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College of Wooster Physicists Present Research at National Meeting

UPublish story by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Faculty-student collaborations are the cornerstone of research endeavors at The College of Wooster, and often result in scholarly publications or presentations at national meetings — or both. Most recently, five Wooster students joined two professors from the Department of Physics in sharing their research at the annual American Physical Society (APS) Meeting in Baltimore.

Seniors Tom Gilliss, Matthew Schmitthenner, and Theresa Albon, along with junior Deepika Sundarraman and sophomore Elliot Wainwright, accompanied Professors of Physics John Lindner and Shila Garg to the meeting, where they discussed the results of their summer research.

“Our students presented their research alongside professional physicists, and gained valuable experience,” said Lindner. “Wooster's regular, robust performance at this, the largest, annual physics meeting continues to be impressive.”

Wainwright reported on research he conducted with Lindner last summer on "Mechanical Stochastic Resonance.” In this project, which was funded by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant, Wainwright and Lindner used the noise from a flapping flag as an energy source to help a simple oscillator push a bistable pendulum back and forth. Noise is usually undesirable, as in audio systems, but it can be productive in systems whose response is nonlinear. “The erratic motion of the flag provided a noise source that helped the weak oscillator move the pendulum,” explained Lindner. “The extra energy from the irregular motion of the flag made the difference, enabling us to harness the noise and use it productively.”

Gilliss and Sundarraman co-presented work done last summer and earlier this academic year with Cody Leary, assistant professor of physics at Wooster, on "Bimodal Hong-Ou-Mandel Interferometry,” which involves the splitting and subsequent recombining of particles of light. The interferometer takes light, currently input by a laser, and splits then recombines it so that the light’s transverse spatial pattern is correlated to its final output direction. The goal is to eventually repeat with single particles of light that effectively do more than one thing simultaneously in a controlled way. Such technology might enable quantum computers to outperform classical computers by breaking a problem into many parts and then recombining them to find a solution. This project was partly funded by HHMI and Wooster's Copeland Fund for Independent Study.

Schmitthenner reported on work done last summer with Garg and Kent State University colleagues on "Elastic Constants and Material Properties of Novel-Shaped Liquid Crystals.” They measured the elasticity and refractive indices of newly synthesized liquid crystals, similar but distinct from those in conventional computer displays. Some of these novel materials have Y- and H-shaped structures. The materials’ ordinary and extraordinary refractive indices and their bend, splay, and twist elastic constants were similar to those of other materials with non-rod-shaped or bent-core structures. This work was funded in part by a National Science Foundation Grant.

Albon reported work done last summer and during this academic year with Garg and Kent State colleagues on "Entanglement and Relaxation of Liquid Crystal Shaped Granular Media.” The group studied the entanglement and relaxation of V-shaped, U-shaped, and rod-shaped granular media. Sinusoidal acceleration within a confined cylinder entangled the shapes. Once entangled the cylinder was removed to leave a freestanding column, which was then further accelerated to untangle and collapse the column. Video recordings revealed that the U-shaped granular media took longer to relax than the rod-shaped and V-shaped granular media. A novel computer simulation provided similar results. A clear understanding of how these particles interact with each other on a macroscopic scale can help model how microscopic liquid crystal molecules with similar shapes behave. This work was also funded in part by NSF.

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