Hands-on Learning - Probing the mysteries of gravity

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Hands on learning - Probing the mysteries of gravity

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Southeastern Professor of Physics Sanichiro Yoshida, right, explains the operations of the department’s laser interferometry equipment to undergraduate student assistants Richard Williams, left, and Christopher Schneider. Based on their experiences gained at Southeastern, both students earned valuable research opportunities abroad.


Physics majors Christopher Schneider and Richard Williams 

Dr. Sanichiro Yoshida, Alumni Association Endowed Professor



Last summer, while most college students were relaxing with their friends or working part-time jobs, Southeastern physics students Christopher Schneider and Richard Williams were worlds away contemplating the phenomenons of the universe.


Encouraged and recommended by Southeastern physics professor Sanichiro Yoshida, Schneider and Williams participated in an elite study abroad program probing the intricacies of gravitational-wave research.


International REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates), a program based out of the University of Florida, places qualified physics students at various astronomical labs across the world as part of a collaborative research initiative geared toward enhancing undergraduate research. The program involves 13 international universities with research programs focusing on gravitational-wave physics the study of speed and noise fluctuations occurring in space.


Physics majors Christopher Schneider (left) and Richard Williams

Physics majors Christopher Schneider, left,

and Richard Williams

Schneider, a Ponchatoula native, was sent to the National Astronomical Observatory in Tokyo, where he lived, worked and slept Japanese culture during his 10-week stay.

“The culture is wonderful and working with the Japanese students and scientists was great because they are all very dedicated,” Schneider said. “I made lifelong friends over there and I enjoy checking in on the status of the project in which I was involved. It really was an experience I will never forget.”


Schneider, who will be graduating next year, said the hands-on approach he practiced in Tokyo is very similar to Yoshida’s teaching style.


“In the United States, it’s very unusual for a student to begin hands-on research so early in their college career, but that is something Dr. Yoshida believes very strongly in and has brought to Southeastern’s physics department,” he said.


Originally from Sunderland, United Kingdom, Williams and his family moved to the United States more than 13 years ago when he began to explore his interest in science. With a desire to gain a better understanding of research, Williams’ study abroad experience sent him back to his roots where he spent the summer designing and testing gravitational experiments at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.


Williams said the most important thing he learned through the experience is that he has a definite passion for experimental research.


“I took to it like a duck to water,” Williams said. “It’s great to know that I am capable of designing an experiment from beginning to end, and my time at Glasgow really heightened my desire to go into experimental research as a career.”


Yoshida, who recently received Southeastern’s first patent for designing a structural-weakness detection instrument using lasers, said his biggest expectation for Williams and Schneider was for them to grasp the high level of commitment necessary for physics research.


“I always want my students to get hands-on experience,” said Yoshida. “I do not want to teach them to be laboratory technicians who simply follow manuals and guidelines. I want my students to be the one’s who write the manuals.”


A strong believer in proactive learning, Yoshida who has earned the President’s Award for Excellence in Research, one of the university’s highest honors said he involves his students by allowing them to assist with teaching physics lessons to Southeastern’s science classes.


“I like to let the students lecture because I want them to learn how to explain a physics concept to anyone,” he said. “I believe it was Einstein who said that if you cannot explain physics to your grandmother, then you are not a good physicist. And I agree with that.”

Schneider and Williams said they plan to attend graduate school and hope to eventually become physics professors who possess the same ability Yoshida has in making science exciting.


“Without Dr. Yoshida’s guidance, I never would have gotten this great opportunity and I am very thankful that he continues to recognize the learning opportunities that have benefited me on so many levels,” Schneider said.


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