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2009 SPS Outstanding Student Awards for Undergraduate Research
Recipients: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | About the Award

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2008 ICPSThe 2009 SPS Outstanding Students Award recipients represented the United States and SPS and presented their research at the 2009 International Conference of Physics Students (ICPS), August 10-18, 2009, in Split, Croatia. Expenses for transportation, room, board, and meeting registration were paid by SPS.

They also received a $500 honorarium and a $500 award for their SPS Chapter. In addition, they will be invited to give their research presentation at a SPS Research Session at a national meeting in 2009-10.


Joshua Fuchs
Joshua Fuchs
Rhodes College

Feature Article: Josh Fuch's at the ICPS | Photo Album | See all photos on Flickr

Binary Orbital Motion of Electrically Charged Spheres in Weightlessness

Coulomb’s Law of Electrostatics suggests that two oppositely charged spheres should be able to orbit each other solely by means of the electrostatic force between them.  Although Coulomb’s Law is over 200 years old, a purely electrostatic orbit between two free spheres has never been demonstrated.  The goal of this project was to produce an electrostatic orbit between two 3 cm diameter, 1.6 gram graphite coated Styrofoam spheres charged to +/- 20 kV.  Because the electrostatic force between the spheres is much less than the weight of the spheres, the experiment was performed aboard a specialized NASA C-9B aircraft that simulates weightlessness by flying in a parabolic trajectory.  Flight time aboard the aircraft was awarded through NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.  Funding for the project was supported in part by a Sigma Pi Sigma Undergraduate Research Award.  A team of six undergraduate physics majors from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN traveled to NASA facilities in Houston, TX to perform the experiment in July 2008.  We successfully achieved multiple electrostatic orbits.  This is the first experimental demonstration of an electrostatic orbit between two free spheres.  The student team was responsible for all aspects of the experiment including the initial proposal to NASA, design and fabrication of the experimental apparatus, development of the experimental procedure, ground based testing of the apparatus and procedure, interim and final reports to NASA, data collection aboard the aircraft, analysis of the data, and educational outreach associated with the project.  Our outreach activities involved interactions with over 400 students in local area K-12 schools. Analysis of the orbits has revealed that the electrostatic force can deviate significantly from the inverse square prediction of Coulomb’s Law.  This indicates that the spheres electrically polarize each other causing the charge distribution on each sphere to be non-uniform.  In addition, our experimental results support recent theoretical predictions for conditions necessary to achieve a stable electrostatic orbit when polarization effects are considered.

Gabriel Caceres
Gabriel Caceres
Augustana College

Feature Article: Gabriel Caceres at the ICPS
Supersymmetric Dark Matter as the Source of the WMAP Haze

An excess microwave emission from the region around the Galactic Center has been observed by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). It has been argued that this anomalous signal, known as the WMAP Haze, may be the synchrotron emission from relativistic electrons and positrons produced in dark matter annihilations. In particular, the angular distribution, spectrum, and intensity of the observed emission are consistent with the signal expected to result from a Weakly Interacting Massive Particle (WIMP) with an electroweak-scale mass and an annihilation cross section near the value predicted for a thermal relic. In this work we revisit this signal within the context of supersymmetry, and evaluate the parameter space of the Constrained Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model (CMSSM). We find that, over much of the supersymmetric parameter space, the lightest neutralino is predicted to possess the properties required to generate the WMAP Haze. We pay particular attention to the features of the parameter space which provide the correct dark matter abundance: the focus point, the A-funnel, the bulk, and the stau-coannihilation region. The focus point, A-funnel, and bulk regions typically predict a neutralino with a mass, annihilation cross section, and dominant annihilation modes which are within the range required to produce the observed features of the WMAP Haze. The stau-coannihilation region, in contrast, is disfavored as an explanation for the origin of this signal. If the WMAP Haze is in fact generated by annihilating neutralinos, then the prospects for direct and indirect dark matter detection experiments are quite promising.

Honorable Mention

Lynda IkejimbaLynda Ikejimba -- Trinity College

Breast Cancer Risk Estimation Using Parenchymal Texture Analysis in Digital Breast Tomosynthesis
Sydney Chamberlin -- Utah State University

Algebraic Computing Tools in Gravitational Physics
Luke Johnson -- University of Maryland, College Park

Using Particle-In-Cell (PIC) Simulations to Understand the Role of Surface Plasmons
David Jacome St. Peter's College

Studying the Physical Behavior of the Capillary Plasma Electrode Discharge
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