Exploring the Unexplored
Physics student studies unusual state of matter with industry partner
A University of Idaho physics student is working on research that might go into outer space one day.
Brice McLaughlin, a 27-year-old senior from Post Falls, Idaho, is working with Mike Taggett of Tern Research, a Moscow-based consulting company that currently focuses on material science research, to study the workings of Rydberg matter, a phase of matter in which atoms with certain excited electrons cluster together. This form of matter could one day be used to store hydrogen for space travel.
McLaughlin says he decided to attend UI was because it was close to home, and he was excited to study physics.
“I've always been fascinated by how the world works, and as I've progressed through my degree and continue to learn more and more, the more amazing and beautiful the world becomes,” he says. “Physics has opened up a vast world of discovery and curiosity to me on a scale that I never before could have imagined.”
McLaughlin found himself working with Taggett when David McIlroy, a UI physics professor, recommended him for the project.
The project seeks a foundational understanding of Rydberg matter and its potential.
“This is basic research.” Taggett says. “Meaning that there isn’t much known about it.”
This allows McLaughlin to be on the verge of what may be an enormous help to science. The ability to store hydrogen in space could help with energy storage on Earth as well.
“It’s fascinating to observe.” McLaughlin says, “This process was first observed in the upper atmosphere on other planets in gas clouds.”
Being able to work with the UI campus has been an amazing opportunity for McLaughlin and Taggett, giving them the chance to further study this tremendous unknown part of the scientific world.
Writer: Morgan Ward, a junior from Fruitland, Idaho, is majoring in English and minoring in history.
Photographer: Irish Joy Martos is a senior international student from the Philippines and is majoring in psychology. She enjoys photography as a hobby and works at the student newspaper, The Argonaut.