Augustana students present molecular physics research at national meeting

Augustana students named Rossing Physics Scholars

Three Augustana University students presented their research recently to a group of national leaders in the fields of atomic, molecular and optical physics.

The students presented at the 50th annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (DAMOP), held May 27-31 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Each research presentation focused on how ultrafast laser pulses interact and manipulate individual molecules.

Charles Schwartz, a junior physics major from Mankato, Minnesota, presented his work titled “Examination and control of H3+ formation in ethane with intense laser pulses.”  This work examined how an ultrafast (40 fs = 0.00000000000004 s, which is much faster than the atoms in the parent ethane move) laser pulse causes the ethane molecule to break and the different intramolecular reactions that result in the formation of a new tri-hydrogen molecule.

From this work, Schwartz hopes to identify a framework for using the laser pulse to control how new molecules can be formed from ethane. Schwartz, who is also a member of the Augustana football team, was an academic all-conference selection in 2018.

Naoki Iwamoto is a junior physics major from Beijing, China, who presented on “Strong-field control of H3+ formation pathways in methanol: Local versus extended H2 roaming.” Iwamoto and co-workers demonstrated that an ultrafast laser pulse could be tailored to select which side of the parent methanol molecule contributed atoms to form a new H3+ ion.

Shitong Zhao, a 2019 summa cum laude graduate of Augustana with degrees in physics, mathematics, and chemistry, gave a talk in the session on ultrafast dynamics in atoms and molecules about his recently published research “Strong-field induced bond rearrangement in triatomic molecules.”  Zhao, originally from Beijing, China, will be a graduate student at Cornell University in the fall.

DAMOP was founded in 1943, and was the first division of the American Physical Society. Its central focus is fundamental research on atoms, simple molecules, electrons and light, and their interactions. Students who graduate with a background in AMO physics acquire a broad range of knowledge and skills that enable them to contribute to many areas of science and technology.

The Augustana students did their experiments at the J.R. Macdonald Laboratory at Kansas State University.

Augustana and KSU collaborate on atomic, molecular and optical physics research, and 35 Augustana students have taken advantage of the world-class laser facilities at KSU for experiments over the last 15 years.

The Augustana physics department maintains a number of national and international collaborations in addition to Kansas State: The deep underground neutrino experiment (DUNE), the sPHENIX nuclear physics experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the “Darkside” experimental search for dark matter which has an experiment located in Gran Sasso, Italy.

This combination of the highly individual physics instruction and access to world-class experimental opportunities is a powerful combination for students. Many have earned research awards while at Augustana, including ELCA Rossing Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarship and the LeRoy Apker award, which is given to the outstanding U.S. undergraduate physics student each year.

The research presented at DAMOP was funded by National Science Foundation grant PHYS-175777 and by the Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Biosciences Division, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy under grant number DE-FGO2-86ER13491.


Katie LeBrun
Public Relations and Communications Strategist
605.274.5526