Physics Students Receive Research Award

Date: 03-14-2008

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
David Kagan, Advisor
Society of Physics Students

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) at California State University, Chico is one of eight SPS chapters to receive a Sigma Pi Sigma Undergraduate Research Award. The awards provide calendar-year grants to support local chapter research projects that are imaginative and contribute to the strengthening of the SPS program.

CSU, Chico physics students Tiara Norris, Justin Dhooghe and Nic Sanabria wrote the winning proposal, “Investigation of Viscosity Transitions in Non-Newtonian Fluids.” Professor Eric Ayars is the students’ research advisor.

Professor David Kagan, advisor to the SPS, described the experiment: “Cornstarch mixed with water makes a gooey fluid with a very interesting property. Under ordinary conditions it flows like pancake batter, but under slight pressure it becomes a solid. A fluid that behaves this way is called ‘non-Newtonian,’ and the technical term that describes the ease with which a fluid flows is ‘viscosity.’ These students will investigate the change in the viscosity of non-Newtonian fluids like cornstarch and water as they change from liquid to solid.”

Ayars added, “Non-Newtonian fluids have many potential applications, ranging from liquid body armor to more efficient automatic transmissions. Imagine a bulletproof vest that contains liquid cells instead of ceramic or steel plates; it would allow much greater comfort and freedom of movement. When hit by a bullet, though, the liquid cells would instantly solidify and stop the bullet.”

“Tiara, Justin and Nic are exceptionally dedicated and hard-working students,” said Kagan. “It is great to see that their efforts have been rewarded by this national recognition. Dr. Ayars provided them with terrific guidance and mentoring throughout the proposal process. He will now have the opportunity to share his expertise with these students as they begin to work on the actual experiment.”

In addition to CSU, Chico, the other 2008 recipients are the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Colo.; Rhodes College, Memphis, Tenn.; Utah State University, Logan, Utah; Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore.; Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa.; Towson University, Towson, Md.; and Suffolk University, Boston, Mass.

Sigma Pi Sigma is a national honor society of elected members. The SPS Undergraduate Research Award program is funded through income from the Sigma Pi Sigma Trust Endowment Fund.