HC senior’s research published in Nature
By biconews On 15 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Ariel Hansen

Opening up a scientific journal, one expects that the published articles will be authored by professors, government or corporate researchers, and maybe even a graduate student or two. Last October, however, Haverford senior David Rothstein was published in the journal Nature (issue 401, pp. 770-772), as co-author of an article on fluid mixing with J. P. Gollub, a Haverford physics professor, and E. Henry, a visiting graduate student. The research began over two years ago, but Rothstein took over during the summer of 1998, working throughout those months, through the following school year and into the summer of 1999.

Rothsiein, a physics and astronomy major, conducted his research in the field of fluid dynamics. utilizing a very shallow glycerol-saltwater solution, with dye on top, to create nearly two-dimensional patterns. Then magnets were placed underneath the liqaid in two experiments, one in a random and one in an ordered array, so that electrical current would move the dye in a random or an ordered way. What Rothstein found was that the patterns produced in the chaotic mixing recurred again and again over time as the dyes mixed together.

Though this experiment may not seem particularly practical, it represents a significant advance in the field of fluid dynamics, and it could have some important implications. Hassan Aref, a researcher at the University of Illinois, speculates in a commentary in the same issue of Nature (pp. 756-758) that “long-chain organic molecules sloshing about in the primordial soup could have been both well mixed and organized into patterns by chaotic advection.” In other words, this pattern of fluid mixing might be why life emerged on this planet. Rothstein says it

may also help marine scientists learn how nutrients are transferred between oceanic layers.

“You don’t always know where our research will lead to,” said Rothstein.

Though it is not common for undergraduates to he published in such widely-read journals as Nature, Haverford College is one of many small, undergraduate-only institutions that places a focus on publishing undergraduate research. It is Gollub’s policy, for example, to place the

student’s name first in the list of authors, the name by which the article is referred to in the scientific community. Said Rothstein, “I don’t know how strongly I feel it is a big deal,” though he did smile at Aref’s reference to “Rothstein and collegues.”

Rothstein is not sure where he’s going next, though he let on that he has been accepted to a graduate school. He did emphasize that the research was not as intimidating as many non-scientists think it is. “It’s not as complicated as people make it out to be. It isn’t some mysterious thing that scientists do out there in the ether: it’s something anyone can do.”

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