Departmental Research Opportunities

Research is an important component of the physics curriculum at Dickinson College and all majors must undertake a year long senior research project under the guidance of a faculty advisor. The topics for these research projects are limited only by the interest and imagination of the students and faculty. Below is a listing of some broad research areas that are actively pursued at Dickinson.


Photograph of the quantum optics lab

The Quantum Optics Lab

Dickinson students have the opportunity to conduct independent research using the Britton Observatory's 24-inch telescope under the guidance of Professors Boyle (variable stars) and Hamilton-Drager (young star formation).  Some recent projects include: searching for exo-solar planetary transits, and monitoring a possible supernova progenitor, v723 Cas.

Curriculum Development and Physics Education Research

Photograph of Professor Hamilton-Drager in the Observatory beneath the telescope

Professor Hamilton-Drager in the Observatory

Although retired from teaching, Professor Priscilla Laws continues to develop and assess curricular materials that engage introductory physics students in active learning.  Based on the findings of Physics Education Research, Dickinson's curriculum development efforts have achieved a number of innovative materials for use in introductory courses as well as courses for non-science majors. Workshop Physics and Exploration Physics are two examples. These efforts are spearheaded by Research Professor Priscilla Laws, a member of the Activity-Based Physics Group. As part of the Activity-Based Physics group, she conducts professional development seminars for physics teachers nationally and internationally.

Activity-Based Physics is a multi-institutional project to sustain and enhance current efforts to render introductory physics courses more effective and exciting at both the secondary and college level. This program represents a collaborative effort by an informally constituted team of educational reformers to use the outcomes of physics education research along with flexible computer tools to develop activity-based models of physics instruction.

Nonlinear Dynamics in Solid-State Systems

Professor English's research interests focus on the dynamics of nonlinear lattices and networks, including microscopic (magnetic crystals/spin lattices) and macroscopic (coupled pendulum arrays) systems.  Recent work includes experiments with electrical lattices, and numerical modeling of learning in a neural network.

Ultrafast Laser Lab

Photograph of Sean Brannon working in the Plasma Lab

Sean Brannon '08 working in the Plasma Lab

Professor Pearson is constructing an ultrafast laser to measure, image, and control molecular systems, with a particular focus on applications of non-linear microscopy.  Students have assisted with the design and construction of the laser system and experiments.

Pattern Formation

Professor Jackson maintains an active research program in pattern formation that revolves around the interfacial instabilities of a magnetic liquid (ferrofluid) in an applied magnetic field.  Students can take part in experimental, theoretical, or computational aspects of this research.

Physics of Dance

Photograph of Scott Robison in the Patterns Lab

Scott Robison '04 in the Patterns Lab

Professor Emeritus Ken Laws continues his past 30 years of activities involving the physics of dance, working with students at all levels, including a PhD student in physics at Bryn Mawr College.  His latest book is the second edition of "Physics and the Art of Dance," publisihed by Oxford University Press in 2008. The physics of dance provides a wide-open field for research, involving applications of classical mechanics to human body movement. Some of those applications are subtle, but startling in their implications. Both the world of dance and the world of physics are increasingly recognizing the value of this integration. More information can be found on the Physics of Dance website.

Plasma Physics

Professor Pfister maintains an active research program in plasma physics.  His students are involved in examining the properties of a closed-drift Hall thruster.

Independent Student Projects

In addition to the main departmental research opportunities, many of our students get involved in research projects based on a particular interest or through a summer internship.  Below is a sampling of some of the more successful independent research projects our students have been involved in.