Springfield, Ohio – Thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant received through the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program in September 2009, Wittenberg University Assistant Professor of Physics Jeremiah Williams is introducing more and more students to plasma physics using a cutting-edge diagnostic system that allows for unique research opportunities.
The $264,699 MRI grant allowed for the addition of a Tomographic Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) system to Williams’ laboratory in the Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center. According to Williams, Wittenberg is the only undergraduate institution with a Tomographic PIV system, and the university is one of a just a “handful” of research institutions with this type of volumetric measurement capability.
The grant is the latest in a string of successes for Wittenberg’s Department of Physics, which is rated in the top 35 percent of undergraduate institutions in the United States in terms of numbers of majors graduated, and individually for Williams.
“This diagnostic will allow us to make a number of new measurements, including instantaneous volumetric measurements of the morphological properties of weakly-coupled dusty plasma systems, more complete (and volumetric) measurements of transport within these systems and the evolution of the thermal properties of these systems,” said Williams, an experimental plasma physicist with expertise in the area of complex (dusty) plasmas and the use of PIV techniques to study these systems.
“My research interest lies in understanding the thermal and transport properties of the weakly-coupled dusty plasma systems that are prevalent in nature,” Williams added. “As a graduate student, I worked on a subset of these topics using PIV and stereoscopic PIV techniques. This grant funds the purchase of the next generation PIV diagnostic and will enable us to examine many of the open questions in the field that are not currently possible with the existing diagnostic infrastructure in the dusty plasma community.”
Williams appreciates the opportunity to split his time between research and teaching at Wittenberg. With the overlap between scholarly and teaching efforts, Williams said the grant will have a significant impact upon his students.
“We have a number of students actively engaged in the research efforts taking place in my lab,” he said. “Of particular note, this is a unique opportunity for undergraduate students at a liberal arts institution to have hands-on experience with technologies that are typically only available at the graduate level at major research institutions.
“In addition, it is my hope that it will be possible to develop classroom laboratory experiences that will make use of the Tomographic PIV system for some of the courses offered by the department.”
Previously, Williams expanded the department’s research opportunities through a collaboration with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a Collective National Center for plasma and fusion science funded by the United States Department of Energy. Working through the Department of Energy’s University Support Program, Williams received experimental hardware, including a vacuum system, two high voltage supplies and an assortment of smaller components.
The latest NSF grant and the resulting equipment purchase have extended those research opportunities considerably.
The NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program serves to increase access to shared scientific and engineering instruments for research and research training in institutions of higher education, museums, science centers and not-for-profit organizations. The program seeks to improve the quality and expand the scope of research and research training in science and engineering by providing shared instrumentation that fosters the integration of research and education in research-intensive learning environments.
Written By: Ryan Maurer