Meet Nick Rommelfanger (CCS Physics Student)

November 29, 2017

Editor's note: We will be featuring "CCS stories" throughout the College's 50th Anniversary. Some stories will be personal stories and others will be written in the third person. Check the Anniversary page regularly to make sure you don't miss out and make sure to submit your story. This story was written and submitted by CCS Physics student Nick Rommelfanger. 

Nick Rommelfanger
Nick Rommelfanger

 As I work through my third year in CCS physics, I’m incredibly grateful to the College of Creative Studies for providing me with a comprehensive education, both in the classroom and the lab.

When I arrived as a freshman, I was excited for the opportunity to learn physics in such a collaborative environment. We only had 25 students in our class, compared to over a hundred students in the Letters and Sciences class. Everyone in my class was willing to work together and teach one another, regardless of their physics background. I enjoyed being surrounded by students that were totally committed to learning. Our amazing professor and advisor, Dr. B, taught all of our lower division physics classes. By a rough calculation, we spent over 200 hours in Dr. B’s lectures and solved over 700 questions on his problem sets over the course of two years. Thanks to his excellent teaching, I feel well prepared for my L&S upper division classes. Also, we each meet with Dr. B twice a quarter for advising. These important meetings provide direction for future curriculum and research plans.

As I now transition from the classroom to research experiences, I’ll pause at the intersection of the two. CCS physics sophomores take a year-long series of lab courses that teach us how to conduct experiments, analyze data, and communicate our results in writing. Our spring quarter lab course was particularly memorable to me. We were assigned to groups of three students, and each group conducted a different experiment with minimal faculty guidance. My group measured the speed of light with the Foucault method. Using a laser, an optical table, a webcam, a motor, and some mirrors, lenses, and beam splitters, we measured the speed of light to within 2% of its actual value. Light travels around the Earth 7.5 times per second, so we were thrilled to measure its speed in a lab space. I’ve applied many skills I learned in this lab series to my extra-curricular research.

CCS students are encouraged to become involved in research as soon as we can. I joined a research group during the summer after my freshman year. I entered at an opportune time, and I co-authored a conference paper that summer. I switched labs during my second year, moving to the Fluid Energy Science (FES) Lab in mechanical engineering where I currently work. I study the fluid dynamics of the wake behind wind turbines. I thoroughly enjoy working with my advisor, and our research fascinates me. As always, I’m grateful to Dr. B for advising me through the process of finding a new lab more suited to my interests. With his help, I was also able to secure an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) during the summer after my second year. I’d always dreamed of working at JPL, and the opportunity came sooner than I expected. It was a privilege to work for NASA, and I appreciated the exposure to another field of research.

Earlier this quarter, I presented my research from the FES lab at a national conference in the field. I received funding from the CCS Traveling Undergraduate Research Fellowship (TURF) to travel to Denver for the 70th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics. This meeting is one of the biggest fluid dynamics conferences in the world. As an undergraduate, it was an honor to present my research to an audience of professionals in the field. The conference was invaluable to my development as a scientist. I enjoyed learning about the exciting research being conducted across the field, and my advisor and I spoke with professors from other universities that are interested in future collaboration. I left the conference with a strong desire to continue to study fluid dynamics in grad school. I am very grateful to CCS for funding my trip and providing me with the skills I need to conduct meaningful research.

I’ve learned so much during my time at UCSB, and it’s all thanks to the accelerated curriculum, frequent advising, and encouragement to conduct research provided by the College of Creative Studies. I look forward to seeing what my remaining year and a half in CCS hold.