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.”