Condensed Matter Physics, Soft materials, Colloids, Liquid Crystals, Computational Physics, Physics Education
Soft matter physics is the study of matter that is all around us in everyday life: soaps, oil, foods, sand, foams, and biological matter. All of these are readily deformable at room temperature and combine properties of both fluids and solids. Despite their ubiquity, these materials are extremely complicated. Unlike simple fluids like water, they have rich internal structure; unlike crystalline solids they are typically not periodically ordered. Moreover, they exist in long-lived metastable states far from equilibrium and respond to stimuli such as applied electric and magnetic fields, temperature and pressure. My work seeks to understand how these materials respond to shape: how they self-organize on curved surfaces or in complex geometries and how this knowledge can be used both to sculpt desirable shapes at the microscopic scale and create shape changing systems like soft robots. We use high performance computing to simulate and predict these behaviors and work closely with experimentalists at Tufts and beyond.
Physics Education Research: Scientists are professional learners who employ a range of skills and qualities to learn new things. This view has significant bearing on how students advance in their understanding of scientific concepts. For this reason, my current research focus is to investigate how learners come to engage in the practices of science. To make progress on the question, I have studied how learners' views of knowledge (personal epistemologies) impact their scientific engagement in the contexts of introductory physics, quantum mechanics, and science teacher education. I have also studied the interaction of personal epistemology with emotions that come up in the doing of science (epistemic affect). Most recently, I have looked at how personal epistemology interconnects with social caring and epistemic empathy. These studies help outline some paths to progress in equity and inclusion in STEM fields, and inform my approaches to teaching.
Experimental particle physics, neutrino oscillations, neutrino interaction physics, neutrino astrophysics, computer simulations of neutrino-nucleus interactions.
The main thrust of my research is the study of the neutrino. Through neutrino oscillation experiments, we are gaining insights into neutrino masses and mixing parameters. Precise measurements of these quantities may allow us to uncover the reason behind the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe, or point the way to a theory beyond the standard model. Precise measurements of oscillation parameters require good models of neutrino-nucleus interactions. I work on experiments that are studying neutrino oscillations (NOvA and DUNE), on experiments that are providing new data on neutrino-nucleus interactions (MINERvA), and on a widely-used software package (GENIE) that is used to simulate neutrino-nucleus interactions.
Experimental condensed matter physics; physics education
My primary physics research is in experimental surface science. In my lab at 574 Boston Ave., my students and I study what happens when foreign atoms and molecules form chemical bonds with metal surfaces. We examine how the interaction between the foreign molecule and the metal modify properties of both of them. In recent years a particular focus has been on how the attachment of the foreign molecule changes the electrical resistivity of the metal substrate. This area of research has relevance to a range of potential applications including catalysis, chemical sensing, and the growth of thin films and nanoparticles on surfaces.
A second area of activity is physics education, particularly at the elementary school level. Together with collaborators at a local nonprofit organization and at other universities, I am working to develop and study curriculum materials and professional development strategies for teachers to improve instruction in science in grades 3-5.