Prof. Berndt Mueller was elected to the Board of Directors for the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). Read the news release here.
Archive for April, 2012
Dr. Rajarshi Raut, former Research Associate in Prof. Werner Tornow’s research group, is the first author of a Physical Review Letter article [PRL 108, 042502 (2012)] about the measurement of the photodisintegration cross section of 4He. This work was carried out at TUNL’s High-Intensity Gamma-ray Source (HIgS ). Related work on 3He was published a few months earlier in Physics Letters by W. Tornow et al. [Phys. Lett. B 702 121 (2011)].
On April 5, 2012, the Department of Physics celebrated the unveiling of the English version of Prof. Hertha Sponer’s biography, which is now available both as an e-book and as paperback and hardback. The well-attended event included introductory remarks by Dean Robert Calderbank, Dean Laurie Patton and Vice Provost Nancy Allen.
After these remarks, Dr. Marie-Ann Maushart, the author of the original biography, described the process by which she selected this project for her PhD dissertation, the difficulties she faced in convincing her mentor to support it, and the research process for uncovering information about Prof. Sponer. Dr. Maushart was followed by Prof. Brenda Winnewisser, the principal organizer and editor of the English translation, who described her own interest in the history of Prof. Sponer and her thoughts of her time in the Department of Physics around the time of Prof. Sponer’s retirement. Next, Dr. Ralph Morris, the English translator, described how he was contacted by Prof. Winnewisser, how he managed to undertake the translation while fully employed, and how he enjoyed learning some of Prof. Sponer’s science during the process. These stories were followed by a lively discussion of Prof. Sponer, her life at Duke, and the difficulties women faced and continue to face in the sciences.
There were also several comments about the fact that Prof. Sponer left a long written legacy of her life and work, as well as the difficulty historians might have in the future documenting the activities of current scientists, given the possible transitory nature of digital records. After the presentation, the speakers were taken to the Chair’s Conference Room in Department of Physics to view the portrait of Prof. Sponer by Marianne Manasse (ca. 1948).
Prof. Bob Behringer and Lab Administrator Derek Leadbetter did some exciting science outreach during the month of March.
On March 7th, Bob–with Derek behind the scenes–and Profs. Warren Warren and Ken Lyle from Chemistry presented a program “Science Magic” to 70 Duke Campus Club members. Campus Club is an organization of women involved in one way or another with Duke (faculty, faculty wives, staff, volunteers, etc.).
Some of the comments after the show from those who attended:
- “The whole event was so much fun–and full of magic! What a lot of time Bob and Warren and their colleagues and students donated for us!”
- “The show was just terrific! Boband Warren and their cohorts really know how to entertain. For someone like me whose last science experience was 50 years ago, it was amazing. Kudos and many thanks to the great performers!”
Highlights of the show were Bob propelling himself across the room on a “rocket,” diffracting glasses, and liquid nitrogen ice cream.
On March 16th, both Bob and Derek led a demonstration of science feats to a group of volunteers from the Duke Hospital Auxiliary. Again, the group was amazed at what they saw and had lots of questions.
On March 22nd, Bob with Derek’s help behind the scenes, presented a similar program at Pathways Elementary School in Orange County for 60 children between the ages of 5 and 10. When asked what was the favorite thing, the 5th graders said, “The pig in the parabolic mirror.” The kindergartners wrote thank you letters. Here is what one said:
“Dear Dr. Behringer, I glad you here for you do cool stuf. It was asm. We liket wen you was on the rocet. Luf yor stuf.
On February 4, 2012, Duke University President Richard Brodhead visited the Physics Department and in particular, explored the mysteries of granular materials. He began his visit by trying a simple granular experiment on his own, with a little help from Prof. Bob Behringer.
Jie Ren, a Ph.D. student, showed President Brodhead how her experiment works. She and post-doc Joshua Dijksman are studying the basic statistical physics of shear granular material. Along the way President Brodhead asked a number of questions that showed his quick grasp of the physics!
He then learned about Duke Physics’ ‘earthquake machine’, here demonstrated by Bob Behringer. This experiment probes the same kind of stick-slip that occurs in earthquake fault zones like the San Andreas, with the advantage that the experimenter can see exactly what is happening, and of course the energy released is not so dangerous.
At President Brodhead’s last stop, graduate student Abe Clark showed off his apparatus that is used to probe the way a meteor behaves when it strikes the earth. In this picture, from left to right: President Brodhead, holding a polarizer, Prof. Haiyan Gao, Chair Department of Physics, Hu Zheng, visiting scholar, and Ph.D. students Jie Ren, Somayeh Farhadi and Abe Clark.
View more photos on Flickr by clicking here.
Photo Credits: Cristin Paul
Second-year physics graduate student Chen Zhou, has won an Argonne ATLAS Analysis Support Center competitive fellowship designed to support ATLAS graduate students to work with, and at, the analysis center at Argonne National Laboratory. Fellows are expected to take part in ATLAS analysis and/or detector activities at ANL.
Chen will spend six months at Argonne beginning June 1 2012, working with his advisor, Prof. Mark Kruse, on an analysis of ATLAS data at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to look for new physics in final states involving multiple high-energy leptons. In addition, Prof. Kruse, Prof. Ayana Arce and Duke senior scientist Dr. Doug Benjamin are setting up a project at Argonne which Chen will help to establish, that will support the development of the next generation of silicon detectors at ATLAS.
“The contribution of physics to medicine has been spectacular,” says Prof. James Dobbins, III. “What if you went to a hospital and there were no X-rays, no CT, no MRI, no radiation therapy, no nuclear medicine, no molecular imaging? What would medicine be like?”
Dobbins is the director of the Duke University Medical Physics Graduate Program, which offers Master of Science and PhD degrees. Although Duke’s program is only seven years old, the relationship between physics and medicine goes way back—the first Nobel Prize in physics was given to Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen for discovering X-rays in 1895. The physics and medicine relationship at Duke also predates the formal program. Many graduates of Duke Physics have followed a direct or meandering path into the field. (Click here to read about Tom Savard, PhD 1998, and click here to read about Katie West Hulme, 2007.)
After earning her undergraduate degree in physics at Duke in 2007, Katie West Hulme earned a master’s degree in medical physics at MD Anderson in Texas. She says she thought about going to physics graduate school, but was looking for something more applied. Then she read an article in Duke Magazine about medical physics. “It looked like a very applied field,” she says. “You have not only the theoretical component, but you interact with a lot of different people. So that sparked my interest.”
Today she is a diagnostic physicist in radiology at the Cleveland Clinic, with a specialty in general radiography–using X-rays to make images of the human body. She’s working on getting her FDA certification in mammography. “I do a lot of quality control,” she says. “The biggest part of my job is determining what needs to be tested and how often we need to test it.” In addition to making sure all current equipment is working correctly and compliant with state regulations, she also tests and calibrates new equipment after it is installed. She also helps set up clinical protocols to optimize the balance between image quality and the dose of radiation the patient receives. She doesn’t read images—that’s the job of radiologists—but if there’s an issue with an image due to the equipment, she might help troubleshoot it. In the coming years, she’ll add job responsibilities as she gains experience. For example, physicists on her team sign off on blueprints for treatment rooms in new buildings and compute the radiation dose estimates for a fetus if a pregnant patient needs a CT scan.
After working at the Cleveland Clinic for a year and a half, she says, “I get to interact with a whole host of people from clinical administrators, radiologists, technologists. I like that my job is to approve things, so there is a tangible aspect to what I do. I like that there is a teaching component—I do a lot of training sessions with our technologists and I work with radiology residents. I like the variety—every day is very different.”
Mary-Russell Roberson is a freelance science writer who lives in Durham.
Tom Savard, who earned his PhD in physics at Duke in 1998, now works at St. Jude Medical in St. Paul, where he is Director of Advanced Process Development-Systems for the Atrial Fibrillation Division. While at Duke, Savard studied resonance imaging of trapped atoms with Prof. John Thomas. He started his career at Honeywell working on space defense, and made the transition to medical work almost seven years ago. “I really like working on problems that are challenging and important,” he says. “I wanted to try medicine too because it’s using technology to make life better for people.”
At St. Jude, he leads teams that develop the company’s products and quality-control test equipment. Savard focuses on products related to radiofrequency ablation for atrial fibrillation, which means applying energy to the heart to interrupt faulty electrical signals. The energy has to be applied at the exact spot in the heart that is generating the faulty rhythms. Savard works on improving the navigation and recording systems that doctors use to find that spot. The systems record electrical signals from the heart and create an electrical map of heart activity.
Savard says he uses his physics background every day: “When you’re testing something, you really have to understand the physics of how it works. You need to understand the physics of the measurements, and you need to understand how you can establish more precision in the measurements. There’s lots of problem-solving, so the discipline of breaking a problem into smaller pieces and solving those smaller pieces is definitely something I’m leveraging from my physics background.” His background also comes in handy when he’s faced with a cross-disciplinary problem (like one that’s both electrical and mechanical), or one that requires an analytical understanding of how things work. “Having all that experimental background in physics is really helpful for understanding what’s possible—what really could go wrong and how you could prevent those things from going wrong,” he says.
Savard has some advice for newly minted physics PhDs interested in working in the medical technology industry, or any other industry for that matter: “As a physicist, you have to realize there are challenging questions in every field that your physics background can be used to solve: testing, development, processing, quality.” To land that first job, he suggests networking with physicists in industry. Savard developed a list of contacts by looking through a patent database to find people who had applied for patents related to his interest. “Once you’re employed, you can demonstrate all your skills and you can apply them in a variety of different environments,” he says.
Mary-Russell Roberson is a freelance science writer who lives in Durham.