Skip navigation.
New Mexico State University
Department of Physics
Research

Undergraduate Research

Eric Ramesh

Major: Physics

"The Roller Coaster Relationship between Art & Science"

Faculty Advisor:
Professor Julie Fitzsimmons
Honors

During the course of their extensive and distinguished history, the fields of art and science have been bitter rivals, inspiring partners and strange bedfellows. The overall relationship between scientists and artists is complex, perhaps best described as love-hate. Yet despite all their differences, it is possible for scientists and artists to find common ground. The pendulum swing was most pronounced during two key scientific periods: the triumph of Sir Isaac Newton concerning light and color, and the echoes of the fourth dimension emanating from the works of Georg Riemann, Charles Hinton, and Albert Einstein.

Back to top

Rebecca Armstrong

Major: Physics

"Priming Students Misconceptions of the Seasons"

Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Stephen Kanim
Physics Honors Thesis

Many students respond to questions about the cause of the seasons by stating that the earth is closer to the sun in summer than it is in winter. A common and reasonable interpretation of these responses is that students have a misconception (a stable but incorrect model or theory) about the causes of the seasons and the orbit of the earth. The questions asked presumably elicited what was already in the student's mind. More recently, some researchers have described an alternate model for thinking that assumes that students assemble responses to questions about the physical world "on the fly" from smaller-grained ideas. In our study we attempt to investigate which of these two models is most appropriate for assessing student responses to questions about the seasons. We will describe initial interviews with students about the causes of the seasons, and results from two versions of a classroom survey about the seasons. Surveys were used to measure the extent to which student responses to questions about the seasons could be influenced by preceding "priming" question. We will discuss inferences of our analysis of these resonses for our understanding of what student responses tell us about models for thinking.

Back to top

Owen Boberg

Major: Physics

"Oxygen in the Earth's Inner Core?"

Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Boris Kiefer
Physics NSF

The composition of the Earth's core has long been a focus of Earth's and Planetary research. Several lines of evidence suggest that the core is composed mainly of an iron rich FeNi alloy. However, radial density profiles as inferred from seismic data show that Fe-Ni alloys alone are too dense. This so-called core density deficit suggests that trace amounts of one or more light elements is/are present in the core. Identifying the nature of the light element(s) would provide insight into the chemical environment present during accretion of the core; and such information would provide a better understanding of planetary evolution. Using state-of-the-art density-functional-theory calculations we determined how Si, S, and O affect the elastic properties of iron in the inner core. Our calculations show that the effect of oxygen is significantly larger than that of other light element candidates. This implies that oxygen can have a disproportionately large effect on the elastic properties of iron. We find that 0.1w.t.% oxygen is enough to match seismic observations. While many publications suggest oxygen is not viable in the solid inner core more recent publications are in exact agreement with our findings.

Back to top

Laura Salguero

Major: Physics

"Determination of Metal Distribution and Morphology of Bone"

Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Jacob Urquidi
Physics RISE

Small angle scattering is a useful tool for biological materials, as it can probe structure of systems in their active state in solution and is a bulk technique, probing the average response of a large number of scatterers. Sensitive to length scales of 0.5-100 nm or more with a resolution of 0.2-0.3 nm, it is well-matched to the length scales relevant in biomedical research. currently, a project to study the structural morphology of bone and other biological systems has begun by developing an Anamalous Small Angle Scattering (ASAS) instrument. ASAS allows for a particular element to be signled out within a given sample and its distribution within the sample can be extracted. This is accomplished by using energy variation for contrast. The x-ray source is tuned such that two diffraction patterns can be taken, one very near the absorption edge of th einteresting element and one further away from it. A first order difference distribution function subtracts away like background and reveals the distribution of that element alone within the sample. In the case of bone, this allows the determination of several properties of the metal (Calcium and Phosphorus) embedded within the bone matrix without the complicating factors of other components. It would allow for a direct measurement of the metal distribution, concentration, morphology, and crystal orientation within the bone sample. This measurement would allow us to study bone mineral density loss as well as the effects on bone of calcium replacement therapy.

Back to top

Dan Short

Major: Physics

"Remote Sensing of Planetary Temperatures"

Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Boris Kiefer
Physics

The Earth's orbit falls in a distance range around the sun where liquid water is at least temporarily stable. This region, called the habitable zone, is defined by the distance from the central star and the radiation spectrum emitted by it. In the case of the sun, this region is estimated to range from ~0.75 AU to ~1.25 AU. The existence of water on a planet also depends on the planetary albedo and its evolutionary history. Knowing these variables is a useful tool for teaching and research. Our contour plots for the equilibrium temperature allows for a rapid estimation of the surface temperature of planets. There exist ~200 - 400 billion stars in our galaxy, but habitable zones are more likely to exist around main sequence stars. Consequentially, there exist other factors besides distance which affect the presence of liquid water on a planet. In our own solar system we find significant deviations from these blackbody equilibrium temperatures, especially for the Earth. We investigate the temperature/pressure dependence of the water gas shift reaction to explain these deviations and discuss other factors that affect the accurate determination of remote exoplanetary surface temperatures.

Back to top