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K-State News
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Source: Bethany Jochim, bjochim@k-state.edu

Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011


MANHATTAN -- A Kansas State University graduate student is receiving a prestigious physics award for research she did as an undergraduate with the help of K-State's J.R. Macdonald Laboratory.

K-State's Bethany Jochim, doctoral student in physics from Pierre, S.D., is the recipient of the LeRoy Apker Award, the top undergraduate honor awarded by the American Physical Society. The award recognizes outstanding achievements in physics. Two Apker awards are given annually. Each award consists of $5,000 to the recipient, a travel allowance to the American Physical Society meeting where the award will be presented, and $5,000 to the recipient's undergraduate institution.

Jochim is a 2011 bachelor's graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., where she had a successful career as an undergraduate researcher. She had five research articles published in mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journals. Some of this research work was conducted at K-State.

Jochim says her curiosity and fascination with science began when she was in high school. Her physics teacher spent a class period introducing the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, developed by German Physicist Werner Heisenberg in the late 1920s.

"It was all so interesting to me, but I felt like they weren't telling me enough," Jochim said. "It sounded so strange and weird and interesting. I wanted to learn more about it. I started researching it more on my own. From there, I became interested in atoms and molecules and the quantum mechanical principles that govern their behavior."

Jochim's interest in physics only amplified. She worked with Augustana's Eric Wells, associate professor of physics, researching various processes by which molecules break up in electric fields, either from laser pulses or passing ions. The experiments were conducted at K-State's J.R. Macdonald Laboratory as part of the longstanding relationship between Wells' research group and Itzik Ben-Itzhak's group at K-State, where Ben-Itzhak is a professor of physics.

Nearly 25 students at Augustana have conducted experiments at the Macdonald Laboratory since 2004, taking advantage of its advanced laser facilities and the collaborative opportunities the lab offers with K-State physicists.

Most recently, Jochim has worked on understanding how ultrashort laser pulses can interact and control individual molecules. This research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, might one day lead to new ways of controlling chemical reactions, limit by-products and create new materials.

For now, there are a number of fundamental challenges that need to be overcome, and solving these problems has the focus of Jochim's efforts. This included spending the summer following her junior year in the K-State Physics Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The ongoing collaboration between Augustana and K-State allowed the continuation of Jochim's work throughout her senior year, including several trips back to K-State for further experiments.

This summer Jochim was invited to present the results of her recent projects at the annual meeting of the Division of Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics of the American Physical Society in Atlanta. She also represented her research collaborators at an international physics meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

While at Augustana, Jochim was named the Rossing Physics Scholar for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, an award named for Thomas Rossing, an accomplished physics scholar. She also was a 2009 Goldwater Scholarship recipient.

As a graduate student at K-State, Jochim received a research assistantship and the Timothy Donoghue Fellowship.

After earning her doctorate from K-State, Jochim hopes to teach at the university level and conduct research.