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APS Honors Two Young Physicists with 1995 Apker Award

Two promising young physicists have been named by The American Physical Society as recipients of the 1995 Apker Award for their research achievements as undergraduates. Frederick B. Mancoff and Benjamin F. Williams will each receive a $3000 stipend, a certificate, and a travel allowance to attend the 1996 Joint APS/AAPT Spring Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, in May, where the awards will be presented. They will also be invited to present papers at an appropriate technical session during the meeting.

As a senior at Stanford University, Mancoff designed and carried out an experiment to study the magneto-transport of a two-dimensional electron gas system under a random dipolar magnetic field. While the system forms the analogical basis for the current understanding of the quantum Hall system at even denominator filling fractions, there has been little experimental work to date in that area. In the course of this project, Mancoff mastered semiconductor microfabrication techniques, including photolithography, mask design, and wire-bonding, as well as low- temperature experimental techniques. He also aided graduate students in the operation of the laboratory's helium liquefier and the transfer of liquid helium into a storage dewar for operating the dilution refrigerator necessary for his measurements.

Mancoff's experiment revealed that the magneto-resistance of the two-dimensional electron gas increases one-order of magnitude under the influence of the random magnetic field. The experiment's importance may one day move beyond the even-denominator quantum Hall effect to more practical application of the giant magneto-resistance. He presented his findings as an invited speaker during a symposium on mesoscopic physics at the 1995 APS March Meeting in San Jose, California, perhaps the first undergraduate student to be invited to speak at an APS meeting.

For his senior thesis at Middlebury College in Vermont, Williams conducted an extensive search of the nearby spiral galaxy M31, known as Andromeda, for supernova remnants, using large format charge-coupled device (CCD) images from the Burrell Schmidt telescope at Kitt Peak Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. However, the angular resolution of the Schmidt telescope system is too coarse to observe real structure in the remnants, making it difficult to measure their sizes accurately. Thus, Williams perfected techniques for making large digital mosaic images, resulting in exceptionally smooth images with excellent signal-to-noise ratios, which enabled him to search with much greater sensitivity than his predecessors. He also conducted an analysis of the statistical distribution of the remnant sizes, as well as the implications for remnant evolution and the supernova rate in the M31 galaxy.

The project was hugely successful. Where research by several international groups over the past 20 years has led to the identification of 12 confirmed remnants and 12 other candidate objects, Williams identified 100 candidates, the largest optical sample of supernova remnants known in any galaxy. The vastly expanded pool will provide a rich resource for studying the structure and chemical composition in interstellar medium in the Andromeda galaxy, which is thought to be very similar to our own Milky Way galaxy. Williams was awarded his department's only physics prize upon graduation, and plans to apply to graduate schools later this year.

"The selection committee had a difficult task in reaching a decision, because all the finalists submitted superb work and demonstrated outstanding potential for future achievements in physics," said Donald Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland System, who chaired the committee. Since 1994, the committee has sought to select two recipients, one from a Ph.D.-granting institution and one from a predominantly undergraduate institution.

Established in 1978 through an endowment by Jean Dickey Apker in memory of her fellow solid state physicist and husband, LeRoy Apker, the Apker Award is given annually in recognition of outstanding achievement in physics by undergraduate students, so as to encourage young physicists who have demonstrated great potential for future scientific accomplishment. All students at U.S. colleges and universities who were undergraduates during at least part of the year prior to the deadline for nominations are eligible to apply.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin