Western Illinois University: Macomb Campus
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Department of Physics
Student Research Opportunities
The study of magnesium diboride, although a new topic in superconductivity, was really just a new direction for the superconductivity research group which has been active for 10 years now at WIU. A few years ago, an entirely new research opportunity was presented to the WIU physics department by Methode Electronics out of Carthage, Illinois. Methode wished to become involved in the research and production of a new type of power-steering system based on a non-contact method of measuring the amount of torque applied to the steering wheel. Because of cutbacks within the company Methode was not able to continue their project but it has become a large research project at WIU involving many students and resulting in several publications in high-level journals that have been co-authored by students.
These "torque sensors" are a special composition of steel that are magnetized and exhibit the unique property that the strength of the field signal produced by the sensor changes as torque is applied to the steel sample. Therefore, the torque that is applied can be measured by sensing the strength of the magnetic field given by the sample. This is a much simpler and more cost-effective method than that of the hydraulics systems used in the past. Students in the magnetoelasticity research group are involved in the preparation of the steel samples, the measuring of the magnetic hysteresis and magnetostrictive properties, and the testing of the sensing capabilities.
Students involved in research have had many opportunities to travel around the country to present papers at national and international conferences. In recent years, students have presented at the American Physical Society's March Meeting in Austin, TX; Indianapolis, IN; and Atlanta, GA. Students involved in research on magnetoelastic torque sensors have traveled to the Magnetism and Magnetic Materials Conference in Anaheim, CA; San Jose, CA; and Seattle, WA. Students get the opportunity to prepare for such experiences by first participating in smaller, regional conferences such as those held by the Illinois Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers or even here at WIU on Undergraduate Research Day.
If you are an honors student, you know that you will be completing an undergraduate honors thesis as part of your program. You will want to begin research early so that you have plenty of time to develop your research interests and complete your project before it is time to write the actual paper. Starting early allows you the opportunity to try different research projects before you have to decide which you will pursue. As you apply for internships, fellowships, and to graduate programs, your application will be stronger if you can demonstrate that you have been involved for a significant amount of time in a research project that had clear goals or objectives. That is why so many WIU physics majors have been accepted in top level graduate programs and won national fellowships and scholarships in recent years. (previous | next)