Harvey Mudd Physicist Mark Ilton Named Cottrell Scholar

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Harvey Mudd College physics professor Mark Ilton is among 25 outstanding teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics and astronomy named recipients of Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s 2023 Cottrell Scholar Awards. Each award is $100,000.

Cottrell Scholars are chosen through a rigorous peer-review process of applications from a wide variety of public and private research universities and primarily undergraduate institutions in the United States and Canada. Their award proposals incorporate both research and science education.

RCSA President and CEO Daniel Linzer said, “These new awardees have been selected as much for their research and teaching excellence as for their potential to become change-makers at their institutions, in science and society at large.”

Ilton will use the grant to support two projects: one in his research field of the physics of soft matter and the other in physics education.

“The Physical Principles Governing High-Rate and Large Deformation Elastic Recoil”

Ilton will study the physics behind how some animals use elasticity to move quickly. “My approach combines experiments and simulations to better understand when viscoelasticity plays a role in this movement,” says Ilton, who joined the HMC faculty in 2018. He and his student researchers study the unloading dynamics of elastic materials and their connection to the ultra-fast movements of biological organisms such as mantis shrimp and trap-jaw ants. “I also plan to use materials with adjustable elastic and viscoelastic properties to understand the polymer physics principles that control these movements. This research may lead to a better understanding of efficient elastic actuators and their design principles.”

Physics education

For the educational component of the award, Ilton aims to improve access to undergraduate research opportunities, particularly for students from underrepresented groups in STEM. He will redesign a physics lab course at Harvey Mudd College to include hands-on experiments that focus on developing experimental skills and cover active areas of physics research. Ilton says, “The modular design of the course will make it easier for future instructors to update the content while improving learning outcomes and promoting the physics identity of diverse students.”

Past Cottrell Scholars from Harvey Mudd College include Brian Shuve (2021), Sharon Gerbode (2016) and Lelia Hawkins (2014).

Research Corporation for Science Advancement news release