Independent Research

Post info on your independent research experiences in the Physics Department

Photos of Frank R., Will S., Frank J., and Chaz R. while attending the APS march Meeting in Pittsburgh (2009).
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Photos of Megan T., Corey T., Cindy L., and Kelly’s attendance to the American Geophysical Society Meeting in San Francisco (2009).
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Slide show of our 13 students attending the 2010 April APS Meeting held in Washington D.C.
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27 Responses

  1. Feb 13, 2010 Saturday
    Today we went to the APS April conference in Washington DC. I was not presenting that day so I was able to enjoy the conference at a much more relax mood. The meeting was a nice contrast to the AGU meeting I attended back in December. The APS conference was a lot smaller and more casual. It was a lot of fun meeting people from all over the country in the student lounge. We ‘made friends’ with people from Minnesota and Texas and various other states. The presentations in the big lecture halls were still way over my head, but the smaller presentations were very easy to understand. Since the conference has a lot of undergraduates, the level of the physics they know is about the same as ours, making their research and choice of language very accessible. I was also very jealous that the people who presented got a white LED, a blue LED, AND 3D glasses. Kind of makes me wish that we got things for presenting at AGU, too. The lack of free things at the conference was a bit disappointing, but it was interesting to hear about the crazy guy who gave out the match boxes…

    Other than that, everyone else kind of touched on everything already. The zoo was nice. I was not aware that our national zoo looked like that… The pandas were really adorable. 🙂

    I’m really looking forward to attending more meetings and conferences, meeting more people, gaining more presentation experience, getting more free things, and finding out more about what are some of the ongoing researches around the world.

  2. So I attended the APS Washington DC conference as one of two “moral supporters”. I didn’t have a poster to show off or a presentation to do, but it was still really cool getting to see all my classmates stand up and present their research, at a legitimate physics conference. It was also very educational, seeing what kind of projects are going on around the country, and a good insight into what goes on at these things.
    We met a lot of really friendly people, got to hear some really interesting projects, and even managed to sneak in a trip to the national zoo! As a funny coincidence, I also ran into some old friends from high school, who had done research at their colleges, and were presenting. You never know who you’re going to meet…
    I’m doing some independent research this semester, and am excited to hopefully be able to attend a conference and present myself, after having seen first hand how cool it is, and what a sense of satisfaction the presenters all gained.

  3. When I was a freshman, I was “coerced” (threats of grade-lowering may or may not have been used) by a few physics professors to attend the year-end research presentations. I didn’t really have any idea of what research was done by students at TCNJ, nor did I really understand how to go about beginning research. It all seemed a little overwhelming (especially since the seniors then had been doing amazing research with NASA and dusty plasma, and got to take a ride in the ‘vomit comet’). Also, it initially seemed to me like research was really meant for upperclassmen, since they had some experience in the classroom already. Nevertheless, I asked Dr. Ochoa, who was my current Gen. Phys. II professor, if there was any way I could get involved with research, along with two other students, Zohaib and Rob. Dr. Ochoa was more than gracious about letting us conduct research under his supervision, even though we were all still freshmen. We officially began the research Fall 2009, our first semester of our sophomore year. Dr. Ochoa had given us the idea of branching off of previous research that had been conducted by Frank and Will (they used Wiimotes as physics tools), and develop a method of using the Wii Balance Board as an educational physics tool.

    I won’t bore you with the details of our research, but essentially it involved us finding out exactly how the balance board worked, how it communicated with a PC, and how to manipulate it (with code) to aid us in general physics applications. We would typically go to the lab to work on our project about two or three times a week, at least, and it wasn’t long until we had a good grasp on how to use the balance board as an efficient and inexpensive physics tool.

    On February 13, 2010, Rob, Zohaib, and I went down to Washington, D.C. with the previous presenters to present our research findings. It’d be redundant to describe the talk (so just read the previous posts!), but it was a very special experience for me, to be considered a part of such an important convention. There were a lot of very interesting talks (albeit some crazy ones – literally, crazy), and it’s a great feeling to get up there, talk about the results of your hard work, and answer questions like a pro, since after a semester of research you will be fairly well-versed in EVERYTHING regarding your research subject.

    All in all, there’s a few things I feel should be made clear:
    -Don’t feel intimidated by getting involved with research, whether you’re a freshman or a senior; the professors are all very willing to incorporate you in their research.
    -Research is a very important thing to have under your belt, the earlier the better. You might even get published! You can bolster your application for an REU a lot if you’ve done research as an underclassman – you’ll be in the minority!
    -Talk to upperclassmen if you’re an underclassman – they’re more than happy to lend a helping hand if you’re confused about anything regarding the physics department.
    -Take advantage of all the physics department has to offer! Nobody’s going to tell you that you can’t do something if you show a real desire to participate. Take it from me- independent research is supposed to be reserved for upperclassmen, but all it took was a signature from Dr. Magee to waive the three of us into research.
    -Go to as many physics events you possibly can! I wouldn’t have even had the initiative to begin research had I not attended the year-end presentations back in Spring ’10.

    So, yeah! Get involved with research under the supervision of any professor if you’re not already! I’m glad I started as early as I did, to get a jump start on research experience.


  4. So…I went to Washington DC with Megan, Calvin, and Manthan for the APS conference. I was kind of expecting a massive convention center and tons of exotic physics-people–nope. The conference was…small. I have a feeling that if it were not hosted in conjunction with the AAPT meeting, there would be about half the people. On a better note, it was hosted at the Washington Wardman Park Marriott Hotel, which was nice, and by nice I mean, like, five stars.

    There was quite a bit of selection, in terms of talks to attend, although this conference’s main topics were in the range of particle-, nuclear-, and astro-physics. While there were a lot of them, most were esoteric to the common physics undergraduate. I suppose this was why they made the undergraduate sessions of presentations and the special activities for undergraduates. But I felt that attending these events wouldn’t give me the kind of exposure I was looking for. So I went around listening to talks on topics spanning from inflation/multiverses (Alan Guth!) to teaching method statistics (on accident; it was titled quite attractively…) to practical applications of special relativity–in Star Trek. The first talk we (the students) decided to go to was one related to teaching physics with art, and by the end of the trip, that was still everyone’s favorite. Given that it was probably…the only one we understood fully. I did, realize, though, that these conferences are intended for people who care deeply about their subject; presentations were merciless on unexplained variables and language, and topics were very specific.

    As for the poster sessions, day one was very disappointing, with probably less than 30 posters being hung in a low-traffic exhibit hall. These were all particle-, nuclear-, and astro-physics related as well. Except for one random biophysics poster, which made my day. Sunday’s was a bit better, with the same exhibit hall perhaps 90% full, and an adjacent one about the same, although those were mostly ones related to pedagogy. Even further down was a trade show sort of deal for physics teaching tools and one stand hawking quirky physics t-shirts. This was nothing like the *real* trade shows I’ve been to for pharmaceuticals or health foods, that is, where there’s actually free stuff to take…

    Anyways, back to the poster presentations. My session was on Sunday. And I met a lot of strange people on Sunday. Originally, I had difficulty ‘winging it’ and being eloquent at the same time, but after one or two presentations, I was pretty comfortable presenting to anyone. I also met and exchanged contact information with some undergraduates, who were interested in…nonlinear dynamics/intelligent technology. There were a few tough customers, but with their help, I learned to understand my own project better. Presenting was really good practice for both social skill development, teaching, and, well, presenting.

    All in all, I’d say that for any undergraduate, going to a conference is an enlightening experience. You meet new people, learn new things, and also get emersed in a different environment.



  5. Dr. Kavic has more photos of the APS at the following site:

  6. Having previously been to the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco I thought I knew what to expect at APS. Wrong. It was a very different experience.
    At APS I presented a poster about using radio transients to serve as an external trigger in the search for gravitational waves within the LIGO database. I worked with Dr. Kavic and traveled to DC with 3 other students who were also presenting posters. Because our poster sessions were spread out across a number of days we got to stay at the conference (as Zohaib said…. in an AMAZING hotel) from Friday night through Monday morning. We met up with Dr. Ochoa and his students on Saturday and had a lot of fun exploring DC. I met and/or got to go to talks by a number of well known physicists.
    On the day of my poster session I was swamped with people interested in my research with Dr. Kavic. It was definitely more than I expected. Through talking with others about my project I actually learned a lot more about it…. it made me think of things that I hadn’t previously considered.
    Overall the trip was a lot of fun as well as educational!

  7. The trip down to DC for the APS april meeting (in february) was a lot of fun. The research Frank and I did in the optics lab with Dr. Ochoa was a great experience. Its something every undergrad should atleast give a shot. Then to go along with it, if you do research, make sure you try and get in on a trip to present at a meeting similar to the APS meeting. It really helps build your confidence to present infront of a crowd of people who you dont know and at a place of pretty good importance, not to mention seeing how your research compares to undergrads from other schools is always informative. Also in terms of building a resume conducting research and presenting at meetings will always look good. i definitely have learned a lot from doing this research and presenting. Going on the trip especially was a great way to meet some of the other physics majors. We had a decent time in the zoo, considering the weather…got some nice shots of the panda…and even just wondering around the hotel peeking in on a few talks slightly over our heads was great bonding time.

  8. Slide show of our majors attending the 2010 APS meeting held in Washington D. C. (February 13-17) is found near top of this page. Almost 20% of our majors attended the event. Seven gave talks, four presented posters, and two went as coaches (moral support).
    Their attendance was as a result of conducting independent research last semester with RO and MK. All presentations were outstanding and an excellent experience for our majors. The TCNJ Physics Department was well represented. A total of 75 undergraduates attended the event.
    The talks were:
    “Introductory Physics Experiments Using the Wii Balance Board,” J. Starr, Z. Iqbal, R. Sobczak, and R. Ochoa.

    “Classical Mechanics Experiments using Wiimotes,” A. Lopez and R. Ochoa.

    “Optical Tweezing of Yeast Cells,” K. Gilroy and R. Ochoa

    “Raman Spectroscopy of Cocrystals,” F. Rooney, P. Reardon, R. Ochoa, H. Abourahma, M. Marti, and R. DiMeo

    Posters were presented by (advised by M. Kavic):
    “Tran-spectral searches for transient radio pulses and gravitational waves,” M. Torpey

    “Sparks from Superconducting Cosmic Strings,” K. Chen.

    “Searching for Superconducting Cosmic Strings,” C. Woo

  9. The 2010 April meeting was the first conference I have presented at. It was in Washington DC, and was a lot of fun. It was at this BEAUTIFUL hotel, which made it even more awesome.

    I gave my presentation with Rob and Julian, and we thought we did pretty well. I met a lot of different people from all of the United States. One girl came from Texas State, and a couple of other kids were from Minnesota. The girl from Texas, Ava, had an amazing presentation about dating paintings by using physics!

    These sort of meetings are really great for networking, so naturally as soon as I came back on campus I friend requested Ava on facebook. It was also cool to see what people my age were interested in and doing research in.

    After the conference, we went for a little walk around DC. We visited the National Zoo, however most of the outdoors (as in all of them) were closed. The indoors stuff was open, so we got to see things like pandas and monkeys. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be in the winter. Afterwards, we ate at Chipotle, and the food was approximately 1009 X better than Eickhoff food.

    The ride there and back was pretty long, but Frank was a great driver, so everything went smoothly. Sleeping was definitely a great idea on my part.

    All in all, it was a very exciting trip, and I really got to see how conferences are done from the presenters side. It is pretty nerve-racking, but it feels awesome to tell other people that you presented at something like the APS meeting. I hope everyone tries to present something somewhere, because it really is a great experience to have.

  10. On Saturday, Feb. 13 2010, myself and others went to Washington, DC to present either a talk or a poster detailing research at the APS/AAPT meeting. It was a fun experience, and with a broad spectrum of topics being presented on, I was able to hear about specific teaching methods for high school physics classrooms. Having a 12 minute timeslot to give a talk to whomever shows was a little stressful, but in hindsight I am glad I did so as it was also rewarding and was a stepping-stone experience. There was also a decent amount of undergrads from other colleges, who offered friendly rivalry over free pretzels. While we were only there for the day, DC is always a great place to visit. The National Zoo is always free and open during daylight. Strangers are friendly and don’t mind any tourist behaviors. Overall it was a very pleasant experience that I’d be more than happy to repeat.

  11. Cindy did a nice summary of our trip and beat me to the blog. I would say the highlights of the trip, for me, were the food, sites, conference, and all the free stuff!

    This meeting was an international meeting with about 17000 people most of which were all grad students and PhD’s so it was intimidating at first but overall the atmosphere was really relaxed. People especially loosened up after the free beer and coffee that was given out every day :). The sites in San Francisco were amazing and fortunately we allotted enough time to see most of them.

    This was my first conference and I had an incredible time. I encourage everyone to get involved in research and attend at least one conference before you graduate. Atmospheric physics research isnt exactly for me, but I am so grateful and fortunate to have been given the opportunity. As ironic as it sounds, I came to enjoy the frustration and challenges associated with research and plan to pursue these interests further in the coming future. Even though I will be focusing on attaining an MD, I am still looking for every possibility to participate in research and possibly applying for accelerated masters or jumping in on the RWJMS MD/PhD. For those of you considering medical school, do not limit yourself to only biology internships/research. It is not so much the subject matter that you get out of the experience. It is the character, mindset, and skills that you will attain which will allow you to not only excel on the MCAT but give you the edge in the application process.

  12. This December, Corey, Megan, Kelly and I flew to San Francisco to present the work we have done for our projects from the MUSE program and this past semester at the American Geophysical Union fall conference. Corey and I worked with Dr. Magee on the “Sublimation of Electrodynamically Levitated Ice Crystals at Low Temperatures” research. This was my first conference ever and I really had no idea what to expect when I first set foot in Moscone conference center. At first the conference seemed intimidating because including the four of us, there were only a handful of undergraduates present. Corey and I presented on the third day we were there and the atmosphere of the conference during the poster session was very different than what i expected. Most people dressed nicely but casually. The poster session was very informal and people were walking around inquiring about other people’s posters or standing by their own poster explaining. The amount of people present at this poster session was thousands times more than my last poster session, which was at MUSE. Also, knowing that the people present at this poster session probably know more than I do, unlike the MUSE poster session, did not help making the anxiety go away. Although as the hours go by, it becomes easier to explain about the research. Overall, the presentation was not as bad as I thought it would be. There were also a lot of lectures at the conference and the four of us felt that most of them were over our head; however, these lectures are a great way to find out what kind of researches are going on right now in the fields. Big corporations and universities had stands at the conference recruiting for graduate students and researchers so it was a nice opportunity to score an interview or internship; although most of them were looking for graduate students or post-docs. There were networking breakfast that we went to and we found out how to become more involved in the American Geophysical Union. I enjoyed meeting other researchers and professors who were eager to recruit undergraduate students for their graduate program. Everyone I met was helpful and offered great advice on pursuing graduate school or career in the geophysical field. Overall, the conference was a very nice experience and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to attend. The trip also allowed us to do a little bit of sightseeing at San Francisco, which was really nice bonus.

  13. Megan has provided photos for a slide show (top of the page) of their trip to San Francisco. Their presentations at a national geophysicists meeting was a result of their independent research experiences. They will follow up with more details on their specific talks.

  14. I am currently researching gamma ray bursts and dark energy with Dr. Wick. We just attended a week-long conference in Egypt to present the research. In addition to learning a lot of astrophysics, we met physicists from all over the world and traveled through a historically rich country. Research actually gave me the opportunity to visit pyramids and catacombs, ride a camel, and (due to a layover) spend the better part of a day in Amsterdam. All told, it was a great trip and a thought provoking experience.

  15. What kind of opportunities are there for doing independent research, well, independent of the College? Obviously lab work would be a bit difficult, but what about more theoretical/computational research? With graduation in less than 45 days away, I probably won’t have my research idea started, let alone completed. How possible is it to be taken seriously as a “citizen-scientist” without any scholastic or corporate affiliation?

    I did have a nearly-completely under-the-radar independent research project under Dr. Becker back in ’02. 1 credit, but no presentation and having no relationship to my focus now or then…

  16. So, I just got back from the ‘Northeast Regional Honors Conference” in Annapolis, MD, where I presented on the Dusty Plasma research being done with Team DPX. It was an interesting experience, and a good first conference for most people, due to the presence of only other undergraduates. However, it was not a science conference, being much more focused on the social sciences and humanities, which made it very difficult for me to gain interest in my project. My presentation quickly fell into just talking about Microgravity, which people were at least interested in, and all science was quickly left behind.

    If you are in the honors program, I would encourage you to speak with me before going to this conference (NRHC), both about what the conference is like and your individual project and better ways to present it. The lack of communication and explanation from the honors program left me confused, unprepared, and made the conference a dissatisfying experience for me, overall.

  17. Independent research provides a nice, local opportunity to jump into scientific investigation of something you’re interested in. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get started with it until Fall ’08 (Fall semester of my senior year), doing Raman Spectroscopy in the optics lab with Dr. Ochoa (in addition to helping some freshmen do some more introductory optics experiments).

    I applied to REU’s last summer without any prior research experience. The only things I had going for me were the recommendation letters (which could really only elaborate on my classwork and maybe speculate on my potential ability for research), a good gpa, and a high interest. I did manage to get into 2 of them, but I would have most likely had many more options had I done research before that point.

    I also attended the trip to the APS March Meeting in Pittsburgh, which was quite an amazing experience. I’ve never seen so many people sitting around on their laptops, preparing their presentations. I would also agree with Frank Jones, that waking up at 6am after essentially no sleep made for a tiring day. As for the presentations, apparently my adviser for my REU last summer gave a talk on computational physics in teaching (you never know who you’re going to bump into at these things). The undergraduate presentations all went well, save for a few minor projector issues. Will and both Frank’s presentations went smoothly with only a few minor setbacks. Giving a presentation at a venue that isn’t in your comfort zone really makes you realize your weaknesses when it comes to presenting. You constantly second guess yourself (especially when those first questions are asked), but after you finish it and do a good job, there’s no better feeling.

    The bottom line is this: doing research provides a gateway into graduate studies. However, the great thing about independent research is that even if you don’t plan on going to grad school, it will still help you by teaching you how to be a scientist, i.e. how to think analytically, and how to convey information to others, which can be directly applied to teaching. So go out, ask a professor you like what you can do, chances are they’ll be happy to help you out.

  18. Also as a side note I can not stress enough what a good time Pittsburgh was and how much Dr. O went out of his way for us.

  19. The trip to Pittsburgh was an awesome time like Frank J. said. Frank Rooney and I with some help from Dr. O presented our research on using the Nintendo Wii Remote as an accelerometer in Introductory Physics Experiments. The presentation went very well, and overall their were about 70 people in the audience. There were about 7,000 physicists at the convention and only 100 undergraduates. It was a great learning experience presenting, and very interesting watching the other presenters. Besides presenting going to Pittsburgh was a ton of fun and it was extremely nice of Dr.O to drive us out there. Its a long 6 hour trip.

    As a side note I don’t know if I can personally recommend doing research as a freshman, but you should certainly try to do some your sophomore year. The sooner the better. Grad schools and companies are very impressed when they see you have held an internship or worked as an undergrad research assistant. You also learn so much and can have a great time doing it. Taking research with Dr. Ochoa (and most of the professors in the dpmnt) is always a great experience and you can learn a great deal from it. Just talk to them about it, they almost always looking to get students involved. I remember being so shy about asking professors about research, I always though they would be too busy. They are extremely helpful and want undergrads to participate actively in research at the college. I can not stress enough to take the chance to do some research!

    Also you guys should look into doing internships over the summer. I remember I despised returning home to go work at shorite. It was great seeing your old friends, but who really wants to go back to working at a supermarket. The past two summers I have worked an internship and it has been a very valuable and rewarding experience. You often times get great pay about double what you probably make back home, you get experience, and you get to have a good time. Sophomores and Juniors look into the REUs, Internships at companies with alumni connections (Lockheed and Martin!!!), and research at the college. Grad schools and companies are going to want to see you did something with your summer other than visiting the girlfriend and going to shore with your buddies!

  20. The trip to Pittsburgh was a lot of fun. By the time I presented there were probably between 30 and 40 people in the room, mostly undergrads and their advisers, I would assume. I was a bit nervous going into the presentation, but knowing now that I was only presenting to a group of other undergrads, it wasn’t such a big deal. I would definitely suggest that other students doing research go again next year. Its good experience and I had a good time. I only wish we didn’t wake up at 6 in the morning for the presentation so we would have had some energy to hang around and check out some of the other presentations.

    On a side note, if your a freshman/sophomore, talk to someone now about doing research, do it tomorrow, email them now. If I knew that I could do research as a freshman I definitely would have started earlier, I just assumed I needed more advanced courses before doing research. Anyways, go do it now, its a lot of fun, a bit of work, but well worth it. I also think advisers should tell their advisees to ask about research, to help get the ball rolling.

  21. At the top of thos page you can view photos of the American Physical Society Meeting attended by 4 of our majors. Chaz Ruggieri, Frank Jones, Frank Rooney, and Will Somers attended this years largest meeting of physicists in Pittsburgh (March 16-20, 2009). Their trip was a result of their research efforts over the past two semesters.
    Will and Frank (R) co-presented “Using the Wiimote in Intro Physics Experiments” (with RO as coauthor). Frank (J) presented “Visualization of Fracture Precursors in Vitreous Silica” (with RO and D. Knox as coauthors).
    The talks went quite well with only a few instants of panic… The meeting had about 7000 attendants. Less than 100 were undergraduates.

  22. I’m currently working with Dr. Ochoa in the optics lab doing optical tweezer research. This experiment involves a laser, a cool optical setup, and the ability to trap micro-sized objects. I’ve been able to trap micro polystyrene spheres ranging in size from 2 – 6um. I’m am growing yeast and taking samples from TCNJ’s pond in hope to trap cells and algae. If anyone has any questions or wants to check out the set up, just throw me an email and i’d be glad to show you whats going on.

  23. I was wondering whether or not people wanted ideas for independent research projects? In retrospect, alumni might have some cool ideas, or maybe we could setup some pseudo-collaboration with alumni on projects.

  24. I’ve been doing research with Dr. Wickramasinghe in some form or another since my second semester of Freshman year. He tries to do research with everyone possible, and is quickly willing to do projects with even freshmen, if you can show enthusiasm and a desire to do primarily theoretical work. I’ve done work in many realms including dark matter and galactic rotations, diffusion of gasses, and gravitational microlensing.

    I concur with what said before, and would like to add the importance of starting research early. As you’ve read elsewhere and probably heard, it is hard to get a job or get REUs or anything without already having experience. Having six semesters of on campus research already takes up a lot of space on my resume and looks very impressive. Again, it doesn’t matter as much if the research you have matches what you are applying for, they just want to see you have done something!

  25. This semester I worked with Dr. Benoit for my Ind. Res., using seismic waves beneath Ethiopia to determine the composition and temperature of the mantle beneath the country. In a little over a week we’ll be traveling to San Francisco to present our findings at the annual American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. I highly recommend doing an Independent Research because it gives you a great opportunity to get a taste of what you could be doing once you’re out of college; and you can build friendships with the professors, which is always helpful. All in all, Ind. Res. are loads of fun and well worth the time.

  26. In my day, which was just a bit after Neil there, I worked with Ochoa for a few semesters. It does look real good on an application for anything really. I agree with Neil on the idea of trying to write something up if you can as it does make you look amazing for whatever you choose to do. Even if you end up applying for a job, it helps to be able to show that you can think independently and coherently organize your thoughts or findings into a poster, a presentation, or a paper.

  27. In my day, I did research with Dr. Gleeson, Thulsi, and Dr. Pfeiffer (ask Carole about how I “broke the curse”). All were excellent experiences for me and I believe were essential to my application for grad school, even though my thesis research had absolutely nothing to do with the research I did at TCNJ. If you can swing it, also write up your research for publication in the TCNJ Journal of Student Scholarship or an appropriate external peer-reviewed academic journal. It makes your application for anything you do after TCNJ shine like gold.

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