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Haverford College
Departments of Physics and Astronomy
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Student Research: Recent Experiences

Almost all Haverford physics, astronomy and astrophysics majors perform scientific research either during the summer or academic year (or both).

These experiences can be part of Haverford's extensive summer research program, or at other locations, such as other colleges or universities, national laboratories or industrial labs. We regard student research as an integral part of the major experience, rather than as an option for a select few, so we provide extensive support and funding to help our students find opportunities that suit their interests and backgrounds. Our majors have multiple opportunities to present their research experiences in public settings, including national scientific meetings, our physics senior seminar capstone course (which includes a required senior talk) and local student research poster sessions.

Studying the distribution of stars in the HST/GOODS data

Willman Group Summer 09

"In the summer of 2009, I did astronomy research with Beth Willman, looking for stars in GOODS, a survey done by many observatories. I used data from the Hubble Telescope. I learned Linux, IDL programming, and Latex. I developed and implemented parameters to isolate halo stars from the survey, including using SHAPE, magnitude and color measurements, as well as online models. I then studied their spatial distributions, looking for structure in the Milky Way halo. "

Jennifer Campbell (left, sophomore, Astrophysics ’11) worked with Alex Warres (second from left, junior, Physics & Astronomy ’10), Gail Gutowski (second from right, junior, Physics & Astronomy ’10) and supervisor Prof. Beth Willman (far right).

On Horava-Lifshiz Quantum Gravity and the First Order Formalism

Alexander Group Summer 09

"My research project this summer focused on a new theory of gravity proposed by Petr Horava, a string theorist at UC Berkley. Horava's theory represents a modification to Einstein's theory of gravity, classical general relativity, at high energies and short length scales. Together with Alex Cahill I learned about different mathematical formalisms for gravity theories and investigated the possibility of re-writing Horava's theory in terms of the Ashtekar variables. However, there are a number of technical difficulties in writing Horava's theory in this way. If we are successful in the future it will enable calculations that will give insight into how Horava's theory fits into the standard quantization scheme and enable comparisons with another theory known as Loop Quantum Gravity. "

Martin Blood-Forsythe (center, junior Physics ’10) worked with sophomore Alex Cahill (at left Physics ’11) and Garrett Vannacore (at right, Physics ’11) and Ivy Tao (first year, physics ’13, not shown)

Lattice gas automata models of fluid dynamics

Love Group Summer 09

"Our research in Prof. Peter Love’s group involves reproducing and extending results from the lattice gas automaton model for two dimensional fluid dynamics. Our two goals are accurately simulating fluid flow in flat space and developing rules for dynamical geometry and implementing them. The lattice gas automaton model for fluid dynamics populates a two-dimensional lattice with particles that propagate and collide to conserve energy and momentum. It has been shown to reproduce the laws which govern fluid dynamics on a large scale. By using the Pachner moves, which change the triangulation of our manifold but not the topology, we have introduced a method by which the lattice sites can grow or delete under certain conditions. In other words, if the triangulation initially approximates a doughnut, via a sequence of Pachner moves it can be made to look like a coffee cup but not like a sphere. This couples the structure of the lattice to the "flow" of the particles. We have been studying the relationship between the fluid and the lattice."

Anna Klales (graduating senior, Physics ’09) worked with Zach Needell (left, sophomore, Physics ’11) and Dan Cianci (right, junior, Physics ’10)

Dynamics of Inertial Particles In A Driven Incompressible Fluid Flow

Gollub Group Summer 09

"In summer 2008 and 2009, I worked in Professor Jerry Gollub's lab studying the dynamics of inertial particles in a driven incompressible fluid flow. As a follow-up to Peter O'Malley's (Physics & Astro '08) experiment that examined the properties of spherical particles, my experiment used rod-like axi-symmetric anisotropic particles. The dynamics of these particles are interesting since many particles in fluid flows in nature are not spherically symmetric, and rigid rods can be used as an example of particles with both rotational and translational motion in fluids. In our experiment, we float the particles between a layer of water and inorganic salt solution, and use Lorentz forcing to drive our flow. After imaging the rod-like particles and the tracer particles, we examine many different aspects of both the rod-like particles as well as the underlying flow such as displacement, velocity, orientation, etc. "

Monica Kishore (graduating senior, Physics ’09) shown (left to right) with Hansen Nordsiek (junior, Michigan Tech), Andrew Ross (sophomore, Physics ’11), and postdoc Jeff Guasto

Mobbing: a collective animal motion study of flocking and deterrence


"I worked with Professor Suzanne Amador Kane (Physics) to film, analyze, and model avian mobbing. Mobbing is a surprising phenomenon whereby smaller prey animals (in our case, songbirds) harass and attack a larger predator (in our case, the red-tailed hawk). Suzanne supplied a steady stream of knowledge, guidance, and pats on the back while encouraging me to choose and attack goals independently. I learned that scientists have to approach new challenges with both patience and creativity: sometimes you have to muck through a swamp, but you can usually build yourself a raft. By the end of the summer we had a mountain of stereometric video, several computer models, and results that reveal sophisticated mobbing strategies. For instance, a group of swallows will take turns mobbing with a well-defined period – just under the time that a hawk needs to take off from its perch and strike – so that they keep the predator off-balance without endangering themselves. Looking back (and ahead, because we’ll be able to continue our research during the school year) as I made up our poster presentation was really, really satisfying.."

M. Elias Tousley (sophomore, Physics ’11) and Owen Glaze (not shown, Lower Merion High School senior)

Distributions of Dust and Star Formation


"My summer 2009 & 2008 research project working with Anna Sajina focused on studying a the distributions of dust and star formation in a galaxy that had recently undergone a collision with another galaxy, an event suspected to result in higher rates of star birth. I learned how to use the programming language IDL to analyze images of the galaxy taken by the Spitzer and GALEX space telescopes, which collect emission in the infrared and ultraviolet bands respectively. I learned about galaxy collisions and the connections between star formation and dust in galaxies by reading journal articles and talking to my research advisor."

Anna Pancoast - Physics & Astronomy '09

Consecutive halo mergers and multiple quasars

Moreno Group Summer 09

"During the summer of 2009 I worked with visiting professor Jorge Moreno studying quasars and theoretical models of dark matter halo mergers. Quasars are thought to be triggered by major galactic mergers -- so by analyzing Monte Carlo outputs of the epochs of consecutive halo mergers, we attempted to estimate the probability of a halo containing multiple quasars. This estimate can be helpful in future surveys that will focus on small scales, at which quasar pairs can be best observed. To generate the Monte Carlo simulation for the consecutive mergers, I learned how to program in C++ as well as using bash and IDL to plot and analyze the data. This Monte Carlo simulation is based on the excursion set theory of gravitational collapse. I learned and coded cosmological routines involving the primordial power spectrum, the spherical collapse criterion, as well as a Gaussian-random number generator and a Brownian random walk algorithm. Beyond the technical skills I acquired, I learned how science progresses, how to write scientific papers (in LaTeX) and what happens day to day in science research (by reading relevant papers in astro-ph and ADS)."

Oliver Elbert (sophomore, Physics and Astronomy ’11)

Quantum Lattice Gases


"My research in the summers of 2009, 2008 and 2007 with Prof. Peter Love involved studying simple models of quantum mechanics called quantum lattice gases. These systems can be used to simulate the relativistic Dirac equation in one spatial dimension, or the nonrelativistic Schroedinger equation in any spatial dimension. We hope to be able to use our simulations as a pathway for future quantum computing experiments to model physical systems such as chemical reactions. Our immediate goal in studying them is to find out their behavior in various parameter limits. For me, I have found that summer research is as much about the actual research project as it is about learning and developing new skills outside of the classroom. Through this project, I have learned about programming and the Linux operating system environment, mathematics, technical writing, and reading journal articles."

Andrew O'Hara - Physics & Math '09

Analyzing Data Taken with the VLA


"I spent summer 2008 assisting Prof. Bruce Partridge with astronomy research. We focused on analyzing data taken with the VLA (the Very Large Array radio telescope) in 2001 with the intention of creating a catalog of gigahertz peaked radio sources. These sources are expected to cause problems with the next phase of Cosmic Microwave Background measurements to be performed by the Planck satellite, which we expect will launch in 2009, so we worked to obtain the spectra of roughly two hundred such sources. On a day to day basis, my work consisted of using the AIPS software package to first clean the diffraction pattern from an image, then to determine the flux of the source."

Shea Garrison-Kimmel - Physics & Astronomy '09

Investigating the Photoconductive Properties of Porphyrin Nanorods


"I'm Kent Riley and I just graduated from Haverford with a B.S. in Physics in 2008. I did my senior research with Walter Smith on investigating the photoconductive properties of self-assembling porphyrin nanorods over the past year. Porphyrin is the light harvesting molecule found in chlorophyll, a necessary structure for photosynthesis in plants. Consequently, porphryins in the chlorophyll effectively absorb light from the sun and allow electronic communication along molecules in the plant. Using synthetic porphyrin that self-assemble, we create our own nanorod aggregates to mimic the effects displayed by the porphyrin in cholorophyll. These synthetic structures show promise as optically active molecular wires, optical sensors, or even optically-based computers. Most of what I did in the lab was using the AFM (atomic force microscope) to image nanorods deposited on gold electrodes, then conduct electrical measurements under laser light to explore their optical and electronic properties."

C. Kent Riley - Physics '08