Springfield, Ohio — Wittenberg University's Department of Physics continued to showcase its growing stature with exciting research, new collaborations and a commitment to fostering student-driven original research during the 2008-09 school year.
Rated in the top 35 percent of undergraduate institutions in the United States in terms of numbers of majors graduated, Wittenberg's physics department is rapidly establishing itself as a national leader. In particular, Assistant Professor of Physics Jeremiah Williams helped shine a spotlight on the department by bringing in new experimental equipment and by helping students present original research at conferences around the country.
Williams has made great advances in the research of plasma physics at Wittenberg, including a recent collaboration with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a Collaborative National Center for plasma and fusion science funded by the Department of Energy. Through the Princeton's Plasma Physics Laboratory's university support program, Williams received experimental hardware, including a vacuum system, two high voltage supplies and an assortment of smaller components that will support his research efforts. The new equipment has not only increased the exposure of Wittenberg's physics program nationally, but it will also aid future students in their quest for scientific knowledge.
"These sorts of collaborations are vital for faculty at institutions like Wittenberg to remain professionally active," Williams said. "It is also good for our students because it provides them with access to research opportunities."
Prior to Williams' arrival, the study of the sub-field of plasma physics was not available at Wittenberg. Today, thanks to his work and funding from the university, Williams has been able to build a lab, giving interested students research opportunities that were not previously available.
"One thing that is unique about plasma physics at Wittenberg is that there are very few undergraduate institutions that have any opportunities in this sub-field of physics," said Williams.
Erica Snipes, class of 2009 from Lexington, Ky., took advantage of this new opportunity by presenting her research in the field of plasma physics at the fall meeting of the Ohio Region section of the American Physical Society at Miami University (Ohio). She was one of seven students who attended the meeting with Williams, Associate Professor of Physics Paul Voytas, and Associate Professor of Physics and Chair of the Department Elizabeth George.
It was a tremendous turnout for Wittenberg, especially given the small size of the university's Department of Physics.
"Not only is this the largest group of physics students we've had attend such a conference, but this was among the largest groups of undergraduates from any attending school," Williams said.
Snipes again had the chance to present her original research, this time at the national meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics of the American Physical Society in Dallas, Texas, which she attended with Williams. In addition, Wittenberg physics majors attended several other professional meetings, where they presented five unique posters on their original research.
The department isn't just producing original research, it is turning out successful graduates. Of the department's five graduating seniors in 2009, one is continuing his education at The Ohio State University in engineering, and the other four are attending graduate schools, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Auburn University and the University of Dayton.
"That's typical," said Williams. "Our students tend to be very successful."
In 2009, more student-faculty research projects are in the works, including the study of dusty plasma and the physics of thunder. In addition to helping students, Wittenberg physics professors continue their own impressive projects, including preliminary work on a new book by Professor of Physics Dan Fleisch and a long-running collaboration by Voytas and George with professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison examining the decay of Oxygen 14.
Williams is currently in the early stages of forging new collaborations with other groups to provide more research opportunities for students. He is also applying for a competitive grant with an educational component that would support the development of new curricular material. If successful, the grant would lead to the creation of a new course in plasma physics.
"I think the physics department does very well," said Williams. "It has very strong students and great faculty."
Written by: Jennifer Dick '10