APS News

Southeastern Research Opportunities Featured at SES Fall Meeting

Emerging new research opportunities in the Southeast, in such areas as magnetic fields research, free electron lasers, and the quark structure of matter, were among the highlights of the 62nd meeting of the APS Southeastern Section, held in Tallahassee, Florida, in November. Hosted by the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL), whose facilities house some of the most powerful research magnets ever developed, the conference also featured invited sessions on nuclear waste management, astrophysics, and computer applications in physics teaching.

A number of new facilities in the Southeast are opening up many diverse research opportunities in the region. For example, Construction of the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has been completed. The scientific program, affording new research opportunities in nuclear structure and nuclear astrophysics, will begin operation in the spring of 1996.

Louisiana State University opened its Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices two years ago, containing the first commercially built electron storage ring in the U.S. with a maximum energy of 1.5 GeV. Applications include basic research, chemical and structural analyses, and microfabrication, including the printing of electronic circuits and production of microdevices. Duke University's Free Electron Laser Laboratory is making advances in applications of these accelerator-based light sources to such diverse fields as nuclear spectroscopy, surgery, multiphoton processes, X-ray holography, and analytical microscopy. Finally, the completion of the Continuous Electron Beam Facility is expected to produce seminal new insights into the quark structure of matter.

Opportunities for scientists also exist in magnetic field research. Magneto-photoluminescence (MPL) spectroscopy has proven to be a powerful technique for studying the interband optical transitions in quantum well-type semiconductor heterojunctions, and the NHMFL has established a facility to optically study the properties of two-dimensional electron systems at high magnetic fields in the quantum limit using this technique. Other promising areas of research include the continued improvement of high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance, which is expected to reach 1 GHz in the near future, and strongly correlated electron systems at extreme limits.

Southeastern colleges are discovering innovative applications of computers to education. For example, L.C. Dennis of Florida State University described a project known as the Cyberspace Middle School (http://www.scri.fsu.edu/~dennisl/CMS.html), a World Wide Web site for math and science education which emphasizes hands-on activities. Access to the school's home page currently exceeds 750 visitors and electronic requests for science information or project ideas are received weekly.

Other efforts include computer systems developed for introductory physics laboratories at the University of Tennessee and the University of Florida, which feature user-friendly software programs for creating experiment-specific acquisition programs, and spreadsheet programs to aid student data analysis. Kinesthetic apparati in the Worldshop Physics program at Dickinson College help students relate natural phenomena to the laws of mechanics, while North Carolina State University uses instructional computer animations in its physics courses.

Over the next several years, approximately 100 tons of excess weapons plutonium in the U.S. and former Soviet Union will be produced from existing nuclear stockpiles, growing at a rate of about 70 tons per year. Public opposition, nuclear safeguard issues, and long-term critical stability of fissile material are causing scientists to explore alternatives to geologic storage. For instance, Los Alamos has developed Accelerator-Driven Transmutation Technology (ADTT), which couples a high-power accelerator to an efficient neutron-producing target and a subcritical fission assembly to destroy nuclear waste.

Another alternative for plutonium disposition is to fabricate the weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel and then irradiate in either advanced or existing pressure water reactors (PWR) to a depleted level similar to that of commercial spent fuel. According to M.R. Buckner of Westinghouse Savannah River Company, studies of his company's PWR designs demonstrate the potential for timely disposition of the material at relatively low cost, and its existing four-loop reactors can safely dispose of 0.94 megatons of plutonium each year.

Speakers at a Friday morning session on astrophysics described work on crucial questions in the field by leading Southeastern researchers. Topics included new supercomputer simulations of core collapse supernovae, nuclear probes of stellar evolution, recent observations of gamma ray bursts at the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and the assembly of a large database of odd star clusters in the Milky Way using recent advances in telescope technology at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Friday evening's banquet featured the presentation of the George B. Pegram Award to Joseph Ferguson of Mississippi State University, and the Jesse W. Beams Award to George Samuel Hurst of the University of Tennessee. Awarded annually by the section for more than 20 years, the awards consist of a gold medal and certificate citing the recipient's accomplishments for which he or she is being honored. The Beams Award is intended to recognize a physicist in the Southeastern region who has conducted significant research in physics, while the Pegram Award honors an individual who has demonstrated excellence in the teaching of physics.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin