August 10, 2017

Students Share Their Science Research Over Lunch

Each week in June and July, students in the John S. Rogers Research Program present their original findings in front of peers and faculty at the Science Brown Bags. The program is designed to prepare students for careers in science by facilitating student-faculty collaboration on research projects.

Students and professors come together for lunch in the Olin Center each Tuesday afternoon in June and July to listen to students present their original research projects at the Science Brown Bags.

The participants in the John S. Rogers Research Program are conducting research in several disciplines within the fields of natural science and mathematics. Students have the opportunity to perfect their research by sharing their work with peers and professors who engage them with critical thinking and questions during the lunch presentation.

On July 11, Sam Hunt ’18  and Gerrick Heggarty ’18, who are collaborating with Associate Professor and Department Chair of Physics Stephen Tufte, presented their research on the acoustics of the mandolin—a project that combines their love of music with a proclivity for physics.

Tufte has just been awarded a $211,649 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support his three-year project, “RUI: Musical Acoustics: Coupled Oscillators, Mandolin Bridges, and Holographic Interferometry,” a comprehensive experimental investigation of the acoustics of the mandolin. Supported by NSF’s Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) and Integrative Activities in Physics programs, the project is specifically designed to provide transformative experiences and training to undergraduate students by captivating their interest in hands-on research and providing rigorous training in its methods. (Tufte’s NSF funding includes stipends for at least six Lewis & Clark undergraduate students to engage in research full-time during the summers and three high school students to join them.)

To put it in layman’s terms, the mandolin is an instrument that makes sound through the vibration of its eight strings, which are separated into four groupings of two. A portion of the research that Hunt and Heggarty are conducting uses high-speed video analysis to study the complex coupling of the motions within the string pairs.

To explain their work to the crowd of people at the Brown Bags, they used two metronomes, which at first sounded like a game of ping-pong. However, after about 30 seconds, the metronomes were in sync. The coupled strings of the mandolin act similarly.

The students’ research slows down images captured in the high-speed video so that they can understand the details of the exchange between the coupled strings. They will also conduct experiments to understand the connection between the mechanical properties of the mandolin’s bridge and the resulting sound spectrum. Their research ultimately aims to improve the design of the instrument.

“Once you start asking questions like ‘Why does the mandolin sound different from a guitar or a violin?’ you’re doing physics,” said Hunt on combining his two interests. “Working with Professor Tufte has been a pleasure because he challenges us to come up with our own creative solutions to problems in the lab rather than detailing a plan for us to follow, and he is always available to discuss ideas. I’m coming away from this project with some idea of what it means to do science as a professional rather than just as a student.”

John S. Rogers Research Program



This story was written by Elise Wilde ’18.