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NOVA Society of Physics students receive 2015-16 SPS Chapter Research Award

Students with Dr. Majewski

Northern Virginia Community College’s Society of Physics Students is a prime example of NOVA students applying what they learn in the classroom to future careers. The SPS, advised by Dr. Walerian Majewski, recently received the 2015-16 SPS Chapter Research Award.

The national SPS Award committee recently decided to fund the NOVA organization’s proposal titled “Physics of Propulsion and Levitation of a Self-Driven Electromagnetic Wheel.” The students will receive $1,560 to continue their research project.

The electromagnetic wheel is an ongoing project that a number of students have worked on and improved over the years as members of SPS. Second-year student Angel Jair Guttara-Leon and part-time student Vincent Cordrey received a 2015, $500 research award to expand their own project, “Experiments with the Electrodynamic Wheel” – ultimately creating the opportunity for the recent recognition and funding to continue the organization’s research.

SPS members Nathan Gaul was responsible for putting together the proposal that received the research award this year. According to Majewski, SPS students have collectively worked on magnetic levitation for more than five years with each group of students improving the project and taking it step-by-step to the next level with each passing academic year. The overall goal, he explained, is to have the wheel lifted by the magnetic field the students create by putting repelling magnets together within the wheel, and then spinning above the metal plate.

“The proposal submitted by your chapter was carefully reviewed by one of the Society of Physics Students awards committee and will be funded,” said the national SPS notification. “The awards committee was extremely impressed with your research proposal for its imagination and likeliness to contribute to the strengthening of the SPS program.”

Gaul, a second-year engineering student at NOVA, summarized the project as a wheel floating above its spinning magnetic field. Basically, the students of SPS are conducting research in an effort to achieve magnetic levitation.

“Think of it in terms of the bullet train because there are similarities. Right now, they use a couple of systems to achieve levitation. This project can help with creating a more cost-effective and simpler wheel for future bullet trains,” Gaul explained.

In February 2106, the SPS group presented their project as part of a physics celebration at the Virginia Statehouse. SPS will continue to work on the project and use the funding from the national organization to move forward in achieving their goal.

“The funding will go toward batteries for better power, more magnets and other supplies. The challenge now is to take it all apart and put it back together with more of these strong repelling magnets,” Wajewski said.

Through this experience, many students have the opportunity combine technology, instruction and science and apply them to a tangible research project – presenting them with multiple opportunities to present their findings to other colleges and organizations and preparing them for future careers.

“We’ve presented our project to a lot of different people,” said Guttara-Leon. “Because I’m involved with SPS, I had the opportunity to present our ideas to three Nobel Prize winners during a recent American Institute of Physics event.”

NOVA’s SPS organization is often the only organization from a community college during conferences and networking events for the national SPS. Majewski said the SPS exists to help students transform themselves into contributing members of the professional community.

“Coursework develops only one range of skills,” Majewski said. “Other skills needed to flourish professionally include effective communication and personal interactions, leadership experience, being able to establish a personal network of contacts, presenting scholarly work in professional meetings and journals and outreach services to the campus and local communities.”

Cordrey, Gaul and Guttara-Leon all look at the project as an experience that will help them have the upper hand when applying for internships, jobs and future education endeavors at four-year universities.

When submitting proposals, NOVA’s students are going up against a number of four-year colleges and universities in the nation. This year, NOVA was the only community college that received a research award. The other four national awards went to Georgia Institute of Technology, Ithaca College, Lamar University and Tuskegee University – all offering master’s and/or doctoral programs.

Watch a video of NOVA’s SPS students’ recent progress on the electromagnetic wheel project.

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.