Physicist’s Work Sheds New Light on Possible “Fifth Force of Nature”

February 21, 2013 • Article by Caroline Hanna

This picture depicts the long-range spin-spin interaction (blue wavy lines) in which the spin-sensitive detector on Earth’s surface interacts with geoelectrons (red dots) deep in Earth’s mantle. The arrows on the geoelectrons indicate their spin orientations, opposite that of Earth’s magnetic field lines (white arcs). Illustration: Marc Airhart (University of Texas at Austin) and Steve Jacobsen (Northwestern University).

In a breakthrough for the field of particle physics, Larry Hunter, the Stone Professor of Natural Sciences (Physics), and colleagues at Amherst and The University of Texas at Austin have established new limits on what scientists call “long-range spin-spin interactions” between atomic particles. These interactions have been proposed by theoretical physicists but have not yet been seen. Their observation would constitute the discovery of a “fifth force of nature” (in addition to the four known fundamental forces: gravity, weak, strong and electromagnetic) and would suggest the existence of new particles, beyond those presently described by the Standard Model of particle physics.

Look Before You Text: Leah Thompson ’15 Studies Distraction

Janurary 18, 2013 • By William Sweet

“Look both ways before crossing the street.”

It’s a lesson that most of us learn by the age of 6. But according to Leah Thompson ’15, who spent this past summer studying pedestrian behavior, it’s also a lesson that many adults have managed to unlearn or ignore.

The culprit, in many cases, is the smartphone.

Professors Awarded NSF, NIH Grants

November 9, 2012

Benzodiazepines. Arithmetic dynamics. Matter at the coldest temperatures of the universe. The fundamental underlying symmetries of nature. And parasites that live on tsetse flies.

What do all of these have in common? They all are faculty research topics that have recently received significant grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) or National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Memory and Movies

July 26, 2012

By Angelina Gomez ’14

My parents recently went on a vacation to Hawaii. While talking to my mom about the trip, I heard about the colors of the flowers they saw on a hike, how she felt about taking time off work, how she had arranged for someone to take care of their cat while they were away, the flavors of the fish they ate and more. My dad’s report of the week: “We hiked. We swam at bit. The hotel was nice. It was fun!”

Physics Professor to Receive Prize at American Physical Society Meeting Feb. 27, 2012

Professor of Physics David S. Hall ’91 will receive the American Physical Society’s Prize for a Faculty Member for Research at an Undergraduate Institution at its annual meeting in Boston on Feb. 27, the APS has announced. Awarded annually, the prize honors a physicist whose research in an undergraduate setting has achieved wide recognition and contributed significantly to physics. It also recognizes an individual who has played an important and supporting role in the professional development of undergraduate physics students.

Trapani Wins Grant to Mentor Zebrafish Research

Josef Trapani, assistant professor of biology, has been awarded a $10,000 grant to further his studies of the nervous system using zebrafish.

Amherst Aboard NSF-Funded Biomathematics Consortium

September 8, 2011

By William Sweet

Three young professors at Amherst are getting an unusual opportunity to expose students to biomathematics, an innovative blend of math and the natural sciences. At a time when advances in science and medicine are becoming increasingly complex, researchers cannot afford to be isolated from one another in their respective departments, they say.

Amherst Professors Reel in NSF, NIH Grants

August 1, 2011

Four faculty members at Amherst College—John-Paul Baird, Ethan Clotfelter, Michael Hood and Katharine Sims—have recently been awarded sizable research grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The four professors will use their grants to work with students to continue researching brain circuitry, fish evolution, plant disease and environmental conservation, respectively. Below are brief descriptions of the grants and the research that will be supported.

In the Lab

Studying Slime Mold Yields Insight into Cellular Behavior

August 19, 2010

It may sound like something out of a Far Side cartoon, but it’s serious science. Amherst College biology professor David Ratner and several of his students have spent this summer examining how Dictyostelium discoideum—a cellular slime mold—behaves. The bigger goal is to explore the research frontiers of gene expression and protein degradation. It all adds up to an intense summer research experience for students and professor alike, as well as insights into how the degradation of proteins influences the division of all cells, whether normal and healthy or mutated and malfunctioning.

In this video, Ratner, along with students Benjamin Garmezy ’11 and Elizabeth “Molly” Scott ’13, discuss their research, the altruistic qualities of the slime mold and the considerable advantages of studying science at a liberal arts college such as Amherst.

In the Lab

Tracking Air Pollution in the Pioneer Valley

October 28, 2010

Just looking off into the distance on a warm day in the Pioneer Valley shows that the area doesn’t have quite the air pollution problems that smog-plagued cities Beijing or Los Angeles do.

But that doesn’t mean the air is completely free of pollutants, says chemistry professor Karena McKinney; a nearby coal-fired power plant may be emitting harmful levels of mercury, a neurotoxin. McKinney, two other faculty colleagues and several undergraduate researchers set out this past summer to get a better handle on how that power plant is affecting the environment by measuring the amount and geographical distribution of mercury in air, sediment and biological samples. (Related studies with a new, cutting-edge piece of equipment recently caught the eye of staffers with the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office, who featured her work on the organization’s website.)

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