Seniors present physics research at professional conference

Alexander Allen (left) and Kate Kushner presented their research at the fall meeting of theSoutheastern Section of the American Physical Society. Allen took home first place in the undergraduate poster session.

NCSSM seniors Alexander Allen and Kate Kushner (as well as fellow senior Stella Wang) travelled to Charlottesville, VA, this fall to present their research at a meeting of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society (SESAPS). The research conference is attended by physicists from around the southeastern U.S. The students attended presentations on current topics in physics research, including a keynote address about the recent discovery of gravitational waves from merging black holes, and presented their own research in the undergraduate poster session. We spoke with Allen and Kushner about their work and the experience of presenting at a professional conference.

Kate Kushner ‘17

On her research and presenting at a professional conference:

Groups of galaxies are surrounded by dark matter halos. My research involved using data from a galaxy survey conducted by a research team at UNC Chapel Hill to compare the masses of the group dark matter halos of thousands of galaxies to other characteristics of the galaxies that have to do with star formation. I looked at a color gradient and the gas mass to stellar mass ratio to look for clues of star formation in the galaxies, since this can be related to disk growth and galactic evolution.

I thought that it was really interesting to attend the conference because I had never been to a professional conference for a STEM field. I’ve been interested in going into STEM ever since elementary school, so I’m always really interested in learning more about what work as a research scientist actually looks like. It was also kind of nice that we didn’t have to dress up for the entire conference–in some ways it was a little more relaxed than I expected, and that helped make me less nervous. I really enjoyed it!

At first I was pretty anxious about presenting my research there, but I’m glad I challenged myself, because I got more comfortable once I started talking to people and I realized that presenting my work to classmates at NCSSM had helped prepare me.

Hometown: Raleigh

Favorite class at NCSSM: My Mini-Term from last year. I went on the UK to CERN trip and had a lot of fun.

Dream job: National Geographic Photographer

Favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon: Having a piano lesson.

Secret talent: Pen and ink flower-drawing.

What book are you reading right now: War and Peace

Alexander Allen ‘17

Allen won first place (out of 78 posters) for his project, “Enhancement of Second Harmonic Generation by Localized Surface Resonance Plasmons.”

On his research and presenting at a professional conference:

My research is for the purpose of creating a material that absorbs light and efficiently reflects it at twice the frequency. This process is known as second-harmonic generation in the field of optics, as it is the second harmonic of the initial light wave that is being produced. Typically the way of performing second-harmonic generation is by using an organic bulk crystal, which is large and expensive. My research focuses on creating an artificial nanofilm which can perform at or above the efficiency of organic crystals so that second harmonic generation can be used at the nano-scale. At the nano-scale, second-harmonic generation can be used in quantum computers and fiber optics by assisting in a process known as optical switching, which can be thought of being similar to transistors in classical computers. I am currently working with my mentor to publish my paper to a peer-reviewed journal.

It was a very enlightening experience to attend a professional conference. This was the first event of its kind I have ever attended and it was very novel to meet the faces behind the papers I have read. Presenting my research in that setting was an exciting experience; it was the first time my research had been reviewed by professional physicists outside my project familiar with the content. Ultimately it was very informative; I learned what most physicists focused on when reading a poster like mine.

Hometown: Pittsboro

Favorite class at NCSSM: Modern Physics

Dream job: CTO of a startup tech company

What do you do for stress relief: I listen to music and walk around campus when I am feeling stressed. I also enjoy working on extracurricular projects to de-stress.

Favorite food: Persimmon Pudding

What book are you reading right now: The Feynmen Lectures


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