physics & astronomy

To study physics today is to be part of an age of mind-bending discovery, learning about materials that suddenly become superconductors of electricity at low temperatures, new theories to describe the order behind apparent randomness, a flood of new information about black holes and the beginnings of the universe from orbiting observatories and huge ground-based telescopes, the search for "dark matter" in the universe.  There is both rhythm and pattern to the phenomena of nature that is apparent only to the trained, analytical eye.  Ursinus helps students to develop that eye and prepare them to challenge what is known in order to grasp what is unknown.  Out of the adventure of discovery come remarkable new technologies--from supercomputers to micromachines--and with them, new opportunities to improve the world.

National Superconducting
Cyclotron Laboratory

Professor Lewis Riley does research at National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University. He has received funding on an ongoing basis from the National Science Foundation for his research which is focused on experimental nuclear structure, specifically trying to understand how the protons and neutrons in atomic nuclei work together to produce collective behavior. The students who work with Dr. Riley participate in a cutting-edge international research effort at the premier rare isotope facility in the United States. They interact with faculty, staff, and graduate students at a national laboratory and present their work at at least one meeting of the American Physical Society.

"There are roughly 300 stable atomic nuclei,” says Dr. Riley. “Stable nuclei make up most of matter in the world around us, but protons and neutrons can also be put together in combinations that are unstable -- that only exist very briefly before undergoing radioactive decay. The frontier of nuclear physics is understanding these roughly 3000 exotic nuclei, but because of their short life spans, most of these unstable nuclei aren't found in nature. We have to produce them in the laboratory so that we can study them. At the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, we use cyclotrons to accelerate beams of stable nuclei to about half of the speed of light. We smash these stable nuclei into a metal target where they break apart into fragments, some of which are exotic. Then, we collect the nuclei of interest and study their structure and behavior very quickly before they undergo radioactive decay.''

“The frontier,” says Riley. “That’s where we are working. And the fact that undergrads are doing this type of research is competitive. It’s really impressive.”


The Horsehead Nebula

Located on the roof of Pfahler Hall, the Marsteller Observatory provides live laboratory time at the telescope for registered students as well as periodic stargazing time for both the campus and the surrounding communities during such heavenly events as eclipses, the passage of comets and meteor showers.

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