The Department of Physics at Grove City College offers students the academic freedom to conduct meaningful, relevant research alongside experienced and accomplished faculty. An integral component to an excellent undergraduate education, research opportunities help prepare students for top graduate and professional programs and successful careers in professional sectors.
The Department of Physics has active research programs in astronomy, biophysics, computational physics, nanotechnology, optics, and physics education. Many students conduct off-site research during the summer at other university, government, and industrial settings.
The 20" telescope at the Grove City College observatory
The astronomy research program at Grove City College is designed to engage and educate students in the techniques of modern observational astronomy. Extensive use is made of the College’s observatory that houses a 20-inch Cassegrain telescope, equipped with modern, research-grade instrumentation, to conduct a wide variety of investigations that include:
In the near future, the telescope will be equipped with a high-resolution spectrograph which will greatly expand Grove City College's research capabilities.
The astronomy research program at Grove City College is under the direction of Dr. James Clem and is open to all students regardless of major and year.
The structure of cytochrome P45 3A4 (left); the central heme is shown along with the three fluorescent tryptophans (in red). The structure of aNF is shown on the right.
In collaboration with professor F. Peter Guengerich of Vanderbilt University, the biophysics laboratory at Grove City College is used to study drug binding to cytochrome P450 3A4, (P450 3A4) a human enzyme expressed in the liver that oxidizes almost half of all medicines on the market. This enzyme, discovered by Guengerich, is intensely studied by pharmacologists because P450 3A4 oxidations can greatly affect the toxicity of a drug that is ingested.
Students in the biophysics laboratory use a compound called a-naphthoflavone (aNF) to model the interaction of drug to P450 3A4 drug-metabolizing enzyme. aNF is not a medicine used in therapy, but it binds strongly to the enzyme and it is an excellent fluorescent probe. The protein itself is also fluorescent and so fluorescence spectroscopy and Stern-Volmer fluorescence quenching models are used to physically characterize drug binding to the molecule. From this it can be determines how many discrete interactions aNF can have to one enzyme molecule as well as the strength of each interaction. The Department of Physics at Grove City College hopes that such data can be used to better understand how this crucial enzyme metabolizes medicines.
The biophysics laboratory is overseen by Dr. Glenn Marsch.
Representation of an embedded cluster model for a titanium dioxide surface
The Department of Physics at Grove City College uses scientific computing to investigate problems in physics, particularly in chemical physics and multibody dynamics. Under the direction of Dr. Mark Fair and in collaboration with Dr. Michael Falcetta of the Department of Chemistry at Grove City College, the topics of electron scattering from carbon monoxide, optimization of expensive black-box functions, quantum scattering of electrons, optimization of an embedded cluster model for a titanium dioxide surface, and development of a molecular dynamics model for use as an instructional tool on the thermodynamics and kinetics of simple chemical reactions are being investigated.
Recently, the department built a custom, high-performance computer designed to solve large systems of equations for some research problems. In the area of multibody dynamics, the department has used Kane’s method to model physical systems such as trebuchets.
To learn more about computational physics research at Grove City College, contact Dr. Mark Fair.
Lauren Dallachiesa, ‘15 prepares our mask aligner for photolithographic fabrication of microstructures on a silicon wafer.
The nanotechnology research group at Grove City College fabricates micro-devices with the intent of eventually being able to use them to perform fundamental physics measurements. These tiny structures, principally bridges and “diving boards,” are typically as long as a human hair is wide (roughly 75 millionths of a meter). The ultimate goal is to employ these constructs to observe the Casimir effect, a phenomenon which results from vacuum quantum fluctuations.
Besides continuing to refine fabrication techniques, the department is currently constructing a fiber optic laser interferometer, which will be used to study the motions of devices.
The nanotechnology research group at Grove City College is under the supervision of Dr. Jeff Wolinski.
Jonathan Adams, ’20 conducts research in the Department of Physics' laser lab.
The optics laboratory at Grove City College houses multiple high power lasers for use in a variety of applications, including materials research and training in laser operation & safety. The laboratory is overseen by Dr. Shane Brower, and his research interests include investigations of short and long scale polymer dynamics as well as high density optical data storage.
Kristen Hephner, ’18 and Mercedes Mansfield, ’18 organize research subject statements into categories as part of the development of a taxonomy of buoyancy conceptions.
The field of physics education research (PER) applies scientific research techniques to the study of how students learn physics and to the development of materials which facilitate that learning. The PER group at Grove City College is currently identifying and categorizing the multitude of diverse alternate conceptions held regarding buoyancy, density, and pressure and is measuring their prevalence in our college-age population. Once the most commonly-held conceptions are determined, a standardized diagnostic assessment which will include those alternate conceptions as distractors will be designed. Instructors can then use the assessment to determine which conceptions their students hold at the start of class and which are (or are not) addressed by instruction.
Other student projects have included revisions of laboratory and workshop activities which resulted in an increase in circuit diagnostic scores, the design of multimedia instruction units, and the investigation of the reliability of an attitude assessment. Students in the PER group have frequently presented their research at regional and national meetings and many have been first author on peer-reviewed papers.
Students from all three physics concentrations have contributed to the Grove City College PER group with many students starting their freshman year as the research requires no prior knowledge. The PER group is led by Dr. DJ Wagner.