Published on December 15th, 2016 | by editor0
Student Kristine Romich and her Passion for Physics
Student Kristine Romich’s passion for physics recently led her to San Francisco where she presented her research at the 2016 Quadrennial Physics Congress, or PhysCon, a research conference for undergraduate physics students. Kristine shared a poster session titled “DIY Astrophysics: Examining diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in the effects of solar gravity using a three-axis accelerometer.”
In a recent interview, Kristine shared her love of physics, students’ misconceptions around science, and how the City Colleges helped her find purpose and direction.
Can you share what led you to Wright College?
So, this actually isn’t my first time at college. I completed a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and psychology at Loyola University Chicago a few years ago. I was actually in grad school for a while — I spent a semester in a master’s program in applied social psychology (also at Loyola). I left after I realized psychology wasn’t for me. I didn’t really have a plan for what to do afterwards. I bounced between temp jobs and spent quite a bit of time unemployed. For a while I worked as an administrative assistant at an insurance company. One day, my now-husband suggested I consider going back to school for a science degree. I thought he was crazy at first.
Did you have an interest in physics prior to your coursework at Wright?
When I first decided to go back to school, it was mostly for practical reasons. I’d been either unemployed or underemployed for a while, and I knew I could get a good job with only a bachelor’s degree in engineering. So I enrolled at the City Colleges to complete the prerequisite math and physics courses. After my first semester, though, I realized it was really the science behind the way machines work that interested me — not so much the machines themselves. Basically, I realized I’m more of a research person than a design person. So I switched from engineering to physics.
Science — especially physics and astronomy — has always fascinated me, but I never imagined myself as the sort of person who actually does science for a living. I felt like those things were for other people — you know, the really smart ones — to investigate, and for me to just read about. I definitely didn’t think I was cut out to be an astrophysicist! But after going back to school, I just asked myself ‘Well, why not? Why not me?’ I’ll tell you honestly that studying physics has given me a sense of purpose unlike any I’ve ever known. And the support I’ve received at the City Colleges has been incredible.
What motivated you to submit your research project to PhysCon?
When I decided I was actually going to do this thing — when I decided to do physics instead of engineering — I realized I was signing up for several more years of school. You generally need an advanced degree to get a job as a physicist. So I e-mailed the physics departments at a few local universities and asked if I could meet with a couple of their graduate students. I asked them a bunch of questions about what grad school is like, and what I could do as an undergrad to prepare. They all said the same thing: research.
The National Science Foundation has ten-week summer internships called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). I applied for a couple and got one. It was at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where I analyzed data from the IceCube neutrino detector. That’s where I learned about the Society of Physics Students, which hosts PhysCon.
I submitted my project for presentation at PhysCon because I wanted to share the research we’re doing at the City Colleges with the physics community at large. Also, presenting a poster at a national conference looks pretty nice on a resume.
Can you describe PhysCon?
It’s a conference for physics undergraduates that takes place every four years. This year, there were well over 1,000 attendees. There are poster sessions, breakout lectures, interactive workshops, tours to research facilities, and talks by well-known scientists. I actually had the opportunity to meet Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the astrophysicist who discovered pulsars [a type of rapidly rotating star]. I remember reading about her in a textbook, and now we have a photo together.
How would you describe your project to someone who isn’t well-versed in physics?
Basically, we’re using a Raspberry Pi microcomputer and a three-axis accelerometer — a couple of gadgets that you can get for under $50 — to measure the gravitational influence of the Sun. I won’t get too technical, but as the Earth rotates about its axis and revolves around the Sun, the influence of the Sun’s gravity that we can detect using the accelerometer changes. We want to measure those changes. We’ve also derived a set of equations to predict what those changes should be.
What would you tell students who may be intimidated by physics?
Don’t be intimidated. Anyone can be good at physics; it’s a matter of motivation. If you want it badly enough, you can do it.
What do you like best about Wilbur Wright College?
The diversity of students’ experiences. Before I came here, I was worried mid-20s was too old to start college all over again. I thought I’d be the oldest person in all of my classes. But that definitely wasn’t the case. I’ve met people in their 50s who are out here trying to get their degree. It’s those students who inspire me the most. Community college students all have different stories. You don’t always see that at a four-year institution.
Do you plan to transfer after you complete your studies at Wright?
I plan to transfer to a school in California next year for my bachelor’s in physics. After that, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics. Ultimately, I would like to do research and teach.