SUGAR Project a Model Success

 Senior mathematics major Emily Bishop displays the computer model she and Dr. Fred Browning designed.
Senior mathematics major Emily Bishop displays
the computer model she and Dr. Fred Browning designed.

PBA physics professor Dr. Fred Browning and senior mathematics major Emily Bishop made it to the top of the charts, at least in their little corner of the Internet.

For two consecutive weeks, their “Three-Level Spin System” model made the top-viewed list on Netlogo Modeling Commons, an online forum for sharing and discussing simulations written using NetLogo’s programming language. To date, the Browning-Bishop model has been viewed 146 times.

The work was conducted as part of the university’s Summer Undergraduate Academic Research (SUGAR) program. Browning acted as mentor and originator of the project. After researching thermodynamics and agent-based modeling, Bishop did much of the programming.

“There are hundreds of models submitted each month,” Browning said. “To be on the top-viewed list is very exciting. Hopefully other physics professors will use [our model] in their classes to help students understand these complicated ideas.”

The concepts are indeed complicated. Attempting to describe the work in lay terms, Browning explained, “We are building thermodynamic models of quantum systems so that they can be used by students to understand difficult topics. The one we are focusing on is the concept of how entropy and temperature are related.”

Bishop noted that the use of computer-based models is especially valuable in physics, because it allows researchers to simulate environments that would otherwise be hard to create in the real world. “The goal of this research project was to create a fully functioning, agent-based model representing and simulating the thermodynamic behaviors of nuclei in three different energy levels,” she said. “Interactions between different energy levels are often used in diode lasers and semiconductors.”

Once she began to build the skeleton of the model, Bishop found the most challenging aspect was creating its functionality, first in theory and later in implementation. “Once the model was fully functioning, calculations for thermodynamic properties – entropy, temperature, free energy, specific heat, and energy – were added and computed in real time,” she said. “Dr. Browning helped me a lot with the functionality and thermodynamic properties, but much of the project was independent.”

Bishop has taken several of Browning’s classes, including Physics with Calculus I, Physics with Calculus II, and Introduction to Computational Science. Browning said, “I could tell she had a real interest in physics. [This project] was a chance to apply the material she learned in her major math classes to real physical systems.” 

When she graduates, Bishop hopes to explore international opportunities in the sciences. She said, “After studying in Italy, I gained a passion for other cultures. To be able to use my degree in an international setting is my dream. I do not know if this will be in the form of grad school, field work, or as a career. I believe that it is important to push yourself and your boundaries in life all the while keeping your options open.”

Bishop’s passion for dance (her minor) and the arts has helped her become a better mathematician and scientist. The California native said, “Dance has been an outlet for my brain to be able to process concepts that I am studying in math and physics. Without this creative outlet I would not be able to achieve what I want to in the STEM fields.”