How did you decide to become an experimental plasma physicist?
Starting as an undergraduate student at Gustavus Adolphus, a small liberal arts college very similar to Concordia College, I was prepared by the great faculty to be ready for graduate school. I was initially interested in the physics of energy and astrophysics and narrowed my path to plasma physics as it is a natural marriage of the two. Plasma physics has applications in energy production and the endeavor to harness fusion energy to produce electricity. I am fascinated in the concept that plasma is ubiquitous in the universe as 99.9 percent of what you see in the universe is in the plasma state. These interests helped me determine my graduate school path and find my love for teaching.
What brought you to Concordia College?
In retrospect, I figured out my true passion was teaching. Starting in graduate school, I realized that when time constraints were present, I continually found myself prioritizing the lessons for my teaching assistantship over my classes. This made me work later on class homework, but it was beneficial to provide a positive experience for students while furthering my education. I fully realized the effective way to teach is in a small individualized setting, like with my time at Gustavus, and found that was where I really wanted to be. When an opportunity arose at Concordia, I took the opportunity to teach and research with quality students.
How do you apply your research and learning to your courses?
Currently, I have been working to create practical applications of abstract textbook concepts to allow for a greater understanding for students. Utilizing my research experience and current projects, I’d like to further bring research-grade experiments into the classroom, making these experiments more accessible to students. Conducting research with students allows me to facilitate their personal growth, while reflecting on my undergraduate and graduate experiences, to better mold projects for their learning. These opportunities are essential in better understanding the concepts, and I am glad that the facilities and structure at Concordia allow for an individualized approach to research.
What are you currently working on with research?
Last summer two current students, Travis Deegan and Noah Schultz, and I built up a small plasma experiment that brought online ultra-high vacuum systems that were refurbished to develop this machine for classroom application. Plasma is an incredibly interesting area of study, as there are many abstract concepts in physics. We wanted to create an experiment from this somewhat simple device, comprising these vacuum systems, and turn it into a classroom teaching tool. Being able to measure and analyze concepts such as the distribution function will allow for students to take a very abstract concept of plasma and offer an experimental and practical understanding.
What recommendations do you have for students when thinking about graduate school?
First of all, I cannot stress enough the importance of looking at opportunities early to allow for the chance to plan ahead. I found that when making an application to graduate school you need to be able to lay a strong foundation of good rapport with faculty and take classes that both meet the qualifications for graduate schools while pushing yourself. This will amplify the good grades, research opportunities and strong letters of recommendation, as you will have quality experiences to fall back on. That is one of the most notable strengths here at Concordia, as we offer research opportunities for our physics students and truly allow them to benefit from this unique experience.