CASPER lets undergraduate students join faculty and graduate students in research

Jessica Hubble | Multimedia Editor

By Samantha Amaro | Staff Writer

Research opportunities can be found in many places at Baylor University. To help support an environment rich with curious students and faculty, there is now a special program for students studying the sciences. The Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research or CASPER, is conducting various types of ongoing research and is currently working to connect student and faculty researchers through weekly seminars, which will be held to introduce students to new and groundbreaking research.

CASPER was created by Doctor Truell Hyde, Director of CASPER, the Vice Provost of Research and a professor of physics at Baylor. His interest in numerous fields of research led to the founding of the organization. Through a collaboration with Texas State Technical College, he raised money, built a lab on their property — around a 5,000 square foot lab — and started the research center.

“I started the actual research center so that I would have an avenue whereby I could hire people and bring in graduate students and do work with other groups outside of Baylor and inside of Baylor,” Hyde said. “It also provided me the ability to bring in faculty from other departments inside of Baylor.”

CASPER’s research center spans beyond the Baylor physics department. It consists of various research groups, including the faculty from other departments join the research initiative including entrepreneurship within the School of Business, curriculum and instruction in the School of Education and mechanical and electrical engineering in the School of Engineering, along with the department of physics and mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Baylor students have every opportunity to join research projects within CASPER, which has also become affiliated with various high-brown organizations and groups through a mutual understanding. Students researching within CASPER would be connected to other groups that include NASA JSC, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, to name a few.

In 2013, CASPER moved into newly-build specialty labs at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative, or the BRIC, only a ten minute car ride from campus. The building and land amass to 300,000 square feet, with plenty of space for lab work, prototyping, testing and offices. There are also meeting rooms and symposium halls for faculty and researchers working there.

Through the use of all these facilities, the products of previous projects that have proven useful in the search for higher knowledge have included deep space probes, among other significant scientific data and instruments.

“I started out in my graduate work working on dust detectors for deep space probes,” Hyde said. “So the Halley comet — we had the dust detector on it.”

One of the many ongoing research projects being worked on is on the basic research of dusty plasma physics, where they look at ionized gas (like the kind in fluorescent light bulbs) and dust. The gas charges up the dust, which reacts electrostatically and creates new structures. The basic research looks into how the dust interacts with the plasma, and they conduct experiments on earth to simply understand the structures that are formed. These dust crystals, which move as solids if pushed, can be seen via camera with some magnification or just as one will see dust floating in light. Through this research, it is possible to get insights to other areas involved self-assembling systems, like the early stages of planet formation. This is what Dr. Lorin Matthews, associate director of CASPER, professor of physics and the head of Astrophysics and Space Science Theory Group, looks into.

Dr. Matthews is a member of two of the various research groups. Along with Astrophysics and Space Theory Group, she is also a member of the HyperVelocity and Impact Dusty Plasma Lab where they do experimental dusty plasma research.

“We’re looking at astrophysical environments,” she said. “We actually have a grant to do an experiment on the space station with dusty plasma physics because here on earth we have to worry about gravity.”

Gravity is too big of a force — it overpowers all the smaller effects in the experiments. By going out into space and doing their experiments, gravitational force is a factor that can be taken out.

CASPER also publishes yearly journals that sum up the events of the years. These journals contain news, updates and stats. The statistics listed range from the intellectual contributions that have been made throughout the year including published papers, presentations and articles. New proposals and grants are also listed under the statistics, showing what CASPER won.

“What we do is we plan a ten-year vision of where we want CASPER to be,” Matthews said. “How do we advance the research within these groups?”

In addition to creating opportunities for research in the labs, CASPER has scheduled weekly seminars. Dates for these seminars can be found on the CASPER website.

CASPER is involving undergraduate and graduate students in research, fulfilling degree requirements and giving real-world opportunities at work in their majors.