'Doing all right for myself'

CONWAY, Ark. (June 16, 2008) -- More than 700 physicists gathered from around the world to attend the April meeting of the American Physical Society (APS). One of them was Adam Jacobs, a rising senior at Hendrix College, who presented his research on ring lasers. Jacobs was one of 40 undergraduate presenters, and his outstanding presentation was honored with a book award.

A few weeks after his presentation, Jacobs received his book award by mail -- Curt Suplee's hefty and beautifully illustrated Physics in the 20th Century.

“First of all, it's an awesome book,” he said. “And secondly, I feel very honored that my talk was chosen as one of the best.  It means that at this early point in my career I am doing all right for myself.”

Jacobs' talk, "Using a Large Ring Laser Gyroscope (RLG) to Understand the Torsional Components of Near-Field Seismic Events," was based on research conducted with Robert Dunn, professor of physics, last summer.

A ring laser can show how the earthquake causes the ground to rotate, whereas conventional seismographs can only measure horizontal and vertical ground motion. Hendrix owns two triangular ring lasers: a 15-meter instrument in the basement of the Charles D. Morgan Center for Physical Sciences on campus, and a 17-meter laser that is located about 10 miles north of Hendrix.

A 55-meter ring laser built north of campus encountered engineering problems and was disassembled, but it remains immortalized on Google maps. The current lasers look the same, on a smaller scale.

Hendrix students are in a convenient place to study seismic activity. The New Madrid fault, which runs through northeast Arkansas, has more earthquakes than any other part of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.

"We saw that events close to our detector result in signals that have a dramatic increase in the amount and detail of information about the event," Jacobs said. "This implies that ring lasers could be used to study the rotational disturbances caused by earthquakes and would produce especially rich data if positioned close to earthquake sources."

Jacobs has been working with ring lasers since his freshman year. He spent the past two summers living in Conway, conducting research with Dunn. A physics and computer science double major, Jacobs programs software that reads, records and analyzes data from the ring laser.

“Essentially, Dr. Dunn tells me what he wants the computers to do and I figure out how to make them do it,” he said.

Jacobs is spending yet another summer doing research, at a summer research program through Princeton University. After an intensive week-long course at Princeton's Plasma Physics Lab, he will conduct research at a San Diego company called General Atomics. His work will center on magnetic confinement fusion, which may someday lead to a source of clean energy.

He will also dedicate the summer to “quite a bit of grad school soul-searching,” as he develops a final list of the universities he’ll apply to.

“I think my dream school would be Princeton, or perhaps CalTech or MIT, but needless to say those are nigh on impossible to get in to,” Jacobs said.

After completing his graduate work in physics, Jacobs hopes to stay in academia.

“I would like to work at a research university so that I could both do research and teach others about the science that I love,” he said. “But who knows – I may end up as a science writer or a video game engineer designing the physics in a virtual world.”

Jacobs is the son of Tamme Adams and John Jacobs of Benton.

Hendrix, founded in 1876, is a selective, residential, undergraduate liberal arts college emphasizing experiential learning in a demanding yet supportive environment. The college is among 165 colleges featured in the 2008 edition of the Princeton Review America’s Best Value Colleges. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, contact Mark Scott at scottm@hendrix.edu or 501-450-1462.