WIRX - Dr. Craig
The Wheaton Impulsive Reconnection Experiment (WIRX) is a new plasma physics experiment which aims to study magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnection is a mechanism for converting energy stored in magnetic fields to thermal or kinetic energy. It occurs in plasmas (hot ionized gases) and is important in the solar conoar, the earth's magnetosphere, and in magnetic confinement devices developed to harness the power of controlled thermonuclear fusion. Construction of the WIRX experiment began this summer and is about halfway completed thanks to the efforts of Physics majors Jim Schroeder and Ryan Stegink. (More photos below)
NMR - Dr. DeSoto
Dr. Stewart DeSoto uses his solid state Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) lab to study both highly abstract physics ideas and also concrete practical engineering issues. The nuclear spins deep inside all materials can act like quantum mechanical bits (1's or 0's) to become the basic operating elements of a "quantum computer" which is exponentially more powerful than an ordinary digital computer. Physics majors Ben Kietzman and Andrew Golter have assisted Dr. DeSoto in the early stages of these experiments. A more practical application of NMR technology is to study a class of man-made materials called Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs), which have metallic vertices and organic polymer linkers very much like a tinkertoy creation. Molecular hydrogen can diffuse deep inside these materials and attach weakly to the insides of giant pores. In this way, lots of hydrogen can be stored in a safe and efficient manner- to date, this has been one of the major obstacles to the "hydrogen economy" proposed by President Bush. Recent physics graduates Karen Kihlstrom and David Felker have helped Dr. DeSoto begin these experiments.
NMR - Dr. Heather Whitney
Dr. Whitney uses liquid state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure properties of macromolecules. MRI can be used to measure complicated dose plans that are prepared for radiation therapy purposes. When the dose is applied to a vat of dosimeter, such as a combination of water, gelatin, and monomers in a polymer gel dosimeter, the radiation changes the monomers into polymers, and the degree of change is determined by the amount of radiation received. The gelatin holds in place the changes in the polymer. Because the NMR properties of the protons in the water are changed as a result of this polymer formation, MRI is an excellent way to measure three-dimensional dose. The field has gotten quite good at making the MRI measurements of these dosimeters, but there are many unanswered questions at the basic NMR level. For example, we don’t know exactly how much polymer is formed for a given radiation dose. And there are some NMR measurements that are better than others for measuring radiation dose as demonstrated in polymer growth, and these need to be determined. At the heart of the matter is that essentially polymer gel dosimeters are systems in which the NMR properties of macromolecules are changed. It is hoped that the careful study of these dosimeters can not only lead to their improvement but also a better general understanding of how NMR properties act in macromolecules. Macromolecules are present all over the body. For example, in the condition of multiple sclerosis (MS) the long nerve fibers, called axons, lose their myelin sheath. They have different arrangements and amounts of macromolecules than healthy axons. Thus, the NMR properties are different, and MRI studies are an effective way to determine whether or not a patient has MS. By getting a better understanding of how macromolecules and their differences can be measured in the polymer gel dosimeters, it is hoped that this information can be applied to how macromolecules in the body can be best imaged for diagnostic purposes.
Nonlinear Dynamics - Dr. Bishop
The nonlinear nature of our world seems ubiquitous showing up everywhere from neural dynamics, to physiology, to nuclear fusion to the weather. Studying the nature of nonlinearities, often involving chaos and complexity, leads to several puzzling questions: How do nonlinearities limit our abilities to know and control their behaviors? What is the distinction between systems and boundaries? Does reductionism make sense in a nonlinear world? What is the relationship between our nonlinear models and the systems we are trying to describe? How does determinism fare in the presence of nonlinearities? Are there emergent dynamical laws? Does nonlinear dynamics in the brain have implications for consciousness and free will?
Philosophy and History of Science - Dr. Bishop
The study of scientists and science raises numerous questions about the processes and assumptions of scientific inquiry. Philosophical and historical approaches are needed to investigate these processes and assumptions along with their implications for science as well as broader domains of life. The question of whether all the sciences, and in turn, all of life, are reducible to fundamental physics is one example where philosophical and historical inquiry are important. Another is the “scientific approach” of contemporary atheists to religious questions such as God’s existence. Wheaton Integrated Chemistry and Philosophy Major Joshua Carr worked with Dr. Bishop on uncovering the assumptions made by contemporary atheists and how these assumptions shape their inquiry and rhetoric, and why their bark is worse than their bite.