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YouTube channel highlights on-campus research

Physics graduate student explains his work on graphene

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 00:01


Lindsey Gawlik

Physics graduate student Les Scheffield explains his work as a part of GSC’s YouTube channel.

In order to shine light on its efforts and achievements, the Graduate Student Council, in conjunction with The Partnerships for Environmental Education and Rural Health Program, will release Tuesday the first video of its new
YouTube channel, “Breaking Grad.” The channel will feature graduate student research projects and let undergraduates peek into the lives of Aggie graduate students.

Jennifer Graham, GSC marketing committee co-chair and biomedical sciences graduate student, said the GSC has been working on the YouTube channel since the fall.

Ryan Beemer, co-chair of the GSC marketing committee and civil engineering graduate student, came up with the idea for the project in September to share the research of A&M graduate students with the rest of the world.

“I wanted to give some grad students the opportunity to voice their research out to basically YouTube and to have a chance to say, ‘This is what I’m doing,’” Beemer said, “And to also give them an opportunity to show what grad students are doing on campus and that what they are doing
is valuable.”

The premiere video features physics graduate student Les Sheffield and the research he has conducted over the last five years. Inspired and directed by Dudley Herschbach, Nobel laureates and Texas A&M professor of physics, Sheffield originally focused on studying the basic properties of fundamental particles in molecular collision experiments.

The Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s flagship particle accelerator responsible for confirming the existence of the Higgs Boson, also studies the fundamental properties of
colliding beams of gas, but does so by accelerating particles to high speeds and observing their interactions with other particles. Looking at the same collision dynamics but approaching it from the opposite end of the spectrum, Sheffield said he and his team worked toward the goal of creating the coldest, and slowest, molecular beam in
the world.

This method of observation, which can have positive implications for the field of quantum chemistry as they work to isolate the quantum effects of molecules from the thermal vibrations produced by excessive heat and energy, was assisted by the use of rotors. As beams of gas molecules were sent through a long hollow rotor, the movement of the rotor would modify the speed of
the molecules.

“The beam of gas coming out of this nozzle is just like you stepping out of moving bus,” Sheffield said. “When you hit the ground, your velocity is the sum of your forward motion, however fast that may be, and the velocity of the bus as it is going in the other direction. And depending if the bus was only going one foot a second, and you step relatively quickly, then your speed would be dictated by you. But if the bus is going thirty miles an hour and you step forward, your velocity would be dictated by the bus. So it’s the same exact thing with the rotor.”

In the past year, Sheffield has also researched the properties of graphene, which was discovered in 2004 and declared to be the first two-dimensional crystal observed by scientists. Simply flakes of graphite only one-atom thick, it boasts strength greater than diamonds and conductivity greater than copper, among other qualities on a laundry lists of positive attributes.

Sheffield said graphene, which won its discoverers a Nobel prize only six years after its discovery, will have major implications over the coming decades on what he termed, “post-silicon electronics.” A transition from silicon-based to carbon-based technology wouldn’t be a simple one, he said, but the possibilities the material provides are endless.

“If we move to graphene, one, it’s going to take a heck of a lot of work because you can imagine how much work has gone into silicone-based electronics and to duplicate all of that for carbon-based electronics, well it’s going to take us 20 years, maybe 30 years, if everybody gets a lot of funding,” Sheffield said. “But on the plus side, you’ll need less power, you’ll have far better performance, and entire computers will be reduced to the size of a few square millimeters.

“Breaking Grad” will ideally be producing a video each month, highlighting different specialties around Texas A&M. Beemer said the next two videos would likely feature research about health communications and civil engineering.

PEER provided the filming equipment for the project and will show the produced videos to middle school and high school students who use their resources.

Sheffield, who devotes his extra time to instructing students from kindergarten through high school in Physics Shows and mentoring freshman physics students, said he hopes the first installment of “Breaking Grad” will provide students with perspective on what graduate students truly do.

“I’m hoping, by watching my video, people who were considering going into science research can actually understand a little bit about what I work with, what I’m hoping to achieve,” Sheffield said. “I’m not trying to solve all of mankind’s problems, I’m trying to understand all the factors that go into certain systems and then improve them or try and solve one small piece of the puzzle.”


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