August 16, 2017

NSF Funds Physicist’s Approach to Research and Teaching

Just a year after joining Lewis & Clark, Assistant Professor Mohamed Anber is the recipient of a National Science Foundation grant in support of his work in elementary particle physics. With colleagues and students from other departments, Anber is helping build new research capabilities for asking and answering very big questions.

Assistant Professor of Physics Mohamed Anber, who joined Lewis & Clark’s faculty last year, teaches courses in theoretical physics. He grew up in Egypt where he received his bachelor’s degree in engineering before earning his doctorate in physics from the University of Massachusetts. He’s excited about how his research introduces students to new and emerging areas, including a deformed version of quantum chromodynamics, which is concerned with the strong nuclear forces within an atom that govern the motion of subatomic particles. And it is this research that has caught the attention—and financial support—of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which recently awarded Anber a $80,000 grant to support his research and teaching in elementary particle physics.

A portion of the NSF grant will go toward augmenting Lewis & Clark’s computational modeling capabilities, a goal Anber shares with colleagues in the mathematics, computer sciences, and biology departments. (For example, award-winning biology professor Greta Binford aims to use cluster computers for her pioneering work in genetic sequencing.) The remainder of the NSF grant will be earmarked for students and faculty to attend academic conferences and pursue other opportunities to collaborate with peers at leading research universities and institutions worldwide.

“It is usually very hard to involve undergraduates in theoretical physics research because of the sheer amount of background knowledge one has to have—advanced mathematics, advanced physics, etc.—to be able to engage in the discussion,” explains Anber.

“Sometimes, however, the research can be broken down into smaller areas of study and students can be usefully engaged and contribute meaningfully to the work. For example, I see the development of computational modeling as an area where students can be taught and then deployed to contribute, like the research I’m doing with Ben.” Ben Kolligs ’18 is a physics major whose senior thesis involves computational modeling.

“It has been a privilege to work with Professor Anber,” Ben says. “Working with him has immersed me in a problem-solving environment that requires constantly learning new things, which I find thrilling. In the fall, I will be continuing the research I did this summer regarding quark deconfinement. In the spring, the focus of the research will shift towards learning about plasma physics and plasma simulations.”

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