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Physics

LIGO Observatory at Hanford. Courtesy National Science Foundation
Winter 2015

Eureka! on the horizon

The silence is unnerving. Not another car in sight as I drive through the desolate Hanford nuclear area. The road unfolds in an eerie lacework of tarred concrete until finally I see it gleaming in the distance—the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO.)

LIGO is home to Earth’s most sensitive optical instrument, uniquely designed to intercept gravity waves. These elusive cosmic waves—or ripples in space-time—are so miniscule that Einstein thought them impossible to view and measure. And so far, he’s been right. Yet if detected, gravitational waves could transform our fundamental understanding of the universe.

They also, incidentally, play a starring role in the hit … » More …

Phil Marston
Fall 2013

The tractor beam has arrived

Capt. James T. Kirk: You left spacedock without a tractor beam?

Capt. John Harriman: It doesn’t arrive until Tuesday.

—from Star Trek: Generations

Phil Marston is not a Trekkie, nor has he given much thought to the Star Trek tractor beam that can use focused beams of energy to attract and repel derelict spacecraft or, in one case, USS Enterprise Capt. James T. Kirk.

He was just intrigued by something, in this case, the way an acoustic beam is scattered by a sphere.

“Basically, it goes into the category of a problem you solve because it would be curious to see what … » More …

Spring 2012

Video: The Amazing Leaproach

An insect’s small size gives it the gift of relatively greater strength. The newly discovered South African cockroach Saltoblattella montistabularis takes advantage of this fact plus several other features, as Washington State University entomologist Carol Anelli describes here:

This is very cool for several reasons.

It is a wingless cockroach, described for the first time only two years ago, and the first existing roach known to jump. It achieves this feat with modified hind legs that possess long femurs invested with enlarged muscles. These long femurs—akin to the longest bone in the human body—help give grasshoppers their great jumping ability.

ant artwork
Spring 2012

Living the right-sized life

I want to walk on water, climb walls, and dance on the ceiling. If insects can do it, it’s only fair that I should, too.

But this thing called physics has decreed otherwise. Carol Anelli, a WSU entomologist, can tell you why, having a lifelong fascination with ways insects can at times make us seem relatively slow, earthbound, and weak.

Carol Anelli
Carol Anelli (Photo Shelly Hanks)

Anelli first came upon the wonders of insects as a child among the woods and fields of a suburbanizing central Connecticut. She would pull caterpillars from her … » More …

Summer 2003

George E. Duvall, gentleman scholar

George E. Duval, 82, a pioneer of shock physics research and professor emeritus at Washington State University, died January 3, 2003 in Vancouver. He was internationally recognized as a founder and leader in studies related to shock wave propagation in solids and liquids. Many colleagues regarded him as the dean of U.S. shock wave science.

The Louisiana native spent his youth in Oregon. His studies at Oregon State University were interrupted in 1941 when he joined the University of California’s Division of War Research to work on underwater acoustics problems. He returned to OSU in 1945 to finish his bachelor’s degree and completed a doctorate … » More …

Fall 2006

All that glitters: The shimmering nano-alchemy of Lai-Sheng Wang

Lai-Sheng Wang places a tinker-toyish thing onto a visitor’s palm. Many such toys line the Washington State University physics professor’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory office in Richland. The object at hand—12 steel balls hinged to red plastic tubes twisted this way and that—form a perfectly symmetrical, 20-sided icosahedron.

Wang also displays a daughter-fashioned Father’s Day card that testifies to his paternal greatness. He spends time with the family, washes dishes, cooks, and is always kind. Mixed in there is a gilded item that truly separates Wang from all other pops on earth: he fathered the gold buckyball.

The word “buckyball” derives from “Buckminsterfullerene,” a hollow … » More …

Summer 2003

How do bonds break?

The underlying question that motivates my current work is,

What are the forces on atoms and ions associated with surfaces that result in these particles leaving or reattaching to the surface when stimulated with an outside agent?

These surfaces may be surrounded by very high vacuum or by an aqueous solution. The stimulation that assists the motion of the atoms or ions may be a laser or electron beam, or it might be a very sharp, hard tip pushing on the surface. In all cases, the rate of particle removal or attachment, the speeds or energies of the particles involved, and even the direction they … » More …

Summer 2006

Learning what it is to do science

A few years ago, Tom Dickinson lifted the lid from his grande americano and started wondering about the water droplets that clung to its underside. Why were they that size? Why did some merge into bigger drops surrounded by little drops?

Coming from someone else, such questions might indicate that the asker has too much time on his hands. Coming from Dickinson, they launch serious research-and new careers.

Dickinson has an international reputation in the physics of surfaces and optics, and a lab that every summer brims with undergraduates doing research projects. In fact, his resume wouldn’t show nearly the breadth it does without his … » More …