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Stories about...Physics

Ashlie Hamilton Undergrads Experience Materials Science Research Courtesy of the I-MRSEC REU

June 16, 2021

Ten undergraduate students who signed up for the I-MRSEC (Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center) virtual Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) are spending the summer of 2021 discovering what research is like. In addition, they're being given the opportunity to build a network plus gain skills that they'll most likely find helpful down the road—whether they go into a career in science or not. Participants are also hopefully getting a better idea of what they want to do career-wise. Some may even be determining whether grad school might be in their future, or if research—specifically Materials Science research—might be the career for them.

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A digital visualization of a black holeIllinois Art-Science Festival: Illuminating the Universe...from the Quantum World to the Cosmos

April 26, 2021

“The Art-Science Festival organizers invite you to celebrate the mysteries of the universe. From the quantum building blocks of matter to the elements of life on Earth to supernovae in faraway galaxies, our presenters will explore some of the biggest ideas in science. Through a dynamic mix of dance, music, fine arts, storytelling, and discussion, we will blur classical boundaries and take you on a journey through the cosmos.” – Festival organizers

The convergence of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and the Arts has made STEAM a buzzword over the last several years, especially in educational circles. However, to many scientists, researchers, and artists, art is not just an educational tool, but a viable means of expressing science. Enter a new buzzword: SciArt. So, during Illinois Physics’ first-ever Art-Science Festival @ Illinois 2021: The Illuminated Universe on April 23rd–25th, 34 presenters—artists, scientists, and sometimes a hybrid of the two—joined forces to present SciArt via a virtual “celebration of Nature, Humanity, and the Universe, explored through a confluence of the arts and sciences.”

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Angela Pak I-MRSEC’s Virtual REU Undergrads Gain Knowledge, Skills, and Insights into Their Future Careers

August 7, 2020

Although the COVID-19 pandemic precluded I-MRSEC (the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center) from hosting the residential REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) intended for summer 2020–—undergraduate students physically conducting research in Illinois labs—the eleven undergrads from all across the U.S. who participated appeared to have benefitted immensely. What kind of impact did participating in the I-MRSEC REU’s virtual counterpart have on the undergrads? In addition to conducting cutting-edge research in one of Illinois’ labs—virtually—mentored by an I-MRSEC faculty member and/or a Ph.D or post-doc researcher, they presented their results at I-MRSEC's Undergraduate Symposium. Plus, students also gained other benefits from the REU: some became adept at using new software; others gained confidence; still others gained a clearer understanding of the direction they plan to go careerwise—including materials science research—all thanks to I-MRSEC’s Virtual REU.

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Angela Pak I-MRSEC’s Virtual REU to Expose Undergrads to Research, Provide Training in Needed Skills

May 29, 2020

Eleven undergraduate students are participating in the I-MRSEC (Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center) virtual REU this summer from May 27th through July 31st, 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the REU isn't business as usual (in-person interactions with researchers while conducting research in one of Illinois’ state-of-the-art labs). However, the students will still gain valuable experiences. They'lll still have face-to-face interactions with researchers (via Zoom?) while conducting research; they'll still be collecting and analyzing their data and presenting their results. And just like last year’s program, they will still do networking, plus gain other useful information and skills related to research and preparing for a career in STEM…all done virtually!

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Mats Selen (left) works with a Physics 211 student on an iOLab activity. Physics Lab Reform Fosters Independent, Creative Thinking, Builds Student Skills

April 2, 2020

“Cause that’s a really big part of this independent, creative thinking, is to have the freedom to choose and to have the trust from your instructors that you are the expert.” – Katie Ansell

In fall 2020, the Physics Department is going to roll out reformed laboratory courses that they’ve been piloting over the last several years. But it won’t be business as usual. Instead of having students follow verbatim a long set of very detailed instructions, the idea is that the labs would foster independent, creative thinking, giving students the freedom to explore—and even fail—just like real scientists. Another goal is that the labs will help students develop two kinds of necessary skills: expertise in doing procedures plus “invisible” or involuntary skills—expertise to do something without even thinking about it. And contrary to the instructor-student hierarchy traditionally understood in years past, it’s not the instructor who will be the expert, but the students will be the acknowledged experts of the work they’ll be doing.

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Spencer Hulsey, the Face of the Physics Van: Passionate About Physics—and Outreach

February 5, 2020

This is one of Physics senior Spencer Hulsey’s favorite quotes by physicist Richard Feynman, who helped to pique her interest in physics. However, someone who had an even more significant impact on her love of physics and decision to study it was her high school physics teacher, Steve Eischens. And while Hulsey loves physics research (she’s worked for four different professors), probably her favorite thing to do is outreach. In fact, all who have seen the co-coordinator of the Physics Department’s long-standing outreach group in action might aptly call her “the Face of the Physics Van.”

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Physics Van Uses Exciting Demos to Pique Students’ Interest in Science

February 5, 2020

When seeking to attract youngsters to STEM and entice them into a journey along the STEM pipeline, there’s no campus group that does a better job of helping get kids moving in the right direction than the Physics Van. Playing the benevolent Pied Piper of Physics, this long-time campus group, practically the grandfather of campus STEM outreach groups, pulls out all the stops year after year, using its unique brand of fun, engaging, often spectacular demonstrations about science, particularly physics, interspersed with humorous banter bordering on slapstick comedy, to show kids just how fun and exciting science can be.

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I-MRSEC REU Teaches Carmen Paquette a Lot About Magnetism, Research, and Herself

August 23, 2019

Carmen Paquette had a lot of takeaways from her experience in the I-MRSEC (Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) this past summer. For one, the rising junior, a Material Science and Engineering major at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, learned a lot about both magnetism and material science. She also discovered what engineering research is like—lots of iterations and lots of thinking outside the box. She also grew personally, learning not to procrastinate, but to “Just do it!” And while she didn’t necessarily figure out if grad school is in her future, she did decide to just follow her heart and go full STEAM ahead when it comes to the things she’s passionate about.

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I-MRSEC REU Exposes Undergrads to Materials Science, Research, and What Grad School Is Like

August 20, 2019

For ten weeks this past summer, eleven undergraduate students from all over the US showed up at Illinois to participate in I-MRSEC’s second Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. As part of the experience, they not only conducted a research project, but they completed a paper and gave a final presentation. Of the 11 students, five were from Illinois (mostly from the Chicago area); six were from out of state (Tennessee, Oregon, Texas, and California). And although none of them are currently Illinois students, after experiencing what cutting-edge research at Illinois is like, some will most likely be applying to grad school here.

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Physics Professor Nadya Mason, PI of the I-MRSEC grant.I-MRSEC: Creating a Multidsciplinary Materials Research Community

March 15, 2018

"The more that people understand the scientific basis of the world and of their lives and of what people are doing and researching and care about, the more we care about each other and the more we support each other." – Nadya Mason

Begun in September 2017, I-MRSEC (Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center), a new NSF-funded center, seeks to create a community around multidisciplinary materials science research, recruiting and educating the next generation of researchers, including diverse students, and informing the general public through outreach. Funded through NSF’s Division of Materials, the Center will receive $16 million over the six years of the grant, with the possibility of being renewed.

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Young Scholars Program Exposes Local High School Students to Research, the University

August 2, 2017

Instead of spending their summers working at McDonalds, or lounging by the pool, twelve rising juniors and seniors from Centennial and Central High Schools in Champaign spent the summer learning about things like photon quantum mechanics, dark matter detectors, and the biochemistry of swimming bacteria. Part of the Young Scholars Program, a new, six-week summer research opportunity, the students got to experience authentic, cutting-edge research in some of Illinois' premier research labs. Begun by the Nuclear Physics Laboratory in the Physics Department, who joined forces with the POETS Engineering Research Center to broaden and strengthen the program, Young Scholars received funding from multiple sources: ICR funds from the NSF NPL grant, the NSF-funded POETS, the Physics Department itself, and the College of Engineering (which provided funding for one student). The fledgling program was begun to help students discover what research is actually like, determine if research might be in their futures, plus give them an idea of what college is like.

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two girls play with oobleckBarkstall STEM Night Exposes Students and Their Families to Fun Science and Engineering

March 15, 2017

A large number of Barkstall Elementary School students, along with their parents and siblings, ended up back at school on Thursday evening, February 23rd to take part in the school’s Science Fair/STEM Night. In addition to viewing science fair project posters made by Barkstall students, participants took part in a number of fun, STEM-related hands-on activities and demonstrations presented by Barkstall folks, as well as University of Illinois students, including some from the Physics Van and REACT outreach groups.

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2013 Physics Van Coordinator Scott LuedtkePhysics Van: A Whole Lot of Fun… Plus, You Get to Blow Stuff Up

October 16, 2013

Kids who attend a Physics Van show will come away with more than just a good time. Though kids can only learn so much science in an hour-long show, they will never forget the physics principles introduced during the Van's entertaining hybrid of slap-stick comedy and scientific wizardry. Something else they'll come away with? Physics can be fun.
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Mats SelenMats Selen—Changing the Way Physics is Taught

October 8, 2013

"Well I have to confess, I was always in the closet about teaching. I did all my research, but I secretly always loved teaching as much as I did research, probably more…so suddenly, if they could be the same things, what could be better?" – Mats Selen, Physics Professor

Mats Selen loves teaching physics, and he's not ashamed to admit it. After 20 years doing particle physics research, which he found to be both exciting and rewarding, when a successful experiment of his ended, he figured, "This might not be a bad time to switch what I am doing. So I thought to turn over a new leaf and come out of the closet and be a real-life teacher all the way around."
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