Scientist of the Week Sarah Curry, Physics

Caitlin Williamson

For senior physics major Sarah Curry, tinkering with things is a part of life. Curry is currently studying the physics of energy sources in an independent study with Professor Matthew Stoneking, Associate Professor of Physics.Curry’s research is a survey of energy sources. She will first study fossil fuels regarding the transfer of energy. She will then compare fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, including solar, nuclear and wind power.

“I think it’d be fantastic to design wind turbines,” Curry said. “Alternative energy sources are one of my pet interests.” Curry chose to study alternative energy sources because she is interested in finding greener solutions to the world’s problems.

“I really like to understand how things work,” Curry said. “I’ve always hated the smell of gasoline and I try to be environmentally conscious. Reducing emissions of fossil fuels is going to help us preserve what’s natural about our world. The primary reason I’m interested [in alternative energy] is because it requires creative solutions — far more creative than digging carbon out of the ground and burning it.”

The project requires a lot of research and checking out many books from the library, but it also is a lot of pen and paper work. “A lot of my research entails a pencil and a ream of scratch paper,” Curry said.

Curry would like to end the class by building a model wind turbine to make sure she knows all the components that go into obtaining alternative energy. She said the hardest part of her research is figuring out what is important information.

“[The information] is not presented to you in an independent study,” Curry said. “Sometimes it takes a lot of inefficient work.” Although her days are consumed by working on her project, Curry feels rewarded when she makes an important discovery. “It is a lot of hours,” Curry said. “But when it’s something you like, it’s not work.”

Curry knew from the beginning that she was going to major in physics. She described herself as being the girl who always asked how the microwave worked. “I started as a physics major because there was something about understanding how so many phenomena in the world work,” Curry said. “That drew me towards physics.”

Curry had the opportunity to work with Professor Stoneking two summers ago, when she built a data-acquisition system on a computer for his work in plasma physics.

After Curry graduates, she would like to either do an internship in medical physics, or work as an assistant researcher for companies that research alternative energies. Curry previously worked in biophysics when she had an internship at Indiana University this summer.

“I built an apparatus that can track a flying insect,” Curry said. “I got to chase flies with lasers. Admittedly, I just like playing with gadgets. And hopefully I’ll find a career doing just that.