Summer Community of Scholars

Who's making new discoveries?

Michael Robitaille


I originally became interested in physics in high school. The wonderful thing about physics is it is just so fundamental. It encompasses everything of all shapes and sizes, from neutrinos to galaxies. When I first came to Clark, I had no idea what I wanted to study; everything from special relativity to renewable energy interested me. I learned early on that physics reveals to you what a puzzle everything is at some level, and invites you to try and solve it.

As an undergraduate physics major I worked on a few projects in the Complex Matter and Non-linear Physics laboratory under Dr. Arshad Kudrolli. I joined the lab the summer after my sophomore year, and have had two paid summer appointments there in total. My current research interests lie in the effects flexibility has on passive flight. Motivated by the utilization of flexible air foils in nature, primarily in seed dispersal, I constructed simple air foils out of paper. When dropped, they flip end-over-end, in a tumbling motion known as auto-rotation. The air foils were long enough such that they bent, and I used a high speed camera to capture their trajectory. I looked at how angular velocity, linear velocity, wing deflection, and angle of descent were affected by flexibility. I was also interested in the shape the paper wing forms once bent, and the forces causing the bending. I worked pretty hard on this project, as the relatively simple question has some fairly complicated results. The best part of this project was when I had my results, and worked with collaborators and the rest of the lab to figure out what they meant.

I presented my findings at the American Physical Society March meeting in Pittsburgh in a 10 minute power point, which was a great experience. Asking an interesting question, working hard to help find an answer, and contributing what I’ve done to the scientific community has been a worthy experience, and has helped me develop the tools for problem solving that I will bring with me, where ever I end up.

Outside the Lab

During my early years at Clark, I was training for competitive power lifting. When I’m not in the lab, there is a good chance I’m playing guitar, or I’m teaching myself drums (after an impulse buy of an electronic drum set). I really enjoy music, specifically heavy metal. Whether it is listening to it, composing it, playing it, seeing it live, or wearing it, I can’t get enough. It works out, considering Worcester is sort of like the metal capital of New England. I also enjoy volunteering at the Worcester Animal Rescue League when I have the time.