Each summer, Houghton College sponsors the Houghton College Summer Research Institute,which allows students to work with Houghton faculty on faculty-led collaborative research projects in physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. This program gives students the opportunity to see what it is like to be involved in professional physics research.
Currently, summer research in physics focuses on nuclear physics experiments at Ohio University and SUNY Geneseo, developing diagnostic tools for the inertial confinement fusion programs at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), on nanotechnology research at the Cornell Center for Materials Research at Cornell University, and on developing methods to improve the accuracy and efficiency of turbulent airflow predictions.
In today’s world of nanotechnology, the properties of extremely small materials have become extremely important. It turns out that, as the size (or thickness) of a material becomes small, the properties change dramatically. A thin (~10-1000nm) film deposited onto a larger substrate, for example, supports several times the stress of the “normal” size material! For this reason, a whole field in science is dedicated to the study of thin films. Houghton professor Dr. Brandon Hoffman collaborates with Dr. Shefford Baker at Cornell University. Each summer, students study the properties of thin metal films at the Cornell Center for Materials Research. The films are deposited and characterized by X-ray diffraction (XRD), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Electron Backscattered Diffraction (EBSD), and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM). Each student is placed in charge of one area of the project and performs both the background research and experimental work of that particular area. This gives the students a sense of ownership and expertise in the project.
In an inertial confinement fusion reaction, a large amount of energy is deposited, usually with high-powered lasers, onto a small pellet of nuclear fuel in order to initiate a fusion reaction. Houghton professor Dr. Mark Yuly collaborates with researchers from SUNY Geneseo and Ohio University on a nuclear physics research using the tandem van de Graaff accelerator at Ohio University. His experiment, which is supported by the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Rochester, is a measurement of the 12C(n,2n) cross section at energies important for inertial confinement fusion diagnostics. His students have worked on every aspect of this experiment: from designing and building detector mounts to testing silicon detectors, assembling the electronics, collecting data and working on the analysis.
Computational Fluid Dynamics
Accurately and efficiently predicting solutions for turbulent airflows remains one of the greatest challenges in classical physics and engineering. As a result, Houghton professor Dr. Kurt Aikens works to improve computational airflow simulation tools. In the past he has collaborated with researchers from Purdue University to improve predictions of jet engine noise. It is hoped that this work will eventually be utilized to design quieter engines. More recently he has focused on methodologies for predicting the boundary layer flow found near solid surfaces. This work is especially important because solid surfaces are found in almost every problem of engineering interest. His research has been supported by a grant from the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) to use one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, Stampede, located at the University of Texas at Austin. Furthermore, students have worked extensively on the research, developing improved models, performing simulations on Stampede, and analyzing the results.
This summer research experience is one component of our larger emphasis on involving students in research in our physics curriculum. As part of this emphasis, students write undergraduate theses and make presentations at scientific meetings on their research work.