Student working on wooden bridge construction in a physics lab class.

Physics Research

The best way to learn physics is by doing physics.

At Houghton we offer a curriculum of solid coursework and emphasize the other skills and character traits that make an effective scientist. These include skills like real-world problem solving, generating research ideas, experiment design and research techniques, proposal writing, and giving technical presentations. In addition, we emphasize character traits like patience, creativity, confidence, perseverance, honesty, grit and dealing gracefully with failure.

To accomplish this, we started the Physics Project Lab sequence, the Shannon Summer Research Institute, and Science Honors in our curriculum. The success of our program in preparing physicists was recently acknowledged by the American Physical Society. Houghton alumna, Katelyn Cook, was presented with the 2019 LeRoy Apker Award for her undergraduate research by the APS. Katelyn received one of two awards which are given each year for “outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students.”

Real-World Research

In the PHYS 171, 371-4 Project Lab sequence, students spend several years becoming deeply involved in a “real-world” research problem. This problem requires them to use all of the skills, tools and knowledge they have accumulated throughout their educational career, from electronic design to quantum mechanics to machine shop.

Senior Capstone

As part of their senior capstone, students present their work at professional scientific meetings, and prepare an undergraduate thesis. This work is developed over the course of several years, for-credit, and allows for more sophisticated projects than the typical one-semester senior research project.

Research Projects

Students get the chance to work on a wide variety of problems, integrating the skills they have mastered in their traditional coursework, as well as learn new techniques. With the use of our well-equipped laboratories, students have built and are building a variety of different instruments, including:

  • cyclotron particle accelerator (featured in the magazines WIRED and Symmetry)
  • electrostatic confinement fusion device
  • thin film deposition chamber
  • x-ray diffractometer
  • scanning tunneling microscope

Students have also simulated detector physics in order to interpret experimental data and determine key nuclear and atomic data as well as sample characteristics.

Summer Research

Summers are often spent working, for pay, on research with Houghton faculty as part of the Shannon Summer Research Institute. This research often takes place at other laboratories as well as at Houghton University. Recent research includes nuclear physics experiments at the Ohio University Edwards Accelerator Lab, the SUNY Geneseo Accelerator Lab, and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) as well as travel to the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Students have carried out nanotechnology research at the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) at Cornell University, worked on nuclear safeguards at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and collaborated with scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Learn more about summer research internships