Quantum Leap in Research

physicsJohn Vastola, an undergraduate physics student, received an Outstanding Presentation award from the American Association of Physics Teachers. At the 2015 Winter Meeting in San Diego, CA, he presented “Using Integral Transforms to Evaluate Sums in Statistical and Quantum Mechanics.”

The American Association of Physics Teachers hosted the conference, geared toward high school and college physics teachers. However, undergraduates interested in physics education were still more than welcome to attend.

The Winter Meeting in particular is useful for learning about what is going on in physics education, networking with educators across the country, and for providing a friendly environment to present research.


What did you give your presentation on?

I gave my presentation on research conducted this past summer under the guidance of Dr. Costas Efthimiou, a physics professor specializing in mathematical physics.

Dr. Efthimiou came up with a new tool for calculating infinite sums, and I worked on extending it so that it worked for more sums than before. Once you extend it, you can find some interesting results that are hard to find otherwise, or that are completely new.

I focused on applications to quantum mechanics, the branch of physics that studies the strange behavior of things like atoms and tiny particles like electrons, and statistical mechanics, the branch of physics that studies large-scale systems like solids and gases, and considers properties like temperature and pressure.

The abstract I submitted for the 2015 Winter Meeting was titled: “Using Integral Transforms to Evaluate Sums in Statistical and Quantum Mechanics”.


What was your reaction upon winning?

Happy and surprised, I guess. I didn’t expect to win; the people that I was competing against came from all over the place (from North Carolina to South Korea!), and were doing some pretty interesting stuff. But I’m very grateful that I did win, and hope that I can continue to make my departments proud!


Is there any other information that you would like to share about your experience?

Attending the 2015 Winter Meeting was an amazing experience. Not only was the meeting location (in the sun and on the sparkling waters of the San Diego marina) breathtakingly beautiful, but I learned a lot about physics education, education policy, and how research is done.

I’m immensely grateful to the Society of Physics Students for the travel award that helped me attend. With a special mention to Sean Bentley, Toni Sauncy, DJ Wagner, Lydia Quijada, and Courtney Lemon for their encouragement and support. Also, to UCF’s physics department for giving me the rest of the financial support I needed. In particular, Dr. Elena Flitsiyan, Dr. Talat Rahman, and Jessica Brooks.  Everyone has been so patient and so supportive every step of the way.

I must also thank the McNair Scholars program, who pushed me and my fellow McNair Scholars to get involved in research and to take trips like these. With special thanks to the outstanding work of Michael Aldarondo-Jeffries, Natalia Toro, and Arlene Olivierre. Their love and support has been a constant motivator. Thank you to the Burnett Honors College for supporting my research in the past.

Last but not least, of course, I must thank Dr. Costas Efthimiou, whose constant guidance is instrumental in my development as a scientist, and who I would not be doing research without. Winning an Outstanding Presentation Award was like a cherry on top compared to everything else!

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