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April 15, 2004



In this second of a three-part series, Bryn Mawr Now gives readers an overview of recent awards to support research by members of the faculty. Today, we'll take a brief look at projects developed by Assistant Professor of Physics Michael Noel, Assistant Professor of Psychology Anjali Thapar and Professor of Mathematics Rhonda Hughes. For a more complete list of grants and awards made to faculty members during the 2003-04 academic year, see the Provost's Web page.

Professor Noel

Assistant Professor of Physics Michael Noel received continuing support in the amount of $79,901 from the National Science Foundation for his Early Career Development Grant, an award designed to recognize "teacher-scholars who are likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century" with grants to support career-development plans that integrate teaching and research.

The research component of Noel's plan focuses on creating Rydberg atom crystals. An atom is in a Rydberg state, Noel explains, when one of its electrons has been excited, usually by a laser, to a very high energy level. "In the classical model of atomic structure, the excited electron has a very large orbit around the nucleus of the atom and is just barely bound to it by the electromagnetic force, which holds atoms together." Because the electron's connection to the atom is weakened, forces from outside have a stronger-than-normal effect on it, so Rydberg atoms have exaggerated reactive properties. Linking Rydberg atoms together using an atom trap creates a "designer solid." The interactions of atoms within this solid are similar to those of a natural solid but easier to study because of the exaggerated properties of the Rydberg atoms. Noel and his team, which includes graduate student Tom Carroll and recent alumnae Mary Kutteruf '03, Anne Goosell '02, Ellen Kruger '02 and Katherine Claringbould '01, have succeeded in building an atom trap, creating a one-dimensional designer solid and studying the angular dependence of resonant energy transfer in the solid.

"We are now exploring the finer details of the interactions in this system. We have also begun construction of a second atom trap with which we hope to assemble Rydberg atom crystals one atom at a time," says Noel.

"The outreach piece of this project is also well under way," Noel reports. "Last summer an undergraduate student worked with me to develop what we now call 'Ball of Physics.' She recruited three other undergraduates to present a show this fall in Thomas Great Hall with about 100 in attendance. We have two shows scheduled this spring at local elementary and middle schools and have scheduled another on-campus show for April 18 [see related story]." Click here to read the profile of Professor Noel in the January 2002 issue of Bryn Mawr S&T.

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