Tag: physics

Tech Team Tackles Tar Balls’ Impacts On Climate

Research by Claudio Mazzoleni and physics alumni Susan Mathai ’23 and Swarup China ’12 featured in a news article in Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) by the EMSL. Mazzoleni and a multi-institutional team of researchers set out to determine exactly how solar radiation from the sun interacts with individual tar balls dispersed over a mountainous region in northern Italy.  The research assesses the optical properties of individual tar balls to better understand their influence on climate. 

Tar balls, found in biomass-burning smoke (think smoke from forest fires), impact the Earth’s radiative balance. Understanding the optical properties of tar balls can help reduce uncertainties associated with the contribution of biomass-burning aerosol in current climate models.

The original paper was selected for the cover of the Nov 7th issue of Environmental Science and Technology, and was co-authored by Tyler Capek and Susan Mathai (both Physics); Daniel Veghte of The Ohio State University; Zezhen Cheng, Swarup China ’12 (PhD Atmospheric Sciences), Libor Kovarik, Mazzoleni, and Kuo-Pin Tseng, of the PNNL; and Silvia Bucci and Angela Marinoni, Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC)-National Research Council of Italy.

Image of Claudio Mazzoleni
Claudio Mazzoleni
Professor, Physics
Image of Susan Mathai
Susan Mathai ’23
Image of Swarup China
Swarup China ’12

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.

Questions? Contact us at physics@mtu.edu. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for the latest happenings. Or read more at the Physics Newsblog.

Dean’s Teaching Showcase: Raymond Shaw

Raymond ShawThis week’s Dean’s Teaching Showcase recipient is Raymond Shaw from the Department of Physics, winner of the 2016 Michigan Tech Research Award. Shaw was selected by College of Sciences and Arts Dean Bruce Seely precisely because his efforts in the classroom forcefully demonstrate the unity of teaching and research and signal no necessary tension exists between these two core faculty responsibilities.

Seely says “That past fall, the Physics Department honored Ray for the Research Award in the manner it had recognized several other research award recipients — assigning them to teach a large lecture class. In Ray’s case, this was PH 2200, which covered electricity and magnetism for 390 students. He discovered large classes requires ‘one part professor and two parts theater director.’

“Fortunately, he enjoyed significant assistance from a demo crew that prepared attention-grabbing experiments suitable for classroom use, a dedicated assistant who managed iClicker content and online homework systems, the office staff that printed and organized 400 exam booklets every few weeks, and the physics learning center coaches who assisted students with homework and exams.

“At the end of the term, student evaluations ranked the class at 4.36 on the seven dimensions reported on the  evaluation form. This is a very good score for a large introductory class.

“Ray identified several keys to this success, including support from Physics faculty, John Jaszczak, Wil Slough, and Bob Weidman, with extensive experience in large-lecture sections, who shared lecture materials and staging tips, and provided occasional pep talks. In addition, help from the testing center and IT staff members further confirmed that such courses are taught by a team, not just a professor.

“When asked about his contributions to making this class work, Ray noted that because  big classes can seem impersonal, he ‘took it as a challenge to let my students get to know me as a person.’

“He spiced up lectures with personal anecdotes related to the course, like his rapidly-flashing blinker (RC time constants) or electromagnetic phenomena in his research. Other times he used more random elements related to life in general. He once asked students to provide iClicker responses on possible ways of disciplining his son for breaking the TV. (Corporal punishment won, but he did not take that advice) His point — students respond when taught by faculty who are real people and who care about them. As one student commented, ‘Every class was enjoyable due to the somewhat ‘nerdy’ humor followed by funny references to his son (absolutely hysterical).’

“But perhaps as important was Ray’s enthusiasm for the class. Students clearly recognized his passion and excitement about physics. One student said, ‘Your enthusiasm for Physics is inspiring. It makes the lectures much more enjoyable.’  Another added, ‘Your enthusiasm was great. You were always passionate and in a good mood.’

“This might not seem like rocket science, but teaching seems to work better in environments where faculty exhibit their enthusiasm about their field and show how they care about students and their learning.”

Shaw will be recognized at an end-of-term luncheon with 11 other showcase members, and is now eligible for one of three new teaching awards to be given by the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning this summer recognizing introductory or large class teaching, innovative or outside the classroom teaching methods, or work in curriculum and assessment.

by Michael Meyer, Director, William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning

Cloud in a Box

Cloud Chamber20140324_0003When it comes to climate change, clouds are the wild card. Atmospheric physicists at Michigan Tech use a turbulence-generating cloud chamber to better understand the details and droplets.

There are few absolutes in life, but Will Cantrell says this is one: “Every cloud droplet in Earth’s atmosphere formed on a preexisting aerosol particle.”

And the way those droplets form — with scarce or plentiful aerosol particles — could have serious implications for weather and climate change.

It’s been known for decades that cleaner clouds tend to have bigger cloud droplets. But through research conducted in Michigan Tech’s cloud chamber, which was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Cantrell, graduate student Kamal Kant Chandrakar, Raymond Shaw and colleagues found that cleaner clouds also have a much wider variability in droplet size. So wide, in fact, that some are large enough to be considered drizzle drops.

Dirtier clouds, Shaw explains, not only have smaller droplets, but also much more uniformity in droplet size, with no observable drizzle drops.

“If clouds have more aerosols in them, the drops would be smaller and more similar in size,” Shaw says. “It would be harder for the cloud to rain, and the cloud would then last longer. If a cloud rains, or has less water in it, it won’t be there to reflect sunlight.”

By Stefanie Sidortsova, read the full story.


A Metacognitive Moment

We’re beyond the halfway point in most classes, and it may be a good time to take just a (metacognitive) moment to review progress and map the road ahead.

In my physics class, I ask students each day as part of their class preparation to attempt an explanation of a real or simulated physics result. The question is based on material to which they’ve just had their first exposure, by reading or video lecture. It’s challenging, and initially not well liked. But it’s definitely something at which students improve with practice. They become not only more willing to “guess,” but they begin to support their answers with evidence, independent research and/or mathematical analysis far more often.

When I recently told my students that I had begun seeing that progress, a number of them spontaneously reflected and then shared agreement that this was getting more comfortable. It’s easy to lose track, in mid-semester, of how far you’ve come already. And it can be highly motivating to students when they see progress. In a similar way, looking backward momentarily can sometimes help put what remains in perspective.

As a physics student, when I first learned about rotational motion, I missed the idea that every rotational quantity had a linear analog. I struggled mightily as I tried to learn rotational kinematics in about a week, and the pace seemed completely unreasonable to me given that we’d spent about seven weeks learning the same concepts for linear motion.

This week, as I teach the same material, I explicitly connect each new rotational quantity back to the linear one. This seems to help students not only absorb the new material but reinforces the old and makes the pace more reasonable. A look backward could be an open-ended reflection on progress, or an explicit challenge to make comparisons to, connections with, or predictions about what’s coming. It could be done as a formal assignment, an in-class exercise, as a “minute paper” reflection near the end of a class or through a Canvas survey or quiz.

If you’re looking for other instructional strategies (and don’t want to wait for next week), stop into or contact the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning.

by Mike Meyer, CTL Director

New Funding

Raymond Shaw

Raymond Shaw (Physics/EPSSI) is the principal investigator on a research and development project that has received a $150,931 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).



Will Cantrellimage64675-pers

Will Cantrell (Physics) and Claudio Mazzoleni (Physics) are Co-PIs on the project, “An Investigation of the Suitability of a Laboratory Cloud Chamber for Optical Radiative Transfer Measurements.”


This is the first year of a two-year project potentially totaling $316,374.

Jaszczak presented at Denver Mineral and Gem Show

image144299-persJohn Jaszczak (Physics and adjunct curator of the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum) presented an invited lecture at the Denver Mineral and Gem Show (Sept. 16-18).

Jaszczak presented “Mineralogical Miracles From Merelani, Tanzania,” and brought an exhibit of faceted fluorite gemstones from the museum’s collection that were donated to the museum by the late Harold Dibble.

Read more at Tech Today.

New Funding in Physics

Claudio Mazzoleni (Physics/EPSSI) is the principal investigator on a research and development project that has received $400,321 from the National Science Foundation.

Jacek Borysow (Physics), Raymond Shaw (Physics), Will Cantrell (Physics) and David Ciochetto (Physics) are co-PIs of the project, “MRI: Development of a Water Vapor and Temperature Mapping System to Study Cloud-Turbulence Interactions in the MTU PI-Chamber.”
This is the first year of a three-year project.