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Physics

Breaking pumpkin thumb - Getty Images
Fall 2018

The physics of fall

With murmurs and pointing, the crowd watches as a face and then hands—holding a large object—appear in the twelfth-story window of WSU’s Webster Physical Sciences Building.

On the ground, Butch T. Cougar begins a countdown: five, four, three, two… At one, the hands release a 10-pound, half-frozen pumpkin that rockets to the courtyard, exploding in a confetti-bomb of cheers, screams, and a thousand gooey fragments.

Strains of Galileo Galileo from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” fill the plaza and down comes another pumpkin, then another and another. So begins that nerdy-fun Dad’s Weekend tradition—the Pumpkin Drop.

“Throwing out pumpkins is kind of a rush,” says … » More …

Illustration of baseball as atom nucleus
Summer 2018

Physics at the bat

Today’s baseball game, brought to you by Physics Unlimited, is a blockbuster contest between the famous Mathematical Physicists and Washington State University’s own Oblique Collisions.

As the Oblique Collisions take the field, Ernest Rutherford, the renowned English physicist, is first up for the Mathematical Physicists. Better known outside physics circles for his cricketing skills, Rutherford is quite the hitter, though usually of particles much smaller than baseballs.

Indeed, in describing the collision of an alpha particle—better known as the nucleus of a helium atom, two protons and two massive neutrons—with a gold atom, Rutherford had this to say: “It was as if you fired a … » More …

rollable electronics
Summer 2017

Organic electronics on a roll

In the near future, your local hardware store could include a “green electronics” counter where friendly clerks unspool sheets of plastic film and print devices while you wait.

Need a few more solar panels? No problem.

How about a flexible LED lighting strip? This roll over here.

Computer? Loudspeaker? Or maybe transparent, energy-producing panels for your greenhouse? On sale today!

Though the scene is hypothetical, the emerging technology for organic, thin-film polymer plastics is up and running in laboratories around the world, including those of the Collins Research Group at Washington State University.

Led by assistant professor of physics Brian Collins, the enthusiastic … » More …

John Yeager
Summer 2017

John Yeager ’06, ’08 MS, ’11 PhD

John Yeager wants to know what happens to materials all the way down to the nanoscale, even when they detonate. His curiosity led to three WSU materials science degrees, and a recent award.

Yeager ’06, ’08 MS, ’11 PhD, now works for the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s High Explosives Science and Technology group in New Mexico. He received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in January.

Established in 1996, the Presidential Early Career Award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers. Yeager is among … » More …

Spring 2017

Paths that grew crystal clear

Crystals reflect the best of nature’s handiwork. With their atoms aligned in repeating 3D patterns, crystals can be as momentary as a snowflake or as common as the sodium chloride in table salt. They can sparkle on a finger, scatter rainbows across the room, or be grown on your kitchen table with a few ingredients from the hobby shop.

Some also possess unusual properties, such as quartz crystal’s ability to generate a tiny electrical current when pressure is applied. Known as the piezoelectric effect, this useful phenomenon helped inspire the rise of a global, multibillion dollar crystal growth industry.

Today, manmade crystals power an astonishing … » More …

Spring 2017

The matter of antimatter

Deep in the bowels of a large brick building on the WSU campus is a laboratory guarded by red flashing lights and warning signs. A tiny window in the door offers glimpses of stainless steel machinery while a low pulsating hum emanates through thick concrete walls.

Inside the W. M. Keck Antimatter Laboratory, a deuteron accelerator produces up to 120 billion positrons per second—about 10 trillion positrons per day, more than any other university or small laboratory in the nation.

Positrons are a type of antimatter. For every proton, neutron, or electron spinning within an atom there is a particle of opposite charge—its antiparticle. Positrons … » More …

Winter 2016

Shock & awe

In a windowless room some 20 miles outside Chicago, five scientists in jeans and shirtsleeves are preparing to glimpse something that until now has been hidden from human view: the nearly instantaneous, atomic-level transformation of a material under intense pressure. Since the dawn of time, such changes have gone hand in hand with some of the most extreme of moments: the creation of the universe, the heat and pressure in the Earth’s core, the failures of bridges and buildings, and the business end of a bullet.

Until now, no one has seen them in such detail.

On this day at Argonne National Laboratory, Stefan … » More …

Trip the light fantastic
Spring 2016

Trip the light fantastic

When physicist Mark Kuzyk throws a science soiree he doesn’t mess around. Out come the lasers, high-tech origami, ornate wire sculptures, and sticky-stretchy gel that’s fun to throw at the wall. But it’s all for a greater purpose.

The Washington State University Regents professor is developing a shape-changing, laser-guided electrode for the treatment of pain, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and depression.

The ultra-thin electrode is designed for use in deep brain stimulation (DBS) and relies on optics and photomechanical materials to improve the precision and delicacy of the procedure. Sometimes known as the “brain pacemaker,” DBS holds promise for a wide range of conditions and may … » More …