Experimental Condensed Matter Physics and Physics Education Research
Dr. Jeff Phillips was a Wahoo, having received his B.S. from The University of Virginia a.k.a. Mr. Jefferson's University. Then he left the friendly confines of central Virginia in 1993 and traveled west to attend graduate school in SoCal. There he became an Anteater (Go eaters!) at the University of California at Irvine. Upon receiving his M.S. in 1996 and his Ph.D. in 1999, he accepted a position at DePauw University in Indiana. After enduring several cold winters he returned to California and began teaching at LMU in 2001.
Dr. Jeff's research interests span the range of densities and temperatures, from liquid helium near absolute zero to plasma fusion. His Ph.D. research focused on the properties of helium films on alkali metals. These systems allowed the study of basic phase transitions and statistical mechanics. Helium films were typically no more than two atoms thick and often averaged less than one atom in thickness. In this regime, the interaction of the prewetting phase with he superfluid phase transition could be studied.
The prewetting transitions is a transitions associated with the first order wetting transition. This is where a film goes from being non-wet (beading up on a surface, much like water on a waxed car) to wet (where a thin film covers the entire surface, similar to water on an unwaxed surface). These phases are common in our everyday lives, but what makes the helium- alkali metal system so special is its simplicity, cleanliness and ability to alter thermodynamic variables inducing a transition. Dr. Jeff's research focused in how different surfaces would produce different wetting- superfluid phase diagrams, exploring regimes never investigated before. For those interested in this work as well as more low temperature research, you might want to check out the Low Temperature Materials Laboratory at UCI.
As was mentioned before Dr. Jeff enjoys dabbling in many areas of physics. He began his graduate career by analyzing data from the DIII-D tokamak. There he helped to test new models of neutron emission from the plasma fusion reactor. Currently, Dr. Jeff is studying the behavior of various soft condensed matter systems- granular materials, fluids, and more thin film systems. Students interested in learning more about current research activities are encouraged to contact Dr. Jeff, as he is always eager to chat about physics.
Like all of the other members of the Physics Department, Dr. Jeff is active in improving the quality of learning. Two of Jeff's main pedagogical interests are improving student's problem solving skills and connecting physics and science to other aspects of life. The guiding principle is that a citizen of the 21st century will be better off if they understand some of the science and technology around them and are able to think independently. A student who is able to solve problems, not just the textbook variety, will be a scholar who will succeed in school and in the work force after graduation.
One of Dr. Jeff’s more unusual courses was a seminar he taught at DePauw entitled- The Science of Art. In this course, students explored the science involved in music, photography, painting, dance, architecture, and many other fields. But, equally important is the art of science that was investigated- can an equations such as E=mc2 be considered beautiful? What influences do beauty and symmetry have on the scientist? What is creativity’s role in the creation of art as well as the discovery of science? The seminar included both artistic and scientific projects.
On the lighter side... Dr. Jeff enjoys photography (part of the reason for the art & science interest), racquetball, volleyball, biking, and hiking. Any time students are interested in talking about Albert Pujols, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Stan Musial and the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals, they are encouraged to stop by 106 Seaver. If you're interested in learning more about Dr. Jeff's research or hobbies, check out his personal web page.