What's Happening

Spring 2014 Faculty Updates


Experts in their fields, our faculty members are consistently performing research. See what we our Astronomy & Physics faculty are up to.

Steve Doty

Beth Jeffries, our Administrative Assistant of the recent past, has been patiently “on my case” to get this newsletter blurb in, and I have been delinquent. That's probably because of all of the stuff going on…so here's an update.

The Herschel Space Observatory – for which I was a scientist on the WISH Guaranteed Time Key Project – has completed its mission. We discovered water, water, everywhere. We found that massive star forming regions, and low-mass ones as well, have out flows that ac tas”pressure release valves” for the stellar radiation. This pressure release allows more material to infall than we would otherwise expect. They also provide a way to get high energy densities via shocks and UV radiation out to large distances - think the tail of a whip, or the far end of a trumpet. They are interesting regions indeed. While all of the data have been taken, we are still reducing and analyzing some of it through two Open Time proposals that were accepted. This work continues with collaborators from Europe (Max Planck and Leiden), Texas, Michigan, and elsewhere.

My NASA grant also was finally put to bed. While not all of the work is yet complete, we have found that absorption lines are excellent probes of the warm inner transition regions around massive stars. In particular, we have found potential evidence of disks around these stars, and evidence that material processing in the ices in these disks is key.

These projects have had the great attention of Brant Bowers ('16), Ben Keller ('16), Tara Foster ('14), Jinxuan Zhao ('14), Clay Crocker ('13), and Kris Oman ('12).

Classes are going wonderfully as always. I've rotated back in to the PHYS 306 (Electricity & Magnetism) class. It is great fun. We've talked about doing homemade fusion, lightning rods, one-way mirrors, antennas, and why the sky is blue. After the introduction of PHYS 201, our Applied Math for Physical Systems class, the PHYS 306 class runs much more smoothly. Speaking of PHYS 201, I've given that up to Dr. Tehver this year. I hear that she is doing an excellent job, but I miss the class.

I've started back into ASTR 100, Introductory Astronomy. It is real fun to talk about the planets and the stars. We just introduced a new spectrometer. It is USB-based and is so easy to use it is almost like cheating. We were able to do 4 line spectra and 2 continuum spectra in less than 40 minutes.

Next fall, I'll be teaching a new class at the PHYS 245 level. The exact details are not yet certain, but we're thinking of something like “Defending the Earth from Alien Invasion”. It will incorporate physics, exobiology, and a touch of CSI if everything falls together properly.

On the family end, all is going well. Matthew just turned 11. It seems to me that he is growing like a weed. However, all of his classmates keep growing at the same rate, so he doesn't seem to be catching up too quickly. He played football again this fall, and is playing more baseball this spring / summer. His baseball team  placed in the top 4 in the county last summer and nearly made the state Little League finals tournament. I was able to coach his foot- ball and baseball teams. It was great fun. He is completing his sci- ence fair project this year – he is using his wind tunnel to measure the drag force on different shaped rocket nosecones.

Okay, enough of the core dump. Please write / stop by to see me when you can. We are always interested in hearing how you are doing!

Dan Gibson

As I sit here to write a newsletter note for 2014, it’s hard to believe that I have been here at Denison over 17 years! The last couple of semesters had me teaching Experimental Physics and Introductory Electricity and Magnetism. Both of these courses let me work closely with our majors and get deep into the material with them. Denison continues to afford faculty the opportunity to really connect with students in a variety of meaningful ways. I continue to travel to both the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL). Wes Walter and I were able to take students to the Advanced Light Source twice this summer and we had enjoyable and productive times there. Working with colleagues from both Sweden and Germany has brought new capabilities to the negative ion cooling lab in the Physics Division at ORNL. Since I am directing the off-campus Oak Ridge Science Se- mester program, these new experiments will allow me to combine multiple activities when I go to Tennessee to visit the lab. I continue to enjoy advising the Society of Physics Students and helping with the outreach program each year.

On the personal side, life is good in Granville. The three Gibson boys, Daniel (15), Benjamin (11) and Dylan (9), are heavily involved in archery, swimming, soccer and music. This fall I was able to spend some extra evening time with them by coaching their soccer teams and Robin enjoys helping them with their music in Denison’s Suzuki program. Robin really enjoys her work at the Westerville Library and she is expanding her educational programs to include more STEM and STEAM presentations. Robin and I know we are very blessed with a healthy family and rewarding lives. Denison continues to provide a rich series of learning opportunities, cultural experiences and personal friendships. We hope you will keep in touch and let us know when you will be in the Granville area.

Dan Homan

This is my eleventh year at Denison, and my second as chair of the department. Over the last two years, I’ve been teaching a wide range of classes in our introductory sequences: PHYS 122, 125, and 127, as well as Thermodynamics (PHYS 320) at the upper level. I’ll be teaching Thermodynamics again this spring, and I am very enthusiastic about expanding my use of computer simulation to help illustrate and explore key concepts in Statistical Mechanics. In my scholarship, I’ve continued to study the kinematics and polarization of the relativistic jets in distant Active Galactic Nuclei to understand both their acceleration and magnetic field structure. Over the last two summers, Robert Uram (’13), Eric Meier (’14), and Raghav Das- wani (’15) have worked in my lab on projects related to many of these research goals. Eric is continuing his research this school year and will present results at the January 2014 American Astronomical Society conference in Washington, D.C. I’ve also continued to be active in scientific outreach with planetarium shows, talks to non-Astronomer groups, and observatory open houses. Rachael Alton (’12) worked with me to develop a planetarium program on the possibility of life among the stars for her senior thesis to explore how best to communicate a modern science topic to the public, and her series of shows were a great success!

On the personal side, my son, Nate, is now eleven and enjoying the sixth grade, and my daughter, Maddie, is now five and started kin- dergarten this Fall.

Melanie Lott

I suppose this could be cross-listed in the Alumni Updates! It is wonderful to be back at Denison! I am enjoying my new role as an assistant professor in a department that already feels like home. This semester I am teaching introductory physics for non- majors, classical mechanics to junior and senior physics majors, and the introductory physics lab. It has been great to work with this mix of different students as well as teaching both theoretical and experimental components. Teaching has kept me quite busy, but I am also working to set up my research lab in the basement of Olin. Right now the sign outside the door still says “Magnet Laboratory” but it will eventually be the “Biomechanics of Human Movement Laboratory.”I am excited to begin research with students this summer. My husband Greg and I are enjoying fall in Granville with our one year-old son Trevor. We’ve gone apple picking, had fun at a pumpkin patch, and love our frequent walks on the bike path. Trevor loves pumpkins, animals, dirt, sticks, and rocks…so Ohio suits him!

Fellow ’04 grads: I hope to see you all at our reunion this summer!

Steven Olmschenk

I am excited to be in my second year at Denison. Already, I have had the opportunity to teach introductory physics (PHYS 122), modern physics (PHYS 200), electronics (PHYS 211), and quantum mechanics (PHYS 330). Electronics now includes an introduction to microcontrollers, FPGAs, and PID control techniques (just to name a few). Additionally, aspects of quantum information and measurement (both areas of research for me) are being incorporated into the quantum mechanics and modern physics courses.

Over the past year, I have been establishing an atomic ion trap experiment, which will focus on quantum information processing with ions and photons. Brad Bedacht (’14) and Nick Theisen (’14) worked with me on this research this past summer, and continue to be involved. During this time, we constructed and characterized diode lasers, designed and tested lots of custom electronics, and observed some initial saturated absorption spectros copy. Next on the list is additional spectroscopy and assembly of the ultra-high vacuum chamber. Then the focus will move on to imaging and laser cooling!

The past year has also been very exciting at home. My wife, Sarah, and I welcomed our daughter, Katie, to the family in January (2013). Katie was born at the end of the 1st week of my 2nd se- mester at Denison– needless to say, it was a very busy time! We feel very fortunate to be able to live and raise our family in the charming Granville community.

Riina Tehver 

I cannot believe that I have spent three years at Denison. I have really enjoyed teaching a variety of courses from introductory physics to quantum mechanics. It has been great to think about all these different branches of physics and interact with a diverse group of students. I have also been able to teach selected topics in my field (biophysics) as an independent study. Hopefully, there will be enough interest that I can develop a “real” course in the future. In addition to teaching, I have an active research program in computational biophysics. I am currently studying the dynamics of a class of proteins that function as molecular motors. This summer, Abby Chua (‘15), Ian Lowe (‘15), and Paul Young (’14) worked with me on molecular simulations, kinetic modeling and bioinformatics questions that all relate to how these motors operate and how they are controlled. Paul Young (’14) and I presented some our findings at the American Physical Society Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD in 2013. I really appreciate that Denison encourages and enables students to present at national meetings

Wes Walter

Over the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed teaching a variety of courses for both physics majors (including Classical Mechanics, Experimental Physics, and Modern Physics) and non-physics ma- jors (First-Year Seminar 102–“Renewable and Sustainable Energy”). Prof. Dan Gibson and I have continued to do research to- gether on negative ions in experiments on-campus and at the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California. Over the past two summers, Clay Crocker (‘13), Kristina Dungan (‘15), Brad Matola (‘15), Jack Ogilvie (‘14), Matt Scharpf (‘13), and Seed Zeng (‘15) have worked with us on research. Also last summer, I participated in a conference in China, after which I had a great time sightseeing with several Denison students: Seed Zeng (‘15) and his family in Chengdu, and Sida Cai (‘13) and Ste- phen Zhao (‘14) in Beijing. I’m on sabbatical this year, and I had a productive research trip this fall to the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, where I worked with a group that is investigating the possibility of using laser-cooled negative ions to sympathetically cool antiprotons for testing how anti-matter responds to gravity – very cool, indeed! On the family side, our daughter Marissa is a sophomore at Allegheny College major- ing in environmental science, and our son Ben is a junior in high school and still a sports nut. Please drop me an email to let me know how you’re doing, or stop by Olin if you’re in town!

Beth Jeffries 

Greetings from the Physics and Astronomy office! I’m very excit- ed to be the new addition to the Physics Department as of Febru- ary, 2012. My predecessor, Christie Kasson, has moved on to a challenging position as Assistant to the Dean of First Year Pro- gramsand, at last report, is enjoying this new phase of her career at Denison. I have worked at Denison for the past six years, four of which I’ve spent as the academic administrative assistant in the Women’s Studies Program. The Physics students have been very welcoming and I’m quite content in my new digs in Olin. I hope that I’ve grown on this incredible group of students as much as they have on me! In the past year and a half, I have been honored to host alumni guests Mike Gasda (‘00), Sean Newell (‘04), Lars English (‘96), and David McGinnis (’10).I am learning the workings of this department daily and look forward to being able to contribute more in the upcoming year.

Posted Date: 
Monday, April 28, 2014