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News & Events Archive



18 Minutes with Physics 118!

A series of 18 minute presentations on topics covered in PHY 118 by current students with fun demos and toys illusrating the topic.

Friday, March 28th 12:45-1:30pm McConnell Foyer
The Bernoulli Effect in Fluid Flow
Maddy Horn, Lucy Liang, Eleanor Adachi, Nina Merriam, Bonnie Hawkins

Friday, April 4th 12:45-1:03pm McConnell Foyer
Melinda Pontes, Nicole Dechello, Alison Grady, Sophia Carroll

Friday, April 11th 4-5pm McConnell Foyer
Static Electricity
Emma Sundberg, Fei Peng, Kaye Kulason, Tatenda Mahlanz, Hope Wu

Friday, April 18th 12:45-1:30pm McConnell Foyer
Charged Particles in Electric and Magnetic Fields
Rebecca Broadhurst, Diya Kazmi, Linda Kim, Zoe Falk, Fatima Bassir, Chioma Nwonu

Friday, May 2nd 12:45-1:30pm McConnell Foyer
Electromagnetic Induction
Erin Walch, Molie Pleau, Sarah Bolhm, Chloe Herrara

Meet Professor Will Williams!

Will received dual Bachelor of Science degrees, physics and mathematics, from Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY. After undergrad, Will went on fellowship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he got his PhD in experimental cold atomphysics. His dissertation was both theoretical, creating complex optical potentials for use in atomic lithography, and experimental, cold atom modulation instability, a nonlinear effect where atom/light interactions "grow" frequency compenents. After getting his PhD, Will became a postdoctoral researcher at Argonne National Laboratory, which is located outside Chicago and managed by the Department of Energy. There, he had two main projects: Trace analysis using cold atom techniques (also known as Atom Trap Trace Analysis) and a weak interaction study using radioactive helium-6 that tests teh validity of a nuclear theory known as The Standard Model. Next, he took a second postdoc position at Old Dominion University where his research shifted to a photoassociation spectroscopy (making molecules from cold atoms), Rydberg Physics, and underwater LIDAR.

Will is very excited about working at Smith College. His lab, which is in the basement of McConnell Hall, is just getting started. You can visit his website to see pictures and learn more about his research.

Discovery of Long-Sought "Higgs" Boson!

Experimental physicist Dr. Fabiola Gianott (leader of the ATLAS experimental team) and Peter Higgs celebrating her team's co-discovery of the Higgs boson.

At a seminar held 4 July 2012 in Geneva at CERN, the leaders of the ATLAS and CMS experiments presented their latest preliminary results in the search for the long sought Higgs particle. Both experiments observe a new particle in the mass region around 125-126 GeV, at a statistical significance level of 5 sigma. For additional details, read the full press release from CERN.

The Higgs Has Been Found! So...What is it and Who Cares?

In this very accessible YouTube presentation, Professor Gary Felder of Smith College describes particle physics, the standard model, and the Higgs Boson to an audience of high school students. 60 minute talk + 20 minutes of questions.
Only have 10 minutes? No Problem, try his Smith College Science at the Center talk on what the universe is made of.

Collaborations 2013

Collaborations is Smith College's annual showcase of student research, highlighting students' intellectual achievements with faculty in a variety of departmental, program, and interdisciplinary projects.


Rutherford Symposium

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012
McConnell Auditorium

Celebrating the Centennial of Rutherford's Discovery of the Atomic Nucleus and the Beginning of Nuclear and Particle Physics

8:45: Breakfast
9:15: The Rutherford Experiment, Professor Piotr Decowski, Smith College
9:45: The 100th Birthday of the Nucleus: An Overview of What Grew out of Rutherford's Discovery, Professor John Schiffer, Argonne National Laboratory
10:30: Coffee Break
11:00: Rutherford and the Development of the Standard Model, Professor Barry Holstein, UMass Amherst
11:45: Lunch


The Rutherford Experiment, Professor Piotr Decowski, Smith College
In this talk I'll present a brief summary of status of atomic physics at the time when Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden performed experiment which lead Rutherford to propose existence of the atomic nucleus.

The 100th Birthday of the Nucleus: An Overview of What Grew out of Rutherford's Discovery, Professor John Schiffer, Argonne National Laboratory
In 1911 Rutherford discovered that at the core of atoms there is a very massive, electrically charged, nucleus. This experimental discovery brought about a major revolution in humanity's quest for understanding the world in which we find ourselves. I will attempt to review the shifting focus and major milestones in the research engendered by Rutherford's discovery. Enormous progress has been made in 100 years, but there is still a great deal that we do not understand about the properties of the hadronic matter that makes up virtually all of the visible mass of the Universe.

Rutherford and the Development of the Standard Model, Professor Barry Holstein, UMass Amherst
Beginning with the Greek philosopher Democritus, I will discuss the development of modern particle physics and the Standard Model, emphasizing the critical role played by Rutherford both in elucidating the structure of the atom and his "discovery" of the proton. I will then outline the continuing experiments seeking elementary systems up the present day and the search for the Higgs boson.


Faculty Search Lectures

All talks are are 4:30 p.m. in McConnell 404.

Monday, January 31, 2011: Dr. Kelley D. Sullivan

Frontiers of Fluorescence Microscopy: In vivo measurements and super-resolution imaging

Fluorescence microscopy is a powerful and popular tool used for biomedical imaging and measurement.  In this talk, I will present two novel microscopy techniques: multiphoton fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (MP-FRAP) and fluorescence photoactivationi localization microscopy (FPALM).  MP-FRAP is used to measure diffusion in biological systems, and can be accurately applied to in vivo (i.e., living) systems.  FPALM is one of a few new "super-resolution" imaging techniques that utilize unique photoswitchable dyes to circumvent the optical diffraction limit and allow us to study the structure and function of biological systems on length scales smaller than previously possible.  Both techniques grow from the strength of interdisciplinary collaboration between physics and biology.

POSTPONED TO Monday, February 14, 2011: Dr. Michael Kavic

Gone in a Flash: The Transient Radio Universe

A new generation of radio telescope arrays are opening a new window on our Universe, allowing us to observe astronomical bursts as short as a millisecond.  These bursts are created by dramatic, explosive events such as supernovae, colliding black holes and gamma ray bursts.  Searching for such explosive events can help us to better understand the center of black holes and the earliest moments of our Universe.  I will describe the ongoing observing efforts of two radio telescope arrays search for transient bursts, the Long Wavelength Array (LWA) and the Eight-meter-wavelength Transient Array (ETA).  I will also discuss plans for a new radio telescope array, the All Sky Transient Radio Array (ASTRA) which could be constructed on the campus of Smith College.

Friday, February 4, 2011: Dr. Eric Hudson

Scanning Tunneling Microscopy of strongly correlated electron systems and high TC superconductors

Monday, February 7, 2011: Dr. Makenzie Lystrup

Planetary aurora in the infrared: a window into upper atmosphere/magnetosphere interactions

Wednesday, February 9, 2011: Dr. Taviare Hawkins

Biomechanics and Dynamics of Cytoskeleton Microtubules

Friday, February 11, 2011: Dr. James Battat

Dark Matter Particle detection and lunar laser range-finding tests of gravitation

Other Fall 2010 Events

Amherst College Physics Student Symposium
Saturday, November 6, 2010, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Amherst College

Amherst College hosts a physics symposium for Five College students.  Students from all five colleges present their research with the local physics community. 

Fall 2010 Speaker Series

"Chandrasekhar: The Most Distinguished Astrophysicist of His Time"
Richard White, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, Smith College
Tuesday, October 19, 2010, from 5 to 6 p.m.
Cookies & cider: 4:45 p.m.
McConnell 103 (Auditorium), Smith College

As part of "Celebrating Chandra," a series of events sponsored by the Physics and Astronomy Departments and the Lecture Committee of Smith College

Subramanyan Chandrasekhar is the only individual to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for work primarily in theoretical astrophysics, specifically relating to the structure and evolution of stars.  The talk will review his most famous work on the instability of white dwarf stars that foreshadowed the discovery of neutron stars that foreshadowed the discovery of neutron stars and black holes.  It will also stress the extraordinary breadth and depth of his contributions to other areas of astrophysics and reflect on his scientific ethos and personal challenges.

"A Physicist's Look at DNA Unwinding"
Thursday, December 9, from 5–6 p.m.

Professor Ashley Carter from Amherst College. Carter will speak about the coordinated movements within cells from a physicist's perspective.

Abstract: The inside of a cell is a dynamic place. Right now, donut-shaped protein motors are zipping along on your DNA, reading the genetic code and making RNA. Other two-legged protein motors are walking along molecular tracks in your body delivering neurotransmitter to the tips of your toes, a 1-meter trek. How does the cell accomplish all of this coordinated movement, and how can we as physicists build better tools to understand the underlying mechanics? In my talk I will try to answer these questions by reviewing what we know about how these protein machines convert chemical energy into mechanical work, and I will go over some of the amazing breakthroughs in technology that have enabled us to take "molecular movies." My focus will be on the molecular motor, RecBCD, that can unwind DNA at the blinding speed of 1000 DNA base-pairs per second. This motor has been elusive to study in the past because of its small, Angstrom movements, and because it does not follow the rules of a typical protein motor. However, with improved optics instrumentation, we are now able to take a first look at how this incredibly efficient motor unwinds DNA.

"How Crystals Nucleate: lessons learned from experiments with colloids"
Thursday, September 30th, 2010, from 5:00 - 6:00 p.m.
McConnell 103 (Auditorium), Smith College

Professor Anthony Dinsmore, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The freezing and melting of crystals are fascinating phenomena that are very common in nature yet difficult to study in the laboratory.  Micron-sized particles suspended in solution (colloidal particles) serve as a useful experimental model of these phenomena.  Colloidal particles obey the same laws of statistical mechanics that govern how ice melts into water, but they are much larger and slower than molecules, and are thus visible with optical microscopy. By tracking the motions of thousands of individual particles, one can observe phase transitions at the single-"molecule" level—and uncover some surprises.

"Time, Einstein and the coolest stuff in the universe"
Thursday, September 9th, 2010, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Lecture Room 3, Merrill Science Building, Amherst College

At the beginning of the 20th century Einstein changed the way we think about Nature. At the beginning of the 21st century Einstein's thinking is shaping one of the key scientific and technological wonders of contemporary life: atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever made. Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce, and science; they are the heart of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which guides cars, airplanes, and hikers to their destinations. Today, atomic clocks are still being improved, using atoms cooled to incredibly low temperatures. Atomic gases reach temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, without freezing. Such atoms are at the heart of Primary Clocks accurate to better than a second in 80 million years as well as both using and testing some of Einstein's strangest predictions.

This will be a lively, multimedia presentation, including experimental demonstrations and down-to-earth explanations about some of today's most exciting science.


"Science at the Center" is a weekly event organized to highlight science and the science being conducted at the science center by the faculty. It is a short 10-minute presentation by a faculty member on a topic will take place. It is an informal presentation of an idea and/or a demonstration on a topic of interest to the speaker. People gather around for a few minutes on their way to classes and listen to the speaker. The idea is to bring people together on a science topic and give the students a peek into the "science at the center."

September 29, 2010
"The Cheapest Instrument Ever: A Drop of Water"
Kate Queeney, Chemistry Department

Layers a molecule (or an atom) thick can change a surface from hydrophilic--water spreads out to form a sheet on it--to hydrophobic--water beads up in nearly spherical droplets. We'll look at some surfaces that look to the eye to be identical--shiny gray pieces of silicon. Then will dunk them in water to see what happens.

October 6, 2010
"Stars Outwit Gravity - Insights of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar"
Suzan Edwards, Astronomy Department
This October marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one the great astrophysicists of the 20th century, Nobel Prizewinner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. In anticipation of a talk on his work by Professor Emeritus R. E. White on Oct 19, I will give an overview of how stars evolve in response to the inexorable force of gravity squeezing them down, including the brilliant insights of Chandrasekhar that led to our modern understanding of stellar corpses called White Dwarfs and Black Holes.

October 13, 2010
"It's 10 O'clock: Do You Know Where Your Liver Is?"
Mary Harrington, Psychology Department
Daily rhythms are generated by cells throughout the body. How are all these cellular circadian clocks able to agree on what time it is? The master pacemaker in the brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, plays a very important role in keeping everyone in sync. However, on occasion the liver can go its own way, keeping time independently of the brain. What is the liver thinking? How are the liver cells communicating? A type of camera developed by astronomers has been able to help us track rhythms in liver cells.

October 20, 2010
"Do Plants Know Math?"
Chris Gole, Mathematics Department
The phenomenon of spirals in plants coming in pairs of consecutive Fibonacci numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 ...) has fascinated scientists of many disciplines for centuries. There is a certain mystic attached to the subject that pervades the internet - and the "Da Vinci Code". Do we have to be mystical about it? I will try to show that some simple geometry may be enough to explain this phenomenon.

October 27, 2010
"Why Believe When You Can See For Yourself?"

Joyce Palmer Fortune, Physics Department
We are using consumer grade high speed video to observe very fast processes such as collisions, as well as time lapse video to observe very slow processes, such as the rotation of Foucault's pendulum. I'll show a few of the more interesting clips taken by my students in the past year, be ready to see things you maybe had to just believe up till now.

November 3, 2010
"Symmetry: A Mathematician's Perspective"
Michael Bush, Mathematics and Statistics Department
Symmetries of various kinds show up all over the place in nature. Over the last 150 years mathematicians have developed an abstract framework for describing and investigating symmetry. In this talk I'll give a brief description and some applications (both serious and fun) of the ideas involved.

November 10, 2010
"Digging Deeper (With Shovels) Into the Story of Alaska's Shrinking Glaciers"
Mark Brandiss, Geology Department
The growth and shrinkage of glaciers are dramatic indicators of climate change. We'll examine the results of an ongoing 60 year field study in which undergraduate students (including some recent Smithies) have been using snow shovels, dynamite, and high precision GPS measurements to monitor changes in the alpine glaciers of Alaska's Juneau Icefield. What are these glaciers telling us about climate change, and what are some likely trends for the future?

November 17, 2010
"Dancing in the Sky: Flight Demonstration of the World's Smallest Long-Duration Controllable Balloon"
Paul Voss, Engineering Department
Over the past 220 years, balloons have been used to explore the atmosphere, carry astronomical instruments to the edge of space, track air pollution over great distances, and make the routine measurements used by weather forecast models. I will demonstrate a new type of balloon that can remain airborne for days to weeks, change altitude on command, and relay data in near real time from almost anywhere on earth. This platform opens many new opportunities for atmospheric research.

Spring 2010 Speaker Series

"Stochastic Dynamics & Abrupt Changes in Arctic Climate"
Thursday, April 8, 2010, from 5–6 p.m. (refreshments at 4:45 p.m.)
McConnell Hall 103

A lecture by John Wettlaufer, professor in Departments of Physics, Geology & Geophysics, and Applied Mathematics, Yale University
In light of the rapid recent retreat of Arctic sea ice, a number of studies have discussed the possibility of a critical threshold (or "tipping point") beyond which the ice-albedo feedback causes the ice cover to melt away in an irreversible process. The focus has typically been centered on the annual minimum (September) ice cover, which is often seen as particularly susceptible to destabilization by the ice-albedo feedback. Here, we examine the central physical processes associated with the transition from ice-covered to ice-free Arctic Ocean conditions. We show that although the ice-albedo feedback promotes the existence of multiple ice-cover states, the stabilizing thermodynamic effects of sea ice mitigate this when the Arctic Ocean is ice covered during a sufficiently large fraction of the year. These results suggest that critical threshold behavior is unlikely during the approach from current perennial sea-ice conditions to seasonally ice-free conditions. In a further warmed climate, however, we find that a critical threshold associated with the sudden loss of the remaining wintertime-only sea ice cover may be likely. More recent work studying number theory using methods from ergodic theory may provide insight on the role of dimensional reduction in analysis of the predictability of General Circulation Models and the minimum complexity required to treat such a system with mathematical models.

"Total Internal Reflection Microscopy for Imaging Live Cell Dynamics"
Thursday, April 1, 2010, from 5–5:45 p.m. (refreshments at 4:45 p.m.)
McConnell Hall 103

A lecture by alum Alexa Mattheyses, Smith class of 2000, current Post-Doc at Rockefeller Institute
In living cells, a large number of important events happen at the cell membrane, the boundary between the cell and the outside environment. One example is the ability for a cell to selectively internalize molecules bound to its surface, a process called endocytosis. Total internal reflection (TIR) fluorescence microscopy is an indispensable technique in the study of endocytosis as well as other cell surface events. TIR creates a very thin (approximately 100 nm) excitation field called the evanescent field. The evanescent field is perfectly suited for the study of cell surface events because it selectively illuminates the region of a sample including the cell membrane. The physical properties of the evanescent field allow detailed quantification of events like endocytosis, providing deeper insight into the working of the cell. This talk will cover both the technical aspects of TIR and image analysis as well as application to endocytosis.

"Harnessing Electrons from Microorganisms: Electricity Generation from Dirt"
Thursday, April 1, 2010, from 6–6:45 p.m. (refreshments at 4:45 p.m.)
McConnell Hall 103

A lecture by alum Emily Gardel, Smith class of 2006, current PhD candidate at Harvard University
Despite the diminutive size of microbes, they are dominant members of our biosphere and play a key role in every known biogeochemical cycle and thus are very diverse. Metabolic pathways in microorganisms utilize pairs of reduction-oxidation reactions to harness energy through the transport of electrons within the cell, and eventually, across the cellular membrane. Anaerobic microbes use a variety of oxidants besides oxygen as electron acceptors, and current research has found anaerobes capable of using solid-phase oxidants, such as metal oxides, as electron acceptors. A microbial fuel cell (MFC) harnesses electricity from anaerobes by separating the locations of the oxidation and reduction reactions. Since MFCs are able to generate electricity through the process of breaking down organic material, there are diverse applications for MFCs ranging from energy production or co-generation, bioremediation of toxins including radioactive materials such as uranium, and wastewater treatment. This talk will discuss how MFCs can also be used as a tool to study the microorganisms that grow on the anode electrode.

"The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time"
Thursday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m.
Neilson Browsing Room
A lecture by Sean Carroll, Senior Research Associate, California Institute of Technology
One of the most obvious facts about the universe is that the past is different from the future. We can remember yesterday, but not tomorrow; we can turn an egg into omelet, but can't turn an omelet into an egg. That's the arrow of time, which is consistent throughout the observable universe. The arrow can be explained by assuming that the very early universe was extremely orderly, and disorder has been increasing ever since. But why did the universe start out so orderly? The lecture will discuss the nature of time, the origin of entropy, and how what happened before the Big Bang may be responsible for the arrow of time we observe today.
This lecture is presented by the Kahn Liberal Arts Institure project 'Telling Time: Its Meaning and Measurement'

"How do cells shift gears? A physicist's perspective on crawling cells"
Thursday, March 4, 2010, from 4:45–5:45 p.m. (refreshments at 4:30 p.m.)
McConnell Hall 103

A lecture by Eric R. Dufresne, John J. Lee Assistant Professor & Cecile O. Mejean, Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Cell Biology, Yale University.
Cells crawl to close wounds, fight infections and wire-up the nervous system. To crawl, they typically reach forward, grab onto a substrate, and pull. Using focused beams of laser light, called 'optical tweezers,' we play tug of war with living cells. By comparing the forces generated by cells to the motion of their cytoskeleton, we can determine the physical processes which cells use to 'shift gears.'

Physics-Related Events

"Exploring the Early Universe with Gamma Ray Bursts" and "What is it like to go to graduate school in astronomy after Smith College?"
Monday, November 16, 2009, at 4 p.m.
McConnell Hall 404

A talk by Adria Updike '03 will be followed by a reception so students have a chance to meet her. She is currently finishing her Ph.D. in astronomy at Clemson University.

Abstract: "Long gamma ray bursts result from the collapse of massive stars, often from the early universe. They include the oldest objects ever detected and offer us a brief but unique opportunity to study the first stars and galaxies. I will discuss the history of gamma ray bursts, how we observe them, and what they might be able to tell us about dust in early galaxies."

Fall 2009 Research Talks

A series of research talks by faculty in the Five Colleges are invited to speak at Smith. These talks are organized by the students in the PHY300 current topics class.

"Complex Matter Made Simple and Other Goings-on at the Syracuse University Physics Department"
Thursday, December 3, 2009, at 4:15 p.m. (refreshments at 4 p.m.)
McConnell Hall 103

"Physicochemical Aspects of Water Treatment"
Tuesday, December 1, 2009, from 5 to 6 p.m. (refreshments at 4:45 p.m.)
McConnell Hall 404

A talk by John Tobiason, professor and coordinator of the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering Program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Research and design of water treatment is based on fundamental principles of physics, chemistry and biology. This presentation will explore application of a number of physical and chemical principles that control the selection, performance and design of processes used to provide people with potable water.

Talk by Molly Mulligan
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
A talk by Smith alum and graduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Abstract: "There are a wide range of applications for emulsions with precisely controlled droplets of one fluid in a second immiscible fluid, including personal care products, foods and products for drug delivery. Nearly monodisperse drops were generated using a microfluidic hydrodynamic flow-focusing device. Once formed, the drops were driven through a hyperbolic contraction which deformed the drops. The hyperbolic contraction produces a homogeneous extensional flow, meaning that the extensional forces acting on the droplet are constant through the entire contraction.

"New Ideas for Teaching Relativity"
Tuesday, November 3, 2009, at 5 p.m.
McConnell Hall

A talk by Rob Salgado, Mount Holyoke College. "We present two new ideas for teaching Relativity (Einstein, 1905) to an audience with little mathematical background. Both use Spacetime Diagrams (Minkowski, 1908), which are essentially position-vs.-time graphs. The first idea develops a new animated visualization of an observer's proper-time ("wristwatch time") using "Circular Light Clocks." The resulting diagram visualizes the ticks of each clock. The second idea presents "Spacetime Trigonometry," a unified formalism for two-dimensional Euclidean space, Galilean spacetime, and Minkowski spacetime. This approach is being developed to help flatten the learning curve from introductory Galilean physics to advanced presentations of Einsteinian general relativity."

The first idea is described here, with videos here.

Five College Student Physics Symposium
Friday, October 23, 2009, from 2:30-6 p.m.
McConnell 103 Auditorium

View a photo gallery of the 2009 Physics Fest >

"Black Holes in Higher Dimensions"
Tuesday, October 6, 2009, at 5 p.m.
McConnell Hall

Talk by Professor David Kastor from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Theories of fundamental physics, such as string theory, suggest that our universe may have more than the four spacetime dimensions we are familiar with. Black holes, as purely gravitational objects, play an important role in fundamental physics. The important features of four dimensional black holes were worked out in the 1970s. Recent work has shown that, while some properties of higher dimensional black holes are familiar, there is a rich array of new and intriguing phenomena as well.

"Bose, Einstein, and the Coldest Stuff in the Universe"
Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 5 p.m. (4:45 refreshments)
David Hall 103, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Building upon work by Bose, Einstein predicted in 1925 that an atomic gas, cooled to sufficiently low temperature, would undergo a phase transition in which the atoms would "pile up" in a single quantum state. Seventy years passed before refrigeration technology caught up with Einstein's theoretical vision and produced the first atomic Bose-Einstein condensate, as this macroscopically-occupied quantum state is known. Since the condensate is composed of many particles there is an effective "amplification" of the behavior of single atoms, thereby opening a unique window into the quantum world. The atoms also exhibit stunning forms of collective behavior, such as matter-wave interference and superfluidity. In this brief tour of the field, I will focus on experimental studies performed with multiple Bose Einstein condensates, with an emphasis on recent experimental results from my laboratory.