Tag Archives: Physics

Melding Art & Science Draws Fulbrighter into Community of Kindred Spirits

By Janet Rafner, 2015-2016, Denmark


Janet Rafner, 2015-2016, Denmark (center) with fellow Fulbright U.S. Student Natalie Hoidal (left) and Truman Fellow Jordan Went (right) attending Janet Rafner’s ‘Call Me Quantum’ Exhibition featured during Copenhagen’s Culture Night at the Niels Bohr Institute. Traversing through the exhibit, one experiences a range of phenomena such as the atomic orbitals, tunnel effect, wave particle duality and superconductivity from orthogonal perspectives. Layers of design, graphics, and illustrations unveil the scientific process, revealing the compelling and elegant physics that inspired the work. This exhibit displays contents created by the Physics Reimagined group at the University Paris Sud and The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. Design in collaboration with the students from the design school ENSCI-Les Ateliers and Ecole Estienne. (Photo Credit: Professor Robert Feidenhans’l)

While on my Fulbright grant in Interdisciplinary Studies in Denmark, I have been so fortunate to interact with passionate, dedicated like-minded people and kindred spirits across many disciplines. From creative designers and game developers to physicists, computer programmers, cognitive scientists and public outreach experts, these individuals form a unique community dedicated to enhancing science and mathematics comprehension and research outcomes. As a rule, they are intensely curious, willing to take risks and experiment, and passionate about collaborating, even when the project is only tangentially related to their core research. The result is a continuous flow of inspirational energy and a sense that anything might be possible if the right group of people come together.

In this environment where progress often comes from discovering and following unconventional paths, having great mentors has also been crucial to my Fulbright work. The process has allowed me to excel while contributing to diverse scientific and outreach projects, tapping into my own motivations and talents, and building new collaboration skills. The projects have helped me better understand how to bring the concepts of complex physics into the vernacular as well as make them accessible to a wider range of researchers. Professors Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard and Jacob Sherson, my sponsors and mentors at Aarhus University have made these projects possible – I couldn’t ask for a more supportive faculty. In coming years, I look forward to both being a mentor and having new mentors so I can continue to explore how technical tools and artistic creativity can be used to express complex concepts in science, and to share her findings internationally.

From Two to Infinity: What the Second Detection of Gravitational Waves Tells Us About the Future

By Daniel Hoak, 2015-2016, Italy

Daniel Hoak

Daniel Hoak, 2015-2016, Italy, visiting Florence

Last month, scientists in the LIGO and Virgo scientific collaborations announced the second direct detection of gravitational waves, from the orbit and merger of a pair of black holes. The event, named GW151226, arrived in the early morning on the day after Christmas, and has been nicknamed the “Boxing Day event” by the collaborations. With a second event in hand, gravitational wave science has moved beyond the era of sensational first detection, and is evolving into a reliable tool for astronomy and physics.

I recently finished my Fulbright year working at the Virgo gravitational wave observatory outside of Pisa, Italy. The last time Virgo listened for gravitational wave was in 2011, and since then, the instrument has been off-line for a complete upgrade.

At Virgo, I’m part of the team of scientists who are putting the final touches on the upgrade. To borrow a phrase from James Merrill, our job is to make wholeness out of hodgepodge: we’re creating a functional detector from the precision equipment that has been designed and built over the last five years. We plan to have the detector on-line this winter, in time to join the two LIGO observatories in the United States as they listen for gravitational waves.

Detecting Gravitational Waves at Home and Abroad

By Daniel Hoak, 2015-2016, Italy

Dan Hoak

Daniel Hoak, 2015-2016, Italy

Two months ago, physicists around the world were set ‘chirping’ with the announcement that gravitational waves had been detected for the first time. The detection is the culmination of decades of work, and it represents the beginning of a new era in astronomy.

I’ve been a member of the team that made the detection since 2005, when I joined the staff of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in Livingston, Louisiana. Later, I went to grad school at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where I earned my Ph.D. last fall. My doctoral research focused on data analysis with gravitational wave detectors, and I assisted with upgrades to the LIGO facility in Hanford, Washington that made the detection possible.

For my Fulbright research, I’m helping to upgrade the Virgo detector, an experiment located outside of Pisa, Italy. Using a third detector to listen for gravitational waves will improve the science tremendously: we’ll be able to detect weaker signals, across more of the sky, and work out their position and properties with greater accuracy.

Expecting the Unexpected–Cosmic Ray Physics in Argentina

By Zigfried Hampel-Arias, 2009-2010, Argentina

Zigfried Hampel Arias, 2009-2010, Argentina

Zigfried Hampel-Arias, 2009-2010, Argentina, working on a detector element of the Pierre Auger Observatory

As a physicist, I study cosmic rays—high-energy particles that zip around the universe. If scientists are lucky, these cosmic rays land on detectors set up on the ground. For my Fulbright grant, I worked at the Pierre Auger Observatory, a detector located in Mendoza, Argentina. By analyzing the information gained from the detector, physicists can better understand the origins and fate of our universe.

My Fulbright research focused on how the observatory was aging and its potential impact on the search for the elusive sources of cosmic rays. Initially, I thought that the project would be fairly straightforward, but that was not to be the case. After consulting with my Argentine colleagues, I realized that I had to write my own computer simulation program to solve the problem. I had to simplify the physics involved and to incorporate only those interactions that were essential to the problem. Another surprise was that I have been able to use the simulation I wrote during my Fulbright for my current doctoral research in physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was not what I was expecting, but early into my grant period, I realized that unexpected experiences are an integral part of the Fulbright experience.