August 3, 2011
Matthew Schmitthenner, a junior physics and math double major from Delaware, Ohio, discusses the results of his summer research during a poster session in Taylor Hall last month.
WOOSTER, Ohio — A steady buzz of engaging and enlightening conversation filled the air in Room 103 of Taylor Hall late last month as students in The College of Wooster’s Summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program discussed their projects with faculty, guests, and fellow students.
John Lindner, professor of physics and chair of the department at Wooster, calls REU an “equalizer” because it provides a way for young scientists to become leaders on projects that have never been done before. “They gained experience doing real science,” said Lindner of the REU students. “Science is not about doing problems at the end of the book.” Instead, he describes the process of working to develop solutions as “liberating and challenging” for the researchers, noting that these students “are on the cutting edge.”
The young scholars appreciated the opportunity to conduct research in a setting that encouraged interaction with a professor. “The student is in charge,” said Karl Smith, a junior physics and philosophy double major from Nashville, Tenn., adding that he gained a lot of experience programming and solving physics problems that he wouldn’t come across in a classroom. Instead of thinking the way you are “trained” to think in class, said, Smith, REU gives students the freedom to figure out the best way to come up with solutions on their own.
Smith’s work on knot theory simulated physical knots in order to predict their behavior in terms of the length of time it takes for them to come undone when a constant force is applied. He discovered that knots (such as the thief knot and square knot) come undone when friction exceeds a critical value.
Matthew Schmitthenner, a junior physics and math double major from Delaware, Ohio, also found his REU experience to be beneficial, supporting Smith’s assertion that one becomes more comfortable with the programming aspect of the process. “It’s nice to be able to do research (that nobody has done before) as a junior,” he said.
Schmitthenner’s project, titled “Beyond Newton: // Body Problem,” examined the orbits of two line masses (//) interacting gravitationally, showing the relationship between the rotation of the // and the revolution of the orbit. It builds on Newton’s research, which looked at spheres, such as the Earth and Sun, and encompasses a wider range of objects, such as asteroids, which are more like lines than spheres.
These projects, and others, don’t reach a conclusion at the end of the eight-week program. Instead, the students write summary papers of their progress to date to help the next group further the study. Some of the research will be continued this fall by students working on their Senior I.S. (Independent Study), Wooster’s nationally acclaimed research program for undergraduates. Others will have to wait until next summer.
- Story and photo by Libby Fackler '13
Areas of Study
Taylor Hall308 E. University StreetWooster, OH 44691Phone: 330-263-2478Fax: 330-263-2516
1189 Beall Avenue, Wooster, Ohio 44691. (330) 263-2000
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