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Source: Dean Zollman, 785-532-1619,
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535,

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010


MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University alum, a physics professor and a research associate are the winners of the American Association of Physics Teachers 2010 Apparatus Competition.

Dyan McBride, a May 2009 K-State doctoral graduate in physics and now an assistant professor of physics at Mercyhurst College; Dean Zollman, university distinguished professor, William and Joan Porter professor of physics and head of the department of physics; and Sytil Murphy, research associate in physics, received the award at the 2010 summer conference of the American Association of Physics Teachers in Portland, Ore.

The trio's entry, "A Lens To Demonstrate Accommodation in the Focusing of the Human Eye," received a $1,100 prize for first place. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and began in 2005. A majority of the project was completed by 2009, but work remains on certain aspects, Zollman said. The project was part of McBride's doctorate research, and Zollman credits McBride for the competition success.

An experience while Zollman was on sabbatical at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich served as the basis for the group's idea. Zollman's colleagues at the German university were using a technique to teach the idea of how the human eye changes shape to focus on objects at different distances, but Zollman faced limitations in bringing something similar to his classroom.

"Some of the equipment that they used was difficult to find in the U.S. or was much more expensive here," he said.

McBride and Zollman set their focus on creating an easily affordable apparatus for teaching about how the human eye changes shape to focus on objects at different distances.

The device is now being used in classroom settings. It has been tested with students in general physics classes because they have premedicine and pre-veterinary students, Zollman said. McBride has used the apparatus and similar apparatuses with her students as well.

K-State's physics department has entered a variety of apparatuses over the years in the competition, but this is the first top finish, Zollman said. Murphy received an award in 2009 for an apparatus to help teach some of the physics underlying MRI.

"It is important to emphasize that Dyan was the primary person in getting this to work successfully, and then to make sure that it was teaching the ideas that we wanted to teach," he said.

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