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Sources: Erik Stalcup,;
and Bruce Law, 785-532-1618,
Photo available. Contact or 785-532-6415.
Video available. Access at
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University student is researching the physics of a special liquid that could prove to be multifunctional and sustainable.

Erik StalcupErik Stalcup, senior in physics, Wellington, has been working since his freshman year with Bruce Law, professor of physics at K-State. Stalcup recently received honorable mention in the 2009 Goldwater scholarship competition, a national competition based on academic merit for math, science and engineering undergraduate students.

Stalcup's most recent research on ionic liquids, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, began last year at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Goettingen, Germany, and has continued at K-State.

"As far as I am aware, Erik's work will be one of the first studies on the spreading properties of ionic liquids," Law said.

Ionic liquids are composed of ions and can conduct electricity, Law said. They can be tailored to have desirable physical and chemical properties; however, little is known about the liquid's surface properties.

Stalcup said ionic liquids evaporate very little, which makes them an environmentally friendly approach that has the potential to replace industrial solvents used today.

"They potentially have thousands of applications in many different fields," Stalcup said.

Stalcup said his research includes looking at a small droplet of liquid on a smooth surface and watching how it spreads out over a period of time.

"By looking at that, we can tell if there is anything physically interesting going on," he said. "There are theoretical models for how droplets should behave, and if it doesn't compare there must be something happening."

Law said Stalcup is studying how ionic liquids lose energy to the environment through frictional forces, which occurs at their surfaces. An ionic liquid droplet, when deposited upon a surface, initially possesses a lot of energy and spreads over the surface; however, frictional forces eventually slow the droplet down as the energy is converted to heat.

"Erik has found that certain ionic liquids exhibit similar frictional properties to ordinary liquids, however, other ionic liquids exhibit unusual autophobic behavior – i.e. they don' t like sitting on a thin surface layer of their own liquid," Law said.

Stalcup said his interest in physics began in high school when reading books about the subject, especially areas like relativity and quantum mechanics that he had never heard about. Through studying physics, Stalcup also has enjoyed learning about computer programming.

"I think it's interesting and fun to be able to contribute to the knowledge of science," he said. "I like doing experimental, laboratory work."

Stalcup is pursuing a minor in music and has been a member of the K-State Marching Band, Pep Band, Latin Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Band. He plays the drums and the piano, and he said for him, music and physics complement each other.

"They both take hard work," he said. "They use different kinds of thinking and skills. I think the combination can benefit me with respect to working in groups, like when playing in a musical ensemble and working in a research group."

Stalcup plans to earn a doctorate in physics and then conduct research at a national laboratory.

He is a member of the Smith Scholarship House, where he has served as scholarship chair and a Mediation Board member.

A 2006 graduate of Wellington High School, he is the son of John and Ood Stalcup, Wellington.