[Summer Research at Mudd]: Physics and Quilts

While most of the students at Harvey Mudd College have gone home for the Summer or are elsewhere doing research, an internship, or volunteer work, some have decided to stay on campus to do research. Some 200 or so students are on campus for the Summer working on various research opportunities and fellowships with different professors. Over the course of the Summer I’ll be posting about students and professors and the research that they are working on.

The Interview

For today’s blog, I got to sit down and talk with Chloe Taylor ‘22 about her research experience with the physics department.

A picture of Chloe Taylor standing in front of a brick wall smiling. She is wearing a black long sleeve and her hair is covering her right shoulder.

How did you come across this research opportunity?

“My research advisor is also my first year advisor so when I went in to talk to him about classes, he asked me what I wanted to major in and I said “I really had no idea” so he was like ‘If you need help figuring it out, maybe doing research would be helpful. I have a possible position’ and I said, ‘I’m interested.’ He was also my mechanics recitation professor and was offering the research to people in my section and I was interested.”

Is this your first time doing research?


Did you apply for any other research positions elsewhere?

“I applied for chemistry research and I got one position, but I decided to do physics instead.”

I know you already broke down the application process, but did you apply in a similar fashion to the way you applied for chemistry?

“I guess it was quite different from more standard things, because it was really just like Professor Eckert just offered it up and I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll do it.’ then he told me a little bit about it and he said, ‘You can still say no you can drop this at any time’ and I was like, ‘I’m still interested.’ ”

What made research at Harvey Mudd appealing to you?

“I guess the original reason I as doing it was because I was still unsure of what I wanted to major in and I felt like doing physics research would help me decide if that was something I was interested in majoring in. Also working with professors closely and getting to know them is a really appealing part of it. And also seeing how research works. I also didn’t have anything else to do for the summer. I thought about traveling or something, but this seemed like a relaxing thing to do.

Which professor(s) and department are you doing research with?

“Professor Eckert and Professor Sparks of the Physics Department.”

Do you plan on pursuing a major in this department?

“I think I’m still kind of undecided. I definitely think physics is probably one of my top choices I want to major in. I think it’s too early in the research to say, but it’s been really fun so far.”

Are you working with any other students or professors?

I found this out after the interview. Chloe is working alongside Georgia Newman ‘22, Sheena Patel ‘14, currently a PhD student at UC San Diego, and Eric Fullerton, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC San Diego. Sheena and Professor Fullerton are working from UC San Diego, while Georgia and Chloe are working at Mudd.

What were your expectations coming into this position?

“Umm, I’m not really sure. I guess Prof. Eckert said it was one of the more chill research positions and you had a lot of time off and are only in the lab when you needed to be. He also showed me the machines beforehand, so I thought it was going to be a lot of setting up samples, putting it in the machine, and waiting for them to run. Then learning about what the graphs mean and what magnetism means.”

Could you explain what your research entails?

“So basically we are looking at Terbium right now which is like a rare earth element and basically measuring different properties of it, like the magnetic moment under varying temperatures and varying magnetic fields. We have this small wire of terbium. It’s like really, really small and we are measuring the resistance of that wire. And so all of those things suggest where there is a magnetic phase change in the elements, so we are trying to construct a magnetic phase diagram kind of thing. So we learn about various different types of magnetism. Like ferromagnetism, paramagnetism, and diamagnetism. We are graphing everything so we can see where these changes are. So in measuring resistance, you’ll get a graph but there are different kinks in the graph where the slope suddenly changes. So we have been trying to numerically differentiate the different points. So yesterday we finally figured out a way to do that, so today we are running a different method of measuring it with a higher current to find a clearer point where the slope changes. So, everything is graphed to understand what the data means and also figuring out what sequence files we should run to get the data that we want.

A lot of it is sitting. When the stuff is running and we have graphed everything, we just wait for the thing to run and it takes days to run. So like right now I can log in from my phone and see the status of what’s going on.”

What are your hours like?

“Most days we get in at 8:30 am, we have an hour lunch and we leave anywhere between 2 and 5 pm. It’s also varies. Like today, we didn’t have anything to do this afternoon, so I was just relaxing all afternoon. Tomorrow it’s unclear if we will have anything to do the entire day, because these things are running on the machines. So it definitely isn’t as regimented as other research.

What has been your favorite moment thus far, and what do you look forward to?

“Research wise, maybe making a breakthrough and finally seeing a graph that actually shows a slope change. So we were basically taking a bunch of points, fitting a line to it and finding the slope of that line. We did it by small segments and then we extended it to going by an interval of 10 Kelvin and that gave a much clearer depiction of slope changing. So that was a really good moment to see that we had done something successful.

Also, last Tuesday we drove down to San Diego because we are working with two people at UC San Diego. One of them was a Mudd student who worked with Prof. Eckert when she was a student. So we had lunch with her. Then on the way back up, Prof. Sparks drove us down and back up, we stopped at quilt stores because Prof. Sparks likes quilts.”

What did you not expect?

“So we do a lot of graphing. A lot of it is me and Georgia, the other person I’m doing research with, sitting for hours graphing, doing little calculations and analyzing the data so I wasn’t expecting it to be so heavy on that. We are also working with Prof. Sparks who is retired but she still comes in and Prof. Eckert and Prof. Sparks leave us on our own a lot. They left us this morning. Prof. Eckert has been away for a while and we have been Skyping him, while Prof. Sparks wasn’t here yesterday afternoon and she won’t be here tomorrow, so she said “You and Georgia can come in whenever you want and just work. So there is a lot of freedom and a lot of trust in us. We have keys to all the rooms so we can go and check in on the experiments. They both try to teach us about what we are doing. Like Professor Sparks has taken time to teach us a little bit about magnetism because that is really what our research is on … and I guess they want to teach us all of next semester’s physics class over the summer, so we will see how that goes.”