Kevin Safford, Ph.D. Program, Physics

Kevin Safford, second year graduate student, talks about his research in Arshad Kudrolli's lab.

Were you always interested in physics?

Kevin: I don’t know when exactly I became interested in physics specifically, but science and nature always kind of interested me. I just enjoyed the curiosity that came along with seeing little interesting things happening in the world around--just watching reflections in puddles and ripples going through. When I was in high school, my dad had a Discover magazine that talked about Quantum Mechanics and that kind of blew my mind. I really wanted to understand how that worked because it just seemed so counterintuitive and confusing.

Why did you decide to come to Clark for your graduate studies?

Kevin: I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Texas, Austin.  I had a pretty good idea of the specific research that I wanted to pursue and nobody was doing exactly that at Texas. When I looked in to Clark, I found Dr. Arshad Kudrolli’s research was exactly in line with the kind of work that I was interested in doing.

Tell me about your research here at Clark.

Kevin: I study nonlinear systems, systems with many different particles that all interact in a complicated way. The basic forces are understood by Newton's Laws but because there are so many interacting elements in the system, we can't use the basic forces to predict anything.  There are just too many equations---it's impossible to solve. In fact, for something like the air in an empty soda bottle, there are so many particles that it would take the fastest computer in the world longer than the lifetime of the universe just to write down all the positions of all the particles.  So the task is to try and find another way to describe, understand, and predict the behavior of these complex systems; typically through statistical reasoning. That research concept applies to everything from cloud formations, dunes and patterns in sand, to biological systems like how bacteria swim or how leaves grow in particular shapes.

How do you like working in Professor Kudrolli’s lab?

Kevin: The lab is great. I have a lot of freedom to work on my own projects and use and apply my own ideas. I go in the lab and actually do the research that I want to do. There’s a lot of freedom to make my own choices.

Do you work with undergraduates?

Kevin: I was fortunate enough to get a research assistantship to start off here, so I can just work on my own research, and then once I wrap up all the coursework, I’ll teach. But I try always to help the undergraduates when they have questions about their research or coursework. Sometimes it’s easier for them to ask another student a question than their professor.  It’s always helpful to hear different perspectives on certain issues. Also, I have worked with this material more recently; I’ve tried to learn it more recently than the professor who’s teaching it the lab so it’s fresh in my mind.

Do you have any advice for physics undergraduates?

Kevin: If you have an opportunity to do some research as an undergrad, just go knock on professors’ doors and ask if you can work in their lab.  It doesn’t really matter if you know what they’re doing because you’ll have no idea what you’re actually interested in until you get you hands dirty. You just have to try it out and see what really interests you. If you can get that research experience as an undergraduate, then you will have some understanding of the sort of research you’d really like to do as a graduate student. Since I had a really strong idea of the research I wanted to do, I could come to a school like Clark.