July 4, 2020

Doctor Supports Veterans, the Underserved

This story, written by Daryl Lease ’85, originally appeared in the University of Mary Washington Magazine’s spring/summer 2020 issue. As a pre-med student at Mary Washington, Anthony D. Jones ’99 volunteered at the nearby Lloyd Moss Free Clinic, shadowing doctors as they provided care to low-income residents, including patients with HIV/AIDS. The experience helped set him on […]

UMW Pathway Provides Grad-Level Engineering Opportunities

Thanks to a new pathway program with George Mason University, UMW students will now have the opportunity to enroll in pre-master’s courses in Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering. Photo by Ron Aira/George Mason University.

Thanks to a new pathway program with George Mason University, UMW students will now have the opportunity to enroll in pre-master’s courses in Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering. Photo by Ron Aira/George Mason University.

Engineers share a lot in common with superheros.

The latter leap tall buildings in a single bound, fight evil-doers and travel faster than a speeding bullet. The former design sustainable and safe infrastructure, combat cyber-crime and create signals that move at lightning speed.

UMW students aren’t caped crusaders, but they need to be prepared to tackle and solve complex problems plaguing our society. Starting in fall 2020, a new agreement with George Mason University will help them do that. Mary Washington undergraduates will have the opportunity to take graduate-level courses in Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering (VSE) during their senior year. Students can earn up to nine credits that will be applied to their bachelor’s degree at UMW and potentially later be used toward a master’s degree in engineering at Mason. Read more. 

UMW Pathway Provides Grad-Level Engineering Opportunities

Engineers share a lot in common with superheros. The latter leap tall buildings in a single bound, fight evil-doers and travel faster than a speeding bullet. The former design sustainable and safe infrastructure, combat cyber-crime and create signals that move at lightning speed. UMW students aren’t caped crusaders, but they need to be prepared to […]

Magrakvelidze Wins Chi Beta Phi Faculty Award

Assistant Professor of Physics Maia Magrakvelidze

Assistant Professor of Physics Maia Magrakvelidze

Assistant Professor of Physics Maia Magrakvelidze was awarded the 7th annual Chi Beta Phi Faculty Award. Chi Beta Phi is an interdisciplinary math and science honor society for undergraduates, which seeks to promote STEM disciplines and recognize academic achievements. The Faculty Award is a student-nominated award given to a professor in the STEM disciplines who demonstrates outstanding teaching and outreach to students. Students commented that Dr. Magrakvelidze is enthusiastic in the classroom, always willing to help students understand, and makes difference in their lives.

Particles of Change

Cancer may be up against some of the brightest minds in the University of Mary Washington’s physics department. That, and a collection of nanoparticles smaller than the human eye can see.

physicsPhysics Chair Hai Nguyen and rising senior physics and mathematics double major Pengcheng Zhang are crafting a project that could lead to groundbreaking cancer research.

This cutting-edge venture is nothing uncommon for the intimate group of students and faculty who make up the physics department, according to Nguyen. Driven, determined, communal and curious, students and faculty work on projects ranging from internships with NASA, giving presentations for adults and school-age children and testing the slowing of light with a full board of lasers.

Their nanoparticle experiment, which has been in the works for close to a year, uses a specific laser light to test whether nanoparticles could enter the human body at certain temperatures without damaging the body itself. Research using the type of laser light, measuring a wavelength of 915 nanometers, has begun only as recently as 2011 in the scientific community, according to Zhang.

Results have yet to be documented of this laser’s effects on nanoparticles or how it could act in the body, particularly as some nanoparticles may have been found to attach to cancer cells.

Zhang and Nguyen, who meet a few hours a week to work on the project, aim to be among the first to document these results.

Though their experiment is no small feat, the particles they work with might be better seen under a microscope. According to Nguyen, fellow UMW physics assistant professor Josephus Ferguson and collaborators from Virginia Commonwealth University, their collection of nanoparticles measure approximately 32.5 nanometers. These particles are so small that if you lay them in your hand, they could slide through your skin into your body.

Working to challenge his students and give them a meaningful experience with potential real-world change, Nguyen kick-starts projects that also challenge and inspire him.

“What I want from my students is to have true ownership of what they do,” Nguyen said. “They take on [this project] and say that it’s theirs.”

Their goal is to record and publish their results in the hope that researchers who specialize in cancer treatment can pick up the experiment where they left off.

So far, the experiment and specialized equipment have cost $30,000 with funding and equipment from organizations like the University of Paris, Kansas State University and financial support from UMW’s Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. Even still, Zhang has looked to offset the costs of the project by making tools at UMW they could not get anywhere else. Using a 3D printer and his skills in mathematics to create the exact dimensions, he designed an optical fiber adaptor.

Zhang has spent weekends and summers on the project, rushing from math classes across campus to reach the lab. He also presented the experiment for UMW’s Student Research and Creativity Symposium this year and last year and is doing two additional independent studies with the physics and math departments.

The possible real-world impact of the nanoparticle experiment has driven him to keep researching.

“This could be something that is very personal to everyone,” Zhang said of the experiment that has sparked interest across the chemistry and biology departments.

Physics has given him the chance to set down the textbook and take on projects that are both potentially risky and potentially rewarding.

“Physics is not as scary as you might think,” Zhang said, who plans to pursue a graduate program in mathematical physics. “It requires a logical mind and some persistence, but nothing more. Physics give you more curiosity, but more importantly, it gives you the ability to explore your curiosity.”