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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 17, 2019—A Williams College physics professor has been awarded a three-year $364,933 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue his research program of high-precision spectroscopic studies of heavy metal atoms such as indium, thallium, lead, and tin.
Protik Majumder, Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy, and his students aim to measure, with unprecedented precision, properties of these atoms by using semiconductor diode lasers. Majumder’s project, “High-Precision Measurements and Tests of Fundamental Physics in Group III and IV Atoms,” will bring together experiment and theory to compare high-precision measurements of atomic properties to the predictions by colleagues who perform complex theoretical calculations based on the quantum mechanical properties of these atoms.
“Highly precise measurements of atomic properties have over the years contributed to the advancement of state-of-the-art atomic clocks, and also provided insight into the same kind of fundamental particle physics that one normally associates with high-energy accelerators,” Majumder said. “In our lab we focus on improving and extending measurements and modeling of a set of atoms which are key to these advances.”
This grant is the latest renewal in a series of NSF awards that began in 1998. Majumder will use the NSF funding to build and test laser and optical systems, construct and optimize electronics and control systems, and use computer-based methods to collect and then model and analyze large amounts of data. For more than two decades, the project has included more than 60 Williams students, including 35 senior thesis students, who have made important contributions to this work. In addition, it has provided support for equipment and supplies, as well as for the hiring of a series of postdocs who have worked closely with students in the group.
“The small-scale, table-top nature of these laser spectroscopy experiments are ideally suited to include undergraduates at every stage of their education,” Majumder said. “They have constructed new pieces of apparatus, designed experimental protocols, collected and analyzed large amounts of data, and presented and co-authored posters and articles. I would like to particularly recognize recent senior honors students Ben Augenbraun ’15, Allison Carter ’16, Eli Hoenig ’17, Nathaniel Vilas ’17, and Bingyi Wang ’18 (all now in physics Ph.D. programs) for their important contributions to the latest set of experimental projects in the lab.”
Majumder has been teaching at Williams since 1994 and has taught courses throughout the physics curriculum, including “Introductory Quantum Mechanics,” “Sound, Light, and Perception,” and “Stat Mechanics & Thermodynamics.” In 2017 he was awarded the American Physical Society Prize for a Faculty Member for Research at an Undergraduate Institution.
He received his B.S. from Yale University and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before coming to Williams, he held postdoctoral research associate and research assistant professor positions at the University of Washington. Since 1998, he has received more than $1.8 million in funding from the National Science Foundation for his research. In addition to his teaching and research activities, Majumder served as interim president of Williams in 2018 and has served as director of the Science Center at the college for the past nine years.
Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.