Margie Bruff ’16 impresses judges at physics conference

Margie Bruff presented her research alongside college students (and took home an award!) at the March meeting of the American Physical Society.

Margie Bruff ’16

The senior recently presented her research poster at the March meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, MD. She took home the Outstanding Research Presentation award in the undergraduate research category.

Margie Bruff loves physics. Not only has she taken five physics courses this year alone, she participated in the 2015 Summer Research in Physical Science program. During that program, she began research she would continue into the fall. She recently presented this research—”Gravity Wave Disturbances in the F Region Ionosphere Above Large Earthquakes”—alongside undergraduate university students at a professional conference. Bruff came home from the conference, the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, with the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Presentation award in the judged event.

We asked Bruff to describe her research and tell us more about the experience of presenting at one of the largest physics conferences in the world, with almost 10,000 international physicists attending and giving research presentations.

On her research and presenting at a professional conference alongside undergraduate students:  

As a student in RPhys (Research in Physics class) I worked on an independently designed project under the mentorship of Dr. Bennett at NCSSM and Dr. Jef Spaleta, an NCSSM alumnus now working at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

I studied waves in the atmosphere around large earthquakes. Since it is hard to observe quantitative information about gravity waves from atmospheric data, I used ionospheric data. The ionosphere is the region of charged particles above Earth’s atmosphere. When the air moving in the atmospheric waves collides with charged particles in the ionosphere, it causes travelling wave disturbances in the upper layer of the ionosphere, the F-region. These disturbances can be observed using ground-based radar and can be analyzed to determine qualitative information, such as directional patterns, as well as quantitative information such as wavelength and duration. I used a ground-based radar network called SuperDARN (Super Dual Auroral Radar Network) to observe ionospheric disturbances around the time and location of 6 earthquakes. This work is significant to broaden our understanding of the interaction between the Earth’s surface (lithosphere), atmosphere and ionosphere, and toward efforts to predict earthquakes. [Read Bruff’s abstract here.]

At first, I expected not as many people to be interested in my research, since not only were the other students undergraduates, but most had done research in the fields of physics toward which the March meeting is geared, such as solid state physics and fluid physics. But really, almost everyone was willing to listen and apply what they knew to what I was saying. People would take what I had said about my research and apply what they knew about their own field of physics and ask very interesting questions about the significance or implications of my research. Even if I didn’t know the answers to the questions, they started interesting conversations from which I learned something new every time. Overall, I was able to understand my own project better by seeing how it related to other current research and other fields, and to see firsthand the importance of asking good questions to the progression of scientific understanding.



Favorite class at NCSSM:
Galaxies and Cosmology

Best tip for avoiding procrastination:
When I find myself procrastinating, I look at the stars; the vastness of the cosmos reminds me how much we have left to learn about the universe and motivates me to get to work discovering and solving its mysteries.

Dream job:

Favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon:
Exploring downtown Durham with friends

Secret talent: 

What book are you reading right now:
Contact by Carl Sagan

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