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“The SPS Observer” Features Physics Major

December 21, 2010

by Marc M. Doyle, Drexel University
Summer Research Site: University of Delaware
The SPS Observer, Volume XLIV, Issue 3, Fall 2010

This was my first research project as a physics major. Doing research for the first time is like a coming of age in the realm of science. I was not sheltered by the walls of the classrooms anymore. I couldn’t just use an equation or a math trick to defend myself. I had to do real thinking.

The grass and brick formed a tapestry in which the University was woven. The lab sits in a row of buildings where none is differenti¬ated from another. The lab, purring with the sound of machines, was busy. My supervisor’s lab was messy. Yet, the mess didn’t inhibit the work that went on in that lab.

My job was to make nanoparticles. Not just any nanoparticles, but ones that were magnetic. They were made by a violent process, a dangerous process. This method is called the autocombustion or the self-sustaining reaction process. Reactions like this are used in blast mining, but on a much larger scale. As a physics major, I wondered why I was doing chemistry. In school they taught chem¬istry and physics separately, so I thought they must not go together. Wrong. Interdisciplinary collaboration is crucial to science. This research has motivated me to take more classes outside of physics, because nature is expressed by all fields of science, not just one.

So what did I do this summer? Oh, nothing—just learned how to think, just learned how to strive for a scientific goal, just realized that physics is more than classrooms and books and grumpy old professors. It is about finding what you want to do, what fascinates you, and how you plan to get there.