Posted: Thursday Dec 20, 2012
Dec. 20, 2012
A common interest in quantum mechanics has led to a personal and professional friendship for Dr. Anis Maize, professor and chair of physics, and Br. Michael Antonacci, O.S.B., research associate and department tutor, in the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Computing at Saint Vincent College.
“I really didn’t get to know Br. Michael well until his senior year in college,” Maize recalled. “He came in on the weekends to study and I was here doing research. We talked a lot about physics at first and discovered we had a lot of other common interests as well – such as religion, politics, family, biking, soccer and other sports.”
“Br. Michael was a very good student who was always in class, did his work well and was very interested in learning,” Maize said. “After he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in physics and mathematics, he told me that he planned to join Saint Vincent Archabbey and become a Benedictine monk and priest. During his novice year, I didn’t see him as much but now he is actively tutoring for the department, helping in the labs and collaborating with me on research.”
The pair published their first research about applications of quantum mechanics to electromagnetic interactions in 2009 in the American Journal of Physics along with a collaborator from the University of Alberta, Professor Frank Marsiglio. It was titled, “The Static Electric Polarizability of a Particle Bound by a Finite Potential Well”.
The model they presented is a clever and insightful way to represent a bound state in a nucleus or an atom. The simplicity of their approach in obtaining the electric polarizability – which measures the response of a system to an external electric field – helps to avoid unnecessary approximations and mathematical difficulties. This in turn allows more attention to the physics of the problem and is beneficial to both advanced undergraduate and first-year graduate students.
A second research project, with the collaboration of Dr. John Smetanka, is in process that they describe as an “an extension of the previous problem to the three dimensional case.”
They enjoy their research from a scientific standpoint but they also recognize that it benefits their students. “It’s very useful to them,” Maize noted, “because the projects we do are directed to exploring new solutions that were not possible before.”
“It does it in a way that is simple enough for an undergraduate to understand,” Br. Michael added. “Simple and elegant, in fact. The primary goal of the Journal that published our research is advancing education.”
The pair is very excited about the completion of the west building of the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion. “We are very much looking forward to moving in January,” Maize commented. “We will be able to organize our physics library and we will have two new research laboratories where we can work with our students on research at any time of the day or night.”
Maize, who is currently teaching modern physics, modern physics laboratory, general physics and physics freshman seminar, says the new facility will make it more convenient to work among different laboratories. “We will be able to use the new facility for various research projects,” he said.
Br. Michael is busy with department tutoring in general physics and electromagnetism as well as completing his studies in the Seminary in third theology. He expects to be ordained in the summer of 2014 before pursuing graduate studies at either Duke or Boston University. He hopes to join the faculty to teach full time at Saint Vincent after his gets his Ph.D.
When they are not involved in working on their research at Saint Vincent, Maize and Br. Michael enjoy dining together in the Saint Vincent Dining Hall. “Every Friday,” Br. Michael noted. “And we talk about soccer, politics in the world, education and other topics. Sometimes prospective students who are visiting campus will join us.”
“We also walk a lot,” Maize added. “I live close to campus and always walk to work. We both like walking and we walk everywhere, all directions, quite a bit.”
Maize, who has been teaching at Saint Vincent for 23 years, was born in Sharkiah, about an hour from Cairo, Egypt. He was interested in science from the time he was a young student in private schools. He enrolled at Cairo University and earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering and earned a second bachelor of science there in physics. Later, he came to the United States and pursued a master of science degree in solid state physics at the University of Louisville and a Ph.D. at Purdue University where he completed his doctoral dissertation on nuclear physics and using electron beams to study the nucleus. He was a post-doctoral research associate at Brown University from 1984 to 1987 where his research focused on photonuclear reactions or the study of the nucleus using light.
After brief teaching assignments at the University of Rhode Island and the University of Maine, he joined the Saint Vincent Physics Department in 1990, being drawn to the idea of a small school and the special attention that can be given to students. Over the years, he has been pleased with the accomplishments of the physics majors. “I’ve had many excellent students,” he said. He has a son, Kareem, who graduated from Saint Vincent and is now working for a computer firm in Pittsburgh.
Br. Michael, a native of Jeannette, enrolled at Saint Vincent in 2003 before graduating with a double major in physics and mathematics. While a student, he was involved in campus ministry, the outdoors club and enjoyed ultimate Frisbee. Son of Jerome and Sheila Antonacci, he enjoys hiking, mountain biking and camping. He has a brother, Jared, who graduated from Saint Vincent in 2009 with a degree in philosophy and is now working for Omnova Solutions.
Any other common interests? “We both love coffee, bananas and hummus,” Br. Michael concluded.
Photo: Dr. Anis Maize, left, discusses physics research with Br. Michael Antonacci, O.S.B.
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