Department News

Honors Thesis Research Results in Paper in Review of Scientific Instruments

Posted August 9, 2016 by Physics

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Maddie Baltzer (Physics ’16) and Dr. Darren Craig recently published a paper in Review of Scientific Instruments. The paper describes research Maddie did over a two year stretch, research that culminated in an honors thesis in May 2016. The paper is entitled “Absolute wavelength calibration of a Doppler spectrometer with a custom Fabry-Perot optical system.” As the title suggests, Maddie and Dr. Craig developed a light source to achieve high accuracy wavelength calibration of a spectrometer that is used to measure plasma flow via the Doppler effect. To achieve flow accuracy to +/- 1 km/s, the device needed to be calibrated with a reference emission line whose wavelength was determined to +/- 0.001 nm. The reference line also needed to be centered within a narrow 0.5 nm wide wavelength range that is measured by the spectrometer. The custom light source achieved these goals and a set of experiments were done to verify that the systematic uncertainties due to the whole calibration process were less than 0.003 nm. The next steps are to use the calibrated spectrometer to measure plasma flows in the Madison Symmetric Torus at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

What did our Students do this Summer?

Posted August 9, 2016 by Physics

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For many of our students the summer is an important time to gain valuable real life experience in their field. Many of our engineering students will participate in internships throughout the country, while students interested in research often have an opportunity to join a research group either at Wheaton College or some other university of national laboratory through a program called Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). The list below provides just a snapshot of the experiences that our students enjoyed this summer.

Stephen Yonke (Aerospace Engineering '18)
Internship at the Department of Aeronautics Research Lab (DFAN), United States Air Force Academy.

I have spent the summer as a research assistant at the Department of Aeronautics Research Lab (DFAN), United States Air Force Academy. Its been an incredible experience working in a small team of me, a professor, a technician, and a machinist as we have designed and developed an "ejector wing" concept. The ejector wing uses a small amount of high energy flow along the wing to entrain and energize the ambient air, primarily through the use of geometry. We have shown the concept to not only work, but to augment thrust by more than 2x the original flow. Our research this summer will guide the Air Force Academy as their cadets work over the next few semesters to develop an extremely silent, efficient UAV, capable of STOL and long-range flight on electric power.

Colorado Springs has been excellent, and I am sad to leave! I have really developed strong relationships with the professors here in the Research Lab, including a Chicago native, IIT-engineering grad! It has opened the door to further research opportunities this fall/spring in Wheaton.

April Futch (Physics '18)
Summer Research Position at Wheaton College working with Dr. Darren Craig

I have worked with Dr. Darren Craig to examine the effects of plasma resistivity and viscosity on plasma mode fluctuation during a process known as the sawtooth cycle. I have used primarily computer simulations to test these effects, but also did some experimental analysis to verify simulation results. It was really exciting to gain experience doing real research, improve my skills with computer code and data analysis, and learn more about plasma physics in general.

David Barbalas (Physics '17, Math '17)
Engineering internship at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, MD.
I will be working with the Detector Charaterization Lab testing the capability of detectors to be used on NASA's upcoming missions. My assigned team pulls from a diverse interdisciplinary background and are very knowledgeable in a multitude of fields. I'm looking forward to applying my knowledge of optics along with developing practical laboratory skills and learning about instrument design.

Hudson Thomas (Physics '18, Math '18)
REU at Johns Hopkins University
This summer I will be working at JHU in its lab for Computational Sensing and Medical Robotics (CSMR). The project I will be working on involves customizing a DaVinci remote surgery robot for satellite servicing. The problem we are trying to solve is that the large distance between the controller and the robot causes a time delay in the feedback system. To solve this, we will have the operator interact with a virtual model of the satellite-robot system, and the robot will check the real life situation against the model after the time delay to check the accuracy of the model and adjust accordingly. I am super excited to have this  opportunity to continue to hone my grad school plans as well as to further develop research, programming, and engineering skills. Plus I’m getting paid to build space robots.

Scott Wurtz (Physics '17, Computer Science '17)
Summer Research Position at Wheaton College working with Dr. AJ Poelarends
I will be researching binary stellar systems with Dr. AJ, specifically developing models to predict the behavior of stars near the end of their life, and whether a star will explode as a supernova or will turn into a white dwarf based on initial parameters. I am looking forward to using my knowledge and skills developed in classes toward contributing to the project in this exciting area of astrophysics.

Maggie Shuh (Mechanical Engineering '20)
Engineering Internship at the Maritime Applied Physics Corporation (MAPC), Baltimore, MD

"I will be officially working in engineering marketing and business development.  I will also be able to learn about the research, design, and fabrication process, joining the company's ongoing projects.  MAPC is a small contractor, specializing in watercraft, housed in a building with both offices and shop space, and backs right up to the harbor.  The result is a company that can control the whole production process, from idea to prototype to reality."  

Open Position for Engineering Program Coordinator

Posted May 5, 2016 by Physics


Wheaton College invites applications for a part time Engineering Program Coordinator. The successful candidate will provide administrative support for our dual degree engineering program. Students in this program complete requirements in a 3+2 year format with the final two years at an ABET accredited engineering school. Job duties include the creation and revision of detailed course plans for 10 different engineering disciplines, negotiating formal and informal agreements with partnering engineering schools, assisting students with transfer to the engineering school, creating attractive online and hardcopy recruiting materials, and identifying internship opportunities for students. Familiarity with the engineering profession is required and a B.S. in engineering or a related discipline is preferred. Strong administrative and communication skills are essential. The position is 20 hours per week for 10 months a year (August – May) and requires a presence on campus at least 3 days per week.

Wheaton College is an evangelical Christian liberal arts college whose faculty and staff affirm a Statement of Faith and adhere to lifestyle expectations. The ability to model strong Christian character is required for this position. The College complies with federal and state guidelines of nondiscrimination in employment. Women and minority applicants are especially encouraged to apply. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Applicants should send a resume to Human Resources, 501 College Ave., Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187. Questions regarding the nature of the position may be directed to Dr. Darren Craig, Chair of Physics and Engineering (

Open Position: Instructor for Algebra-Based Physics (Part Time)

Posted April 28, 2016 by Physics


The Physics Department at Wheaton College is looking for a part time instructor to teach algebra-based introductory physics for the Fall 2016 semester. This course covers Newtonian mechanics, energy, waves, and heat. A Masters or PhD in physics or a related field is required. Experience teaching physics for pre-health professions students is desirable but not required.

Wheaton College is an evangelical Christian liberal arts college whose faculty and staff affirm a Statement of Faith and adhere to lifestyle expectations. The College complies with federal and state guidelines of nondiscrimination in employment. Women and minority applicants are strongly encouraged to apply. A letter of interest and a CV should be sent to Dr. Darren Craig, Chair of Physics, 501 College Ave., Wheaton, IL 60187 or emailed to Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.

Remembering Joe Spradley (1939-2016)

Posted April 20, 2016 by Physics


Joseph Spradley

The Wheaton College Physics Department mourns the death of Professor of Physics Emeritus Dr. Joseph Spradley. Dr. Spradley died March 29 following a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 83.

Dr. Spradley taught at Wheaton for 55 years—from 1959 to 2014—making him the longest serving professor in College history. He taught courses in subjects including physics, astronomy, math and history of science.

He was devoted to God, to his family and to his students, and loved—among many things—swimming, diving, learning, and travel. Many generations of physics students have been shaped by his teaching and mentoring.

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.

Psalm 71:17-18

A longer news item, detailing many of Dr. Spradley's accomplishments, can be found on the Wheaton College website.


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