Award-Winning Student Scholars

Q&A with Emily Backus '12

How did you get involved with this project?
I have been doing superconductivity research for my adviser, Matthew Sullivan (assistant professor, physics), for three years now. I started the summer after my first year. Professor Sullivan taught us all about superconductivity, and I quickly realized how fascinated I was by it. I've been working on this project ever since.

What is the focus of your research?
I study phase transitions in superconductors. A phase transition is when matter changes its state, like water freezing into ice.  In the research, I take superconducting thin-film samples at constant temperatures and send varying amounts of current through them so that I may find the "critical current" that will cause the phase transition in that particular sample, so that it becomes an ordinary conductor. There are competing theories as to how critical current is related to temperature, and I am hoping to find which theory best explains what we find.

Could you describe your experience presenting your work at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society?
This year, I had current results to present and was able to give a contributed talk in the undergraduate research section of the meeting. This represented two summers and four semesters of my work. Professor Sullivan had me practice my talk at least 10 times after it was complete so that I would be confident--and I was. Winning one of five "best undergraduate presentation" awards was just the icing on the cake.

How has your education at Ithaca College contributed to your success?
I feel like the more time I spend learning physics and learning lab work, the more questions I have and the more desire I have to do research. I’m really glad to be at a true undergraduate institution. Being here and having the opportunity to gain this kind of research experience as an undergrad puts [science majors at IC] in a stronger position than students at big-name schools.