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APSU physics major Allen completes summer research program at Princeton

Josh Allen

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — There is a psychological phenomenon, known as imposter syndrome, that reflect the belief that a person is inadequate or lacking in the skills to complete a task — the fear that your lack of preparation will be exposed when put to the test.

Austin Peay State University senior physics major Joshua Allen briefly understood that feeling when he began his summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Princeton University, but any fears he may have internalized quickly vanished when he began work at the Ivy League institution’s Princeton Center for Complex Materials (PCCM).

“I had this fear that, here I was at this Ivy League school, and the students from bigger schools were going to be ahead of me in terms of understanding,” Allen said. “But what I quickly realized was that we were covering things I had already learned and coming from a smaller school didn’t put me at a disadvantage at all.

“If anything, other students were spending more time on review than I was because I came into the REU prepared by my work at Austin Peay.”

Allen was one of 22 REU students from 10 different states and U.S. territories who spent the summer at PCCM. Over the course of nine weeks, Allen and his fellow students focused on a wide range of materials science topics such as ultra-fast laser pulses, superconducting qubits, thin films and batteries.

Working alongside Princeton professor of physics Dr. Nai Phuan Ong, Allen and a graduate assistant worked on a project attempting to show that ruthenium chloride could be classified as a spin liquid, or a recently discovered kind of magnetic, crystalline material with a constantly changing magnetic state.

A member of APSU’s “Materials Group,” Allen has experience working with crystalline materials, but the work he performed at Princeton provided a chance to apply his experience in a different field of study.

“The things I work with at Austin Peay are all about light and are optical based,” Allen said. “That’s related to the electromagnetic field, but I don’t work with magnetics like I was able to do at Princeton. It was great to get to attack similar problems to what I do at Austin Peay, but from sort of a different axis.

“The first papers published on this topic are from around 2015, so this was a new study — we weren’t verifying something already proven, we were looking into something that hadn’t been explored before, and that was really awesome.”

Allen said his experience at Austin Peay more than prepared him for what he experienced at Princeton. During his undergraduate career, Allen co-authored multiple presentations during annual meetings of the American Physical Society Southeastern Section, as well as studied abroad at the University of Pardubice in the Czech Republic — research opportunities not typical afforded to undergraduate-level students.

“A lot of the students I worked with were on their first or second research experience because they’re coming from larger schools where professors work with grad students and don’t have the time for undergrads,” Allen said. “My understanding was something Princeton liked about me when selecting students for this REU was that I did have all this experience; I had studied abroad and worked at national and university laboratories before.

“The people from Princeton said that they were impressed by the level of experience I had already gained (at Austin Peay).”

For more information on Austin Peay’s College of STEM, visit www.apsu.edu/costem. To find out more on the research being conducted in Austin Peay’s engineering physics program, visit www.apsu.edu/physics/engineering-physics-index.php.