Ohio Wesleyan Students Research Nuclear Isotopes
Name: Colin Hawes ’20
Hometown: Delaware, Ohio
Minor: Environmental Science
OWU Connection Experience: “Search for Exotic Shapes in the ‘Wild West’ of the Nuclear Landscape,” a 10-week summer research project funded by a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant awarded to Ohio Wesleyan by the National Science Foundation
Hawes – along with Dexter Allen ’21 of Delaware, Ohio, and Grace Klausen of the University of Missouri, Kansas City – spent the summer measuring the lifetimes of three rare nuclear isotopes under the mentorship of Ohio Wesleyan physics and astronomy professor Robert Haring-Kaye, Ph.D. In addition to conducting research on the OWU campus, the students traveled to Florida State University for a week to perform an experiment using FSU’s particle accelerator.
The purpose of the group’s experiment was to produce neutron-rich atomic nuclei at high angular momentum and measure the radiation emitted as the nuclei released energy. (“Think of a spinning top that relaxes as it rotates,” Professor Haring-Kaye explains.) The ultimate goal is to infer the shape and structure of a variety of rare isotopes and to understand how their properties evolve as the nuclear mass moves further away from those of the ordinary isotopes found in nature.
My Favorite Moment
“My favorite moment was going to FSU (Florida State University) and performing our own experiment at their particle accelerator. That week or so at FSU was really an incredibly fulfilling experience. I learned a lot about what research in the field of physics is like, especially nuclear physics.
“Because of working at FSU with professors and grad students there, I actually learned a great deal about what graduate school will be like and what to expect. I also learned from being there that I may want to go there for grad school. And for the rest of the summer that we weren’t at FSU, it was very educational as well.
On ‘Taking the Reins’
“I learned even more what lab work in physics can be like. I actually did learn throughout the whole process that while I find nuclear physics extremely interesting, it isn’t what I would like to go into.
“We got to work with most of the math department and physics department professors when we had our professional development seminars. And while we were with Dr. Haring-Kaye the most, he did not hold our hand.
“He taught us everything we needed to know very well and was always willing to answer questions and help, but he let us take the reins.”
My Plans After Graduation
“My plans post-OWU are to go to grad school, and there combine physics and environmental science. There are many fields that (combine both) like meteorology, physical oceanography, environment engineering, geophysics, etc.
“The tricky part for me now is deciding. I may do a gap year or two to pursue more research to help me make my decision.”
Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan
“I chose to go to OWU because it was the best option financially. But more importantly, I chose to stay because of the liberal arts ideal of a diverse education and because of the dedication of the professors.”