NSF Grant Will Bolster Physics Research

Posted on July 4th, 2013 by


Professor Tom Huber and a student perform research in Huber's Acoustics Laboratory.

Professor Tom Huber and a student perform research in Huber’s Acoustics Laboratory.

Gustavus Adolphus College Professor of Physics Tom Huber is the lead author on a $500,000 grant recently awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant will fund a three-year collaborative project with Gustavus and modal analysis researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Peter Avitabile, Chris Niezrecki, and Xingwei Wang.

“The goal of the project is to move ultrasound radiation force excitation from being a laboratory technique into a methodology that can be utilized by the engineering community,” Huber said.

The collaboration will use ultrasound radiation force excitation technique for vibration testing of objects such as integral blade turbines from jet aircraft engines. By using two ultrasound beams focused onto the object, they can vibrate it without any physical contact. Compared to conventional techniques, this ultrasound excitation method may offer significant increases in the sensitivity to detect defective or damaged parts. This excitation technique has been developed by Huber and Gustavus students in the Physics Department’s acoustics lab, which was constructed and outfitted with a $300,000 Polytec scanning laser Doppler vibrometer with previous funding from the NSF.

Since 2005, Huber has authored five successful NSF grants for a total of $1.1 million to support his faculty/student research program at Gustavus. This current grant will designate approximately $300,000 to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and approximately $200,000 to Gustavus. The grant will support research opportunities for two Gustavus students for the next three summers. Huber’s project was one of about 3,500 proposals submitted to the Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Division of the NSF this year; typically about 10-15% of these proposals are funded.

Acoustic Lab

Professor Huber’s Acoustic Lab is located in the basement of Olin Hall.

“I’ve had an average of two students conduct research in my lab each summer for the last seven years,” Huber said. “These students have used that opportunity to develop expertise that has prepared them well for future internships or graduate work.”

Senior James Trevathan ’14 and alumnus Daniel Mellema ’11 both served as summer researchers in Huber’s lab. Trevathan was named a Goldwater Scholar and Rossing Physics Scholar this past year and is interning at the Mayo Clinic’s CT Clinical Innovations Center this summer. Mellema was also a Rossing Physics Scholar and is studying biomedical engineering at Mayo Medical School. Current Gustavus seniors Peter Crady ’14 and Ed Kluender ’14 are conducting research in Huber’s lab this summer.

Besides supporting research, this latest NSF grant will support outreach efforts such as development of a collection of videos and corresponding curriculum guides showing vibration of musical instruments, sporting equipment, and other common objects to motivate K-12 students, women and underrepresented minority groups to become interested in science and engineering. Outreach will also extend to national laboratories and companies that may benefit from understanding the new measurement approaches and analytical methods facilitated by the techniques developed in the Gustavus acoustics lab.

Huber earned a bachelor’s of science degree from St. John’s University in 1983 and his Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming in 1989. He began teaching at Gustavus in the fall of 1989. Today he teaches classes ranging from general education courses on Energy or Physics of Sound and Music, to upper division courses on Electronics or Quantum Mechanics.


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  1. J. Patrick Hart "63 says: