A Creative Way to Learn About Physics

A new poster gallery in Lewis Lab shares research detailed in previous physics colloquia.

As students walk to their physics lab or sit along the benches in Lewis Lab, they will find the gray concrete wall in one of the hallways on the second floor has been transformed into a “physics art gallery.” 

Physics professor Jean Toulouse and his assistant, Margaret Vasconcellos, came up with the idea to fill the hallway with poster announcements from previous physics colloquia held at Lehigh.

“We said, ‘What do we do? We have these posters from over eight years. Do we just let them be buried or can we bring them to a second life?’” Toulouse says.

The physics colloquia take place regularly every Thursday during the academic year, with guest speakers from all over the country and abroad. Speakers are suggested by the faculty for their notable contributions to their own subfield of physics and to initiate new collaborations.

“The colloquia give us external visibility and help create a vibrant intellectual and collegial atmosphere within the department,” Toulouse says.

The physics department hosts 10-14 colloquia per semester, and so has accumulated more than 220 engaging poster announcements over the past 8-9 years, all designed by Vasconcellos, physics colloquium assistant. Toulouse says he decided to enlarge the posters and select a few of them to showcase physics research and bring awareness to the weekly meetings that people can attend during the academic year.

The posters are on display in the pathway to the Sherman Fairchild Lab from Lewis Lab. Each includes some information about the guest speaker’s research, their achievements and other background information. Some of the currently displayed poster announcements include Nobel Prize winners John Mather from Princeton University, who is an astrophysicist and cosmologist, and Donna Strickland, a laser physicist from the University of Waterloo in Canada; Marlan O. Scully, who has made significant contributions to laser science; and Mildred Dresselhaus, who was an MIT professor with research in condensed matter and materials physics. Dresselhaus passed away in 2017.  

Toulouse says he hopes students and faculty from other departments will stop by to examine the posters of speakers who have visited and learn something new about the field. Because a new colloquium series runs every year, the department can easily update the gallery, especially as new research emerges.

Toulouse says the gallery wouldn’t be possible without Vasconcellos’ engaging announcement designs.

“She has a real artistic talent … When she prepares these posters or announcements, every week she has a different design, and so I thought it would be interesting to have a gallery in which we present a selection of them based on the content but also on the artwork,” Toulouse says.

- Madison Hoff ’19