Category: Undergraduate

Nathan Schlorke: Physics Pursuits Pay Off with a Bachelor of Arts

Nathan Schlorke
Nathan Schlorke, Physics Major

Schlorke followed the usual path that many new students take to get into Michigan Tech. Both his parents went to Michigan Tech, as did his sister (computer science), piquing his interest. While he wanted to study nuclear engineering (Tech did not have such a program), it was a place where he could study high energy particle astrophysics, and nuclear physics.

There were lots of things for him to get involved in at Tech and deepen his learning while acquiring important skills. Plus, he liked the flexibility that physics offered for future career prospects. When his interests shifted away from nuclear during school, he decided to augment his passion for physics with an electrical engineering degree too.

A Chemical Attraction to Undergraduate Research

Nathan Schlorke and Colin Sheidler
Nathan Schlorke and Colin Sheidler

Schlorke was attracted to undergraduate research early in his college career. He is spurred by a drive to learn more about a particular subject that interests him. “I recognized right away that I had a disconnect to applying physics in the real world,” Schlorke said. “Undergraduate research allows you to see physics in action.”

Through a professor of chemistry’s presentation in a physics class, Schlorke found surface sciences to have a lot of common ground with nano-scale physics. He found work as a research assistant under Dr. Kathyrn Perrine. Schlorke learned valuable skills. He hand-drafted, CAD-modeled, and fabricated a substrate fixture and transfer mechanism for use in performing nanoscience and surface-science experimentation in an ultra-high vacuum (UHV).

The substrate fixture included an in-built cryogenic cooling loop and high-temperature Ohmic heating. Testing methods using the equipment varied from infrared laser spectroscopy to field desorption techniques. He performed mechanical modeling of heat transfer, including modeling a sample holder (in a two-stage vacuum) for a thin crystalline structure. He had to show what happens to the mounted sample when moving between reaction stages. “It was really satisfying to see what I designed for Dr. Perrine. To see it come together and see it in action was a lot of fun.”

Pursuing Physics Undergraduate Research

Nathan Schlorke and Colin Sheidler
Nathan Schlorke and Liesel Schlorke

His semester in the Perrine Lab left him wanting more research experiences, particularly in physics. He found an opportunity as an undergraduate research fellow under Dr. Yoke Khin Yap and Dr. Mingxiao Ye. He worked to optimize the synthesis of unique ultra-thin compounds to create a tune-able band gap. A band gap defines the energy for electrons to move to different states and regions in a material. Modifying such a band gap can increase efficiency in solar cell materials and other microcircuits.

Schlorke observes, “As you get materials into these small states, their properties change rapidly- like in microcircuits and solar cells. When you free an electron by exposing it to light in a solar cell, you can improve its efficiency.” In addition to using pulsed laser deposition, Schlorke also worked on chemical vapor depositions and used Michigan Tech’s Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) to assess the quality of the layers. 

“During my three years in the Yoke Khin Yap Lab, it was satisfying to know my work helped papers to get completed and published. I enjoyed seeing Mingxao earn his PhD. It’s great to know that I am a part of that,” Schlorke said.

Nathan Schlorke’s Advice for Aspiring Undergraduate Physics Researchers

Schlorke offers advice for budding undergraduate researchers. “Get into it early. It gave me so much confidence. Research seems complex and insurmountable; just daunting with technical terms that I didn’t know. But by doing research I was able to ask questions and go deeper than my studies allowed me to go. I gained a whole new perspective.” Schlorke suggests prospective undergraduate researchers find an application that interests them and find out who is doing research in that area. Then seek them out and ask to take part.

Senior Design Project: Can You Design a Rail Gun?

There’s no shortage of opportunities to get involved at Michigan Tech. A senior design project presented an opportunity. There are more than 9000 metric tons- over 100 million tracked particles and pieces. With thousands launches into space each year, the amount of debris will continue to increase. And by 2030 there will be 60,000 satellites flying in this zone. The presence of many satellites and space debris complicates space travel. 

As a consultant to a senior design project, Schlorke was challenged to create a system to drag debris into the Earth’s atmosphere so it burns up. Schlorke’s physics experience allowed him to design, model, and present a prototype for an electromagnetic-based launcher for on-satellite use. The launcher could send low-speed expanding foam canisters to catch large sections of debris.

The idea was not selected in the competition, but he used the study and pitched it to the Undergraduate Student Board as a special project- a unique one-on-one project class with professor advisement for credit. One of many ways Michigan Tech allows for truly flexible and unique paths- “if one doesn’t exist- you can make your own.” says Schlorke.

Society of Physics Students: Another Opportunity for Schlorke

The Society of Physics Students was also instrumental in helping Schlorke navigate the physics world. “The Society helped me to understand what physicists did,” he said. “What were the opportunities available to me outside of academia? Through the Society of Physics Students, I further developed communication skills. My leadership role helped me learn how to manage an organization, too. These 21st-century skills apply to the real world.” Plus it made him feel part of a community and was a great way to meet people and get to know them.

Ohm-inous Career Ahead Thanks to Physics

Schlorke recently took a lead technical position at GE Aerospace where he works closely with the US Navy, Air Force, and Army on developing test systems to support the US Military. He attributes his success to his physics training. “Physics is widely recognized (and rightfully so) as rigorous and technically fundamental in what it teaches you,” said Schlorke. “It teaches the core principles of problem-solving. Physics trains you to break down a situation you have never seen before, analyze and compartmentalize it, find a resolution, and explain it to others. Thanks to my BA in Physics I have the confidence and the skills to approach problems that are outside of my comfort zone and general area of knowledge.”

As Schlorke gets deeper into his career, he thinks he is using the skills he developed in physics more than those from engineering. Although he admits there is plenty of cross-over between the two. “The physics program at Tech also teaches you the design, writing, and communication skills you need to be successful,” Schlorke said. “It gave me a wide view of the technical universe; thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, etc.. I learned how to decompose a system. As I go deeper into design, I use more physics skill sets to predict and judge how systems will interact—electrically, thermally, chemically, in many ways.”

Schlorke looks back fondly on his time at Michigan Tech. “The Physics department is a place that challenges you,” he said. “They give you all the resources you could need (and more), but how far you take it is really up to you.” Looks like Schlorke’s career is off to a great start.

About the Physics Department

Physicists at Michigan Technological University help students apply academic concepts to real-world issues. Our physicists take on the big questions to discover how the universe works—from the smallest particles to the largest galaxies. The Physics Department offers three undergraduate degrees and three graduate degrees. Supercharge your physics skills to meet the demands of a technology-driven society at a flagship public research university powered by science, technology, engineering, and math. Graduate with the theoretical knowledge and practical experience needed to solve real-world problems and succeed in academia, research, and tomorrow’s high-tech business landscape.

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Alumni Profile – Bethany Hellman

2022 alumna Bethany Hellman
2022 graduate Bethany Hellman in the Optical Nanoscopy Lab at the University of Central Florida.

Bethany Hellman graduated in the Spring of 2022 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. She was an inaugural recipient of The Elizabeth Henes Memorial Award for outstanding undergraduate women in physics. Bethany was a member of the Society of Physics students throughout her time at Michigan Tech, worked as a coach at the Physics Learning Center, and performed experimental research with the guidance of Professor Jacek Borysow. 

In your time at Michigan Tech, what was it like to be a member of the Physics Department? 

I think the best part of the physics department at Tech is the close-knit nature of the  department. Right from the start of my undergraduate degree, we developed good study  strategies and worked together to get through our classes. This cooperation built good team working skills as well as helped with individual understanding of the material.  Additionally, it is easy to talk to and connect with the professors, and it helps make the  department feel less intimidating. The opportunities for travel, whether it be to visit labs and colleges or to attend conferences, really helped integrate me into the STEM community and get a feel for what the field is like and what the field is doing. While it is hard, there were definitely moments where I felt I was getting a good college education.

Can you talk a little bit about your senior research project and what it was like to get  hands-on experience in the lab? 

My senior research involved laser engineering, and I don’t think we praise the hands-on experience enough. It is one thing to learn about the theory and see it all work out nicely on a chalkboard, but when it comes time to do something with that information you need to learn a new set of skills that is unrelated to what we learn in a classroom. Only by fine tuning the transmission through a fiber optic cable and slightly adjusting a mirror to find the perfect spot did I learn that optics requires a lot of patience and fine motor skills. I knew in theory that I needed my seed laser to hit the gain medium of the semiconductor laser, but in practice that gain medium is on the order of micrometers in size; learning how to actually align the optics to get there required trial and error. I honestly loved the research I was doing, and the freedom I had to figure it out on my own helped me develop an independence when it comes to research. I learned how to read manuals, how to troubleshoot, and how to look for other sources on the web when I had a question to answer. It is truly one of the most valuable aspects of my undergraduate degree. 

Do you feel like this experience helped you in your search for graduate schools? 

It definitely did. My research opened my eyes to the field of optics and photonics, and when I applied to graduate school I have no doubt the research I had helped me get accepted into the program I’m in now. It also helped me figure out what exactly I wanted from a graduate program; I really enjoyed the hands-on activity, and after visiting two universities I decided on the one that had a building full of labs instead of classrooms. It has also helped prepare me for graduate level research, which requires a lot of self direction, and it helped develop a base of skills for working in a lab. 

What is it that you are doing now? 

Currently I am working with Dr. Han in his Optical Nanoscopy Lab while pursuing my  doctorate in Optics and Photonics at the University of Central Florida. The focus of the  lab is super resolution fluorescence microscopy, although currently I am working on phase imaging microscopy (more specifically quadriwave lateral shearing interferometry, or QLSI). As such, I am working on a microscope setup with an LED light source and a camera with a diffraction grating, and down the road I aim to improve the resolution of the setup. It requires learning a lot of new skills, like how to prepare a bead sample or a DNA sample for viewing, a lot of optics, and some coding.  

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for those who are thinking of becoming a physics major? 

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that you learn very applicable skills in  physics. It is tough for sure, but with a little perseverance the most important thing you will learn is how to learn. You will learn how to find the answer to your own questions and how to properly understand the information you need. You will learn patience, because I don’t believe it comes easily to any of us, and it may take several times to fully understand a concept. With these skills however, there isn’t anything you can’t learn, and that opens a lot of doors.

Alumni Profile – Daniel Koshar

Daniel Koshar
Daniel Koshar (BS, 2022) at Ovshinsky Innovation
Optics and spectroscopic laboratory equipment
Daniel’s senior project apparatus for detecting light absorbing particles in the air.
Dan Koshar
Daniel during the 2022 senior trip to France

Daniel Koshar graduated in the Spring of 2022 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. During his time at Michigan Tech, Daniel was a member of the Society of Physics students, worked as a coach at the Physics Learning Center, and took advantage of multiple research opportunities.

Daniel aided Dr. Piret (Math) in developing a simulation of COVID-19 spread through a small city to help inform Michigan Tech policy. He worked in Dr. Yap’s laboratory researching cost-effective methods of producing BNNT Nanotubes, and assisted Dr. Mazzoleni and Dr. Borysow in engineering a device for detecting aerosols related to air quality and climate change, with a particular focus on soot and black carbon.

In your time at Michigan Tech, what was it like to be a member of the Physics Department?

My time at MTU was a great experience for me.  I gained many practical skills — both from the classroom material and college life — as well as met some amazing people.  Professors were generally supportive and genuinely cared about your success, the lounge provided a great place for me and my peers to work together on studying and homework, and research opportunities were always easily accessible. 

Can you talk a little bit about the research you performed at Tech and what it was like to get hands-on experience?

I began researching at Tech as soon as my sophomore year, and opportunities were pretty easy to come by.  There were always professors looking for students to help with their projects, and simply asking around was enough to get started within a couple weeks if even.  I even got paid for some of my research.  Working alongside professors and other students while also developing incredibly useful career skills was an amazing experience, and I’d highly recommend getting involved as soon as possible.

What is it that you are doing now?

I work at Ovshinsky Innovation in Hancock, MI, just across Portage Lake from Michigan Tech itself.  It’s a start-up company focused on the invention and development of new technologies with an emphasis on energy science.  Currently, my job primarily deals with prototyping, assembling, and programming various devices we use for experiments, but will soon expand into managing and running some of these experiments myself.

Do you feel like your experience at Michigan Tech helped prepare you for what you’re doing now? If so, how?

My time at MTU taught me skills that I use all the time, both at work and in general.  Clear communication, collaborating with others, learning new concepts quickly and effectively, how to conduct effective research- these are all skills I learned while getting my degree that I have to use all the time alongside the material I learned in the classroom.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for those who are thinking of becoming a physics major?

Make friends within physics and don’t try to do the degree all on your own.  No matter what field you’re in, STEM is all about collaboration and working together with your peers.  It’ll still be tough at times but having people to study and bounce ideas around with improve your college life by a lot. Also, get involved in research as soon as possible.  You’ll gain a lot of practical experience, get to know great people, and it looks fantastic on a resume.

Physics Students Expanding Horizons

Students on the steps of the the Curie Pavilion of the Paris Radium Institute
On the steps of Musée Curie. L-R, Back Row: Wyatt Reller, Trevor Kieft, Marc Fritts, Dalton Knight, Riley Dickert. Front Row: Sarah Huffman, Kaz Zeiter, Bethany Hellman, Casey Aldrich, Daniel Koshar.
Marie Curie’s laboratory space
A 12 hour layover in Chicago allowed for time in the city. Here, students contemplate the unique optics of Cloud Gate (better known as “The Bean”)

This spring, senior physics majors had the opportunity to visit Paris, France, a center of sciences, arts, technology and culture for centuries.

The focus of the trip was a tour of the Laboratory for Optics and Biosciences, Ecole Polytechnique. Thanks to Director François Hache for his warm welcome. LOB scientists showed how their advanced microscopy techniques are used to study molecular and cellular biology, including the imaging of living tissues.

With Ecole Polytechnique demonstrating the future of microscopy, touring the Musée Curie (Curie Museum) presented an important tie to the past. Housed in the Curie Pavilion of the Institut du Radium, the museum presents the lab in which Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie performed her research between 1914 and her death in 1934.

Students also broadened their cultural understanding with visits to the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.

In a field with as rich a history as physics, it is important to find opportunities to understand how we fit into that history and our global community of science. Collaboration and communication with scientists worldwide is how our discipline will continue to grow.

Special thanks to the Elizabeth and Richard Henes Center for Quantum Phenomena, who’s support made this trip possible.

Physics Major Anthony Palmer Wins Best Poster at Computing [MTU] Showcase

Michigan Tech physics and applied and computational mathematics double major Anthony Palmer, along with computer science PhD candidate Elijah Cobb, won the best poster recently in the Computing [MTU] Showcase for “Universal Sensor Description Schema: An extensible metalanguage to support heterogenous, evolving sensor data.”

Image of Anthony Palmer and Elijah Cobb in front of their poster at Michigan Tech’s Computing [MTU] Showcase
Anthony Palmer (left) and Elijah Cobb present their poster at Michigan Tech’s Computing [MTU] Showcase

Collecting and processing underwater sensor data is a critical need for U.S. Navy operations. Differences in sensor data types and forms presents a challenge for complete and accurate use of these data. The Universal Sensor Description Schema (USDS) project seeks to design, evaluate, and deploy a unified, extensible metalanguage for supporting legacy and future sensor data across multiple programming languages and environments. Michigan Tech is collaborating with Applied Research in Acoustics LLC to develop a robust programming environment for development of data-intensive applications.

Anthony came up with the idea for the project while interning at ARiA (a small research-and-development firm serving the Navy, government and industry). It’s been the basis for his senior thesis in physics. Anthony says “This project in particular has helped me learn alot about how programming languages work and are made. It also helped me learn a new functional programming language called “Racket”. Finally, it introduced me to some awesome people in the MTU computer science department including my partner Elijah Cobb and my advisor, Dr. Charles Wallace.”

Eye-opening describes the experience for Anthony.  He says, “I would say that I was surprised by the intricacy of how programming languages are built and function. I would also say that it was unexpected how useful recursion can be for solving problems in computing.” Recursion reduces time complexity, adds clarity and reduces the time needed to write and debug code.

Anthony graduates in a few short weeks. HIs attention will turn to the Navy, where he will be a submarine officer. Eventually he hopes to go into graduate school.

Physics alumnus receives APS award

Heather LewandowskiMichigan Tech alumna Heather J. Lewandowski, associate professor, University of Colorado Boulder, is the recipient of the prestigious American Physics Society – Wolff-Reichert Award for Excellence in Advanced Laboratory Instruction.

Lewandowski received a bachelor’s of science degree in physics from Michigan Tech in 1997 and was inducted in the Presidential Council of Alumnae (PCA) in 2016.

The American Physics Society has acknowledged contributions of Lewandowski “For systematic and scholarly transformation of advanced laboratories in physics, for building leading assessment tools of laboratories, and for national service advancing our advanced laboratory educational community.”