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High schoolers talks physics and research during visit to IUPUI


November 8, 2012

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Students and faculty from the Department of Physics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis showcased cutting-edge research Nov. 8 to more than 40 students from Middleton, Ind., including many who were experiencing physics and the campus for the first time.

The juniors and seniors from Shenandoah High School toured the physics laboratory space in the School of Science at IUPUI. They learned of ongoing research in several areas, including studies of light transfer that can be useful to encryption technology, an ultra-high vacuum used to analyze material the size of a single atom and a biophysics lab where the strength of cell membranes are tested using X-ray defraction technology.

“Even though these are all academic honors kids, being able to see this type of technology up close can help them understand there is a much bigger world out there than what they are typically exposed to,” said Elaine Gwinn, a chemistry and physics teacher at Shenandoah, a school about an hour north of Indianapolis with an enrollment of 450 students.

“Not all of them will be science majors, but hopefully they all can get a sense of what things are possible using physics and other sciences,” she added.

The students heard from undergraduate and graduate student researchers in the department as well as faculty. Associate professor Horia Petrache explained the summer research opportunities available to high school students, while associate professor and department chair Andy Gavrin challenged the students to “leave here wondering about something. Questions are the most important thing scientists have.”

Bruce Ray, an associate scientist in the department, impressed many in the group when he described the super-conducting magnet his lab used to manipulate the direction of charged ions, a method essential to determining the 3-D structure of materials such as proteins and nucleic acids. Liquid nitrogen cools the magnet to temperatures cold enough to freeze air solid, Ray explained, while the magnet is 235,000 times stronger than earth’s magnetic field.

“I really liked learning more about how different departments work together on these research projects,” said senior Tony Keal, who plans to study pharmacology in college. “I also got a good feel from the department and the campus. Both seemed just the right size.”

Wyatt Bivens, a junior who plans to study physical therapy, said he had been looking forward to the class visit and especially “enjoyed seeing the labs with the lasers and how they’re studying and measuring light.”

Junior Kirsten Baker said she found the physics research interesting because "it involves a lot of critical thinking and knowledge in a variety of different areas.”
Baker said IUPUI is on her “short list” of colleges, especially after her visit to campus.
Schools interested in visiting the School of Science at IUPUI should contact Amelia Miller at