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Winter 2013

02/02/2013 | 100th Year Celebration: BRAVO! A Cultural Crossroads of Physics and the Performing Arts -- Scott Pfeiffer (FASA and Partner Threshold Acoustics LLC)

The designers of Hill Auditorium leveraged the pure form of a rotated paraboloid to dramatic advantage. This geometry, combined with an artistically committed community represented by the University Music Society, forged a special relationship. The role of the physics behind the acoustics of Hill Auditorium is explained as it relates to this near unparalleled history of performance over the last 100 years.

02/09/2013 | Metals with Memory: How These Amazing Materials Remember Their Shape -- Samantha Daly (U-M Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Engineering)

Shape memory alloys (SMAs) are a group of metallic alloys that can revert to a previously defined size or shape when deformed and then heated past a set temperature. This “shape memory” behavior is due to a transformation between two solid crystalline phases, termed austenite and martensite. We will discuss this transformation in the SMA Nickel-Titanium, which is a promising SMA used in a wide variety of applications including advanced biocompatible and MEMs devices.

02/16/2013 | Entropy: Quantifying What We Don’t Know -- Cindy Keeler (U-M Physics)

In this talk we will explore the physical concept of entropy, touching on its broad use throughout physics and beyond, and finally focusing on its use in String theory. Entropy, colloquially thought of as a measure of disorder, has been a powerful tool for physicists for a century and a half. Today a broad range of disciplines use entropy in their work: information theorists, linguists and stock market analysts all use the concept. In physics, its use is universal, by every discipline from cosmology to biophysics to materials physics. In String theory, entropy gives us a quantitative tool to compare theories to each other, and to physical systems ranging from black holes to fluid flows.

03/09/2013 | Into the Future with Plasma Rocketry: The Intriguing World of Electric Propulsion -- John E. Foster (U-M Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences)

Plasma propulsion includes those rocket engine systems that accelerate charged particles for the purpose of thrust production. Plasma thrusters are mission enabling, making it possible to realize deep space science missions that would otherwise be impossible from a practical implementation standpoint using conventional chemical rockets. We will explore the inner workings of these clever devices, delving into the basic physics of operation and commenting upon the current state of the art. The role that these engines have played aboard communications satellites and on key space science missions to date as well as the role that these engines are expected to play in the robotic exploration of the solar system and beyond will also be discussed. Finally, the evolution of these engines from their present state to their “sci fi” cousins for applications supporting human spaceflight will also be highlighted.

03/16/2013 | Exploring Mars with the Curiosity Rover -- Nilton O. Reno (U-M Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences)

The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover was developed to assess if Mars could sustain microbial life. Since liquid water is a basic ingredient for life –as we know it, in order to understand the potential for life to exist in other planets, we must first understand the behavior of water on them. In this presentation, the Curiosity Rover, its instruments, and its landing site on Mars will be described briefly. Then, the current evidence for liquid water on Mars will be discussed. The presentation will conclude with a discussion of Curiosity’s initial results.

03/23/2013 | Peering Into the Proton -- Christine Aidala (U-M Physics)

Protons are at the core of every atom, forming the atomic nucleus along with their uncharged partners, neutrons. As tiny as they are, we know that protons are comprised of yet tinier subcomponents, known as quarks and gluons. Professor Aidala will discuss what we have learned so far about how quarks and gluons lead to the rich and complex internal workings of this basic building block of everyday matter.

04/06/2013 | The Dark Matter Hunter's Guide to the Universe -- Kathryn Zurek (U-M Physics)

Dark Matter is five times as prevalent as ordinary matter and yet its nature is currently unknown. We will take a journey through the ways physicists are searching to unlock the mystery of the nature of the dark matter, from experiments in space to deep underground.

04/13/2013 | Capillarity -- Professor Robert Deegan (U-M Physics)

From the waves on a pond to the deposit left by a drying drop to the ability of insects to walk on water, phenomena dominated by surface tension are everywhere. Professor Deegan will give a guided tour of some of the more interesting examples from everyday life and from current research.