Outside the Box > > Colin Green
By Laurie Mellas Ramirez
Developing an ultra-precise thermometer to detect changes in temperature as small as 10 trillionths of a degree could help measure the rate at which the universe cools and possibly help select between theories for its origins.
Determining how the universe formed and estimating its real estate is a difficult task. The outcome could be decades away. But research to develop a thermometer operating near the quantum limit has been underway at UNM since 1992.
Colin Green works in the lab testing thermometers developed by UNM researchers Rob Duncan and Dmitri Sergatskov.
Professor of Physics and College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean for Research Rob Duncan, principle investigator, involves students in the research.
Senior Colin Green met Duncan while taking his general physics course in 2000. Duncan hired Green as a student employee using educational outreach funds from his NASA-supported Critical Dynamics in Microgravity, or DYNAMX, (pronounced Dy-nam-ex) project, part of a microgravity fundamental physics mission to the Space Station.
Green, who will graduate in May with a double major in mechanical engineering and computer science, helped test the design of two thermometers developed by Duncan and Dr. Dmitri Sergatskov, UNM senior research scientist. The work fits into the larger DYNAMX project goal to create a superfluid helium module that will be aboard an international Space Station flight in 2009.
“I learned a great deal about what working on an experimental apparatus takes and what you should do when your experiment does not act in ways you expect,” Green said.
The unexpected benefited Green in other ways, too. What started out as student employment bloomed into a rare opportunity to work with top-notch researchers.
Although he doesn’t plan for a career in low temperature physics – his heart lies in engineering, specifically robotics – skills attained will serve him throughout his life.
“The opportunity to do research gave me a lot of confidence,” Green said. “I learned that I have the ability to run a research project, look at data and make independent decisions. You make some mistakes, but you learn what to look out for and when you need to get a second opinion.”
“I’ve enjoyed all my classes at UNM. One of the most useful and among my favorites was Lego Robotics,” he added. Students spend a semester building sophisticated mobile robots that then compete against each other. The robots put out fires, run relays, navigate mazes and transport M&M’s candy, among other uses.
Green is so intrigued with the science of “path planning,” such as using robots to seek out disaster survivors or land mines that he has applied to graduate schools with an eye on pursuing a Ph.D., also in robotics.
Green attended UNM on the lottery scholarship. His parents, Mary and Terry of Santa Fe, helped with the additional year it took to earn the double major.
Green co-authored a poster and article with Duncan and Sergatskov titled “Precise heater control with rf-biased Josephson junctions.” He presented the poster at an international conference in Oxnard, California, last spring.
“It was great to watch him explain his work to principle investigators from around the world,” Duncan said. “Colin is an exceptionally good student all the way around. He’s taken on difficult experimental challenges and learned ways to be intuitive and more creative in experimental design. He has also mastered a number of skills, including computer interfacing, mass spectrometer leak detection, and vacuum cryogenics, to name a few.”
The degree in mechanical engineering requires a senior design class. A group of five students design and build a working, marketable model and then give presentations to scientists from UNM and the labs or industry. Green’s group created a water conserving, automatic swimming pool filter. Both the physics and engineering poster presentations are on his Web site at http://cs.unm.edu/~curlyg/.
Students who are interested in research employment now have assistance through a new UNM office – PROFOUND, Program of Research Opportunities FOr UNDergraduates.
For information, visit http://www.unm.edu/~profound/.