New physics pro­fessor Stephanie Lauback and her husband hike together in their free time. Courtesy | Stephanie Lauback

The idea of taking a physics class fills many stu­dents with stressful mem­ories of torque, inertia, and seem­ingly pointless story problems. 

Luckily for Hillsdale College stu­dents, Stephanie Lauback, the new assistant pro­fessor of physics, relates to stu­dents who ini­tially struggle with the subject  and is com­mitted to helping them see physics in a new light.

“When I first took it I actually did not like physics at all,” Lauback said. “When you don’t like some­thing or when you don’t under­stand, it tends to you dis­liking it, leading to frustration.”

Lauback said her initial struggle with physics helps her relate to stu­dents who find the science dif­ficult at first.

“Once you can see how much it explains our world I think that you at least appre­ciate it, just like you would appre­ciate art or any­thing else,” Lauback said. 

Lauback said her high school physics teacher showed her how physics can connect to everyday life, prompting Lauback to take a calc-based physics course her senior year of high school, and even­tually pursue it in college.

Lauback, orig­i­nally from Dayton, Ohio, grad­uated from Ohio Northern Uni­versity in 2012, then went on to do masters and doc­toral work at Ohio State Uni­versity. She taught for three years at Juniata College in Penn­syl­vania before moving to Hillsdale.

Lauback teaches Physics 101: College Physics, along with the labs and recita­tions for that course. She wants her stu­dents to see how physics con­nects to their daily lives and to develop essential problem solving skills.

“She’s been bringing a lot of bio­logical story problems into her class material, which makes it so inspiring as a bio-chem major because I get to see the overlap,” junior Molly Buccola said. “Some­times she’ll throw in chi­ro­practic problems like ‘what happens if someone has bad posture?’ and then we get to see physics in life.”

“The thing that most of the time stu­dents don’t like doing is story problems,” Lauback said. “That’s a skill that no matter what area, whatever job you have after this, you’re going to need that. The better you are at problem solving, the better you’re going to be at suc­ceeding in life.”

Inter­dis­ci­plinary problem solving is familiar to Lauback, as much of her research has cen­tered around appli­ca­tions in nan­otech­nologies and bio­medical devices.

At Hillsdale, Lauback said she is working on building DNA into nanoma­chines, then using mag­netic fields to move the parts on the machine. She has worked with other sci­en­tists to develop a lab-on-a-chip device that would be used in Africa as an easy and inex­pensive way to detect the HIV virus. Addi­tionally, the lab she worked in developed a microfluidic device that uses mag­netic fields to sort cancer cells for cancer detection and cancer cell studies.

Lauback said she loves applying prin­ciples of physics to bio­logical issues.

“If my grandma asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I’d love to be able to explain to her easily the impact of the research and how it affects her life,” Lauback said.

Working across aca­demic fields is important because many of the problems society faces today require col­lab­o­ration to be solved, Lauback said.

“I’ve loved being able to work with biol­o­gists, engi­neers, chemists, and all these dif­ferent people that bring their expertise,” Lauback said. “Together we try to accom­plish solving some problem that is bigger than just our field itself.”

Timothy Dolch, assistant pro­fessor of physics, said several stu­dents — including physics, biology, and chem­istry majors — have joined Lauback in using a 3D printer to build lab equipment for research projects involving DNA nanotechnology.

 “Dr. Lauback is very student focused,” Dolch said. “She is a shining example of how teaching and research can blend seamlessly.”

Buccola said she appre­ciates the orga­ni­zation and acces­si­bility Lauback pro­vides for her students.

“When I went into her office, the first thing I noticed was the peace that per­vaded her office space. She never explicitly talked about God in her class, but when I walked in there were beau­tiful remem­brances all over the room of peace and trust,” Buccola said.

Lauback is always willing to help stu­dents with extra problems posted to Black­Board or time in office hours, Buccola said.

“I’ve learned to be willing to spend time with other people. She spends an hour in office hours with me” Buccola said. “She exudes encour­agement and never pres­sures us and always makes us feel like we are smart and capable.”