. Fornari received funding from the Department of Energy first and from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency later. The work is focusing on selecting outstanding problems that could transform science and technology and provide great economic benefits to the world.

Study physics to understand and improve quantum computing technologies.

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Study ABROAD After an unfortunate mishap with an overseas internship in Chile, I decided to take a study abroad course in Italy. While my course focused on food and wine pairings, I had the wonderful opportunity to explore a site of physics history. I was able to go see the wonderful Galileo Museum, famous for storing the original copy of Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Not only did I buy a copy, in the original Italian no less, I also saw Galileo’s telescope and celestial globes of the era. However, nothing compared to the joy of taking a selfie with Galilei’s preserved finger. I was also able to tour the Arcetri astrophysical observatory, which holds the historical Amici Telescope (the largest refractor in Italy!). They say the Piazzale Michelangelo gives the best views in Florence, but I disagree. The observatory takes the cake, as its distance from the city allows for a much more peaceful view of


Florence. My class on wine pairing wasn’t an entire loss either. My professor, who works in one of the vineyards, was fascinated by my knowledge of physics. We discussed and modeled a set of mirrors that would increase the wine grape’s exposure to sunlight. We also talked about artificially botrytized grapes, which have a distinct difference in flavor to naturally botrytized grapes. He was not aware of this until I asked about it during class, and has plans to add artificially botrytized wines to future courses. Suffice it to say that, I may have a career in winemaking if physics doesn’t work out. All in all, despite the unfortunate beginning, I had a great time. I think my trip to Italy speaks to my fiery personality and passion for physics; if I couldn’t have a physics internship, then I was going to make one. Nova Moore is a Physics/Astronomy, Music, and Mathematics major, class 2023.

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Computation in Physics A. Mellinger

Computers are an indispensable tool in physics research and in many other areas. Computational thinking and writing code are skills that all physics majors should learn. In 2016, the American Association of Physics Teachers issued guidance and recommendations for incorporating computational physics into undergraduate physics programs, which includes teaching a generalpurpose programming language, such as Python, Fortran, C, Java, etc. Ideally, instruction should begin at an early stage in the curriculum. However, instructors eager to implement computational content in their courses face several challenges: Most incoming students have no or minimal coding experience, and the necessary tools are not standard software on most computers. Even if these tools could be given to the students, providing software support for a large class is a daunting task. In recent years, project Jupyter has radically changed this situation. Its open-source, web-based interactive computational environment allows students to develop code on any device that runs a web browser. Its subproject nbgrader provides instructors with a tool that facilitates creating and grading assignments in a Jupyter notebook. In August 2017, physics 18 | Physics@CMU

Web-based interactive computational environment allows students to develop code on any device

Conrad Wolfram

The real world changed. How should education react? faculty Dr. Axel Mellinger attended a Partnership for Integration of Computation into Undergraduate Physics workshop. This NSF-funded project is run by a community of educators. It provides educational resources, discussion forums, and strategies and tactics that support the integration of computation into the physics curriculum. By the end of the workshop, Dr. Mellinger had

set up a working JupyterHub server and had developed a set of computational exercises for students in the University Physics I) lab course. A year later, CMU’s Office of Information Technology got on board and provided a more powerful, dedicated server. With this tool, instructors can set up assignments with both automatically and manually PREVIOUS

graded exercises. Using a mix of markdown and code cells, they can provide explanatory rich text Python code examples, and answer fields where students must enter either code snippets or textual answers. Then, the nbgrader system kicks in, releasing to the students a version of the assignment that has been stripped of the answers. It also collects and auto-grades students’ submissions and has a web interface where instructors can grade assignments and provide written feedback to the students. The College of


Science & Engineering’s JupyterHub server has become an invaluable teaching tool. It is being used in a growing list of courses in physics, astronomy, and computer science.

Students in PHY 175 use Python to analyze the experimental data.

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To meet students’ interest, the Department designed a class to introduce the basic of computations in science. The topics include hardware exploration using Raspberry

PI computers, the fundamentals of operating systems, computational and algorithmic thinking, and coding using the Julia programming language. In Spring 2022 students learned how to implement selfconsistent calculations, how to graph and fit experimental data, even how to compute the volume of a sphere in many dimensions using Monte Carlo methods. Understanding these simple computations builds the fundations for advanced simulations and for experimenting the curse of dimensionality in artificial intelligence applications.

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From the Astronomy Tower


After being largely dormant during the past couple of years due to campus health restrictions, the Brooks Astronomical Observatory is once again sharing the wonders of the Universe with students and visitors alike. Four different physics students, three undergraduates and one graduate student are using the telescope this semester for research projects. We are particularly pleased to announce

that a spectrograph was recently added to the telescope, and it is being used for two of these student projects. Open house nights have also resumed, taking place roughly once per month while classes are in session. (Dates can always be found on the website or contact the Department at 989-774-3321).

For more information on how to support the educational and scientific endeavors of the

Department of Physics contact the chairperson:

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