From the design of lighter-weight bullet-proof vests, understanding meteorite impacts, and to the quest for sustainable energy through nuclear fusion, the origins of a wide variety of innovations can be traced to shock physics research—a field in which Washington State University is the academic leader.

More than 60 years ago, WSU physicists pioneered U.S. academic research in shock wave compression of condensed matter, theoretical and experimental work that has contributed to innumerable advances in national security, energy, advanced materials, and geo/planetary sciences. On Thursday, Oct. 17, Yogendra Gupta, Regents professor of physics and director of the Institute for Shock Physics, will present an historical overview of the significant scientific activity and achievements of the WSU faculty, staff, and graduate students in this dynamic and exciting field.

Gupta’s address, “Sixty‑plus years of shock wave research and graduate education at Washington State University,” will begin at 4:10 p.m. in Kate B. Webster Physical Sciences Building, room 17, on the WSU Pullman campus. The free, public address will be of interest to physicists and non‑physicists alike.

“Dr. Gupta is internationally renowned for his many innovations and discoveries in shock wave and high pressure research,” said Brian Saam, professor and chair of physics and astronomy at WSU. “He will explain the scientific significance of shock wave research and provide insights about the underlying physics concepts in such a way that even non‑physicists will find compelling.”

Gupta’s is the second Distinguished Colloquium in Physics of 2019–20 and part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s year-long 100th anniversary celebration “100 Years of Education, Innovation, and Discovery.”

Extreme research

“WSU has a long and distinguished history of research innovations and educational excellence and is widely recognized as the academic leader in the field,” Gupta said. “One of WSU’s most notable achievements in this field has been the outstanding group of scientists who have been educated and trained here as graduate students and postdoctoral research associates. These individuals have gone on to become leaders in this field.”

Under Gupta’s leadership, the Institute for Shock Physics (ISP) was formed at WSU in 1997 with support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Defense Programs to ensure a strong, long-term scientific effort at an academic institution for the DOE’s national security mission.

ISP faculty, graduate students, and affiliated scientists conduct interdisciplinary research to increase understanding of how materials respond under extreme conditions and to learn about the array of physical and chemical changes that occur. They subject solids and liquids to unique conditions such as very large compressions, high temperatures, and large deformations on very short timescales (such as the nanosecond timescale: one billionth of a second)—often with dynamic and exciting results.

Using state-of-the-art equipment and diagnostics, they examine material response at different length scales in real time during shock wave and static high-pressure experiments. ISP researchers interact with scientific personnel at DOE national laboratories as well.

Legendary work

In his talk, Gupta will highlight key activities, projects, and scientific results that occurred in shock physics research and education during the past six decades. He will also provide historical perspective on the contributions of legendary physicists William Band (WSU 1949–71) and George Duvall (WSU 1964–88), whose seminal research in theoretical physics and dynamic compression science, respectively, propelled the University to world prominence in the field of shock physics.

A short program honoring the work of physics graduate students will precede the address and a reception will follow it.

The event will be recorded for later viewing online via the department’s Facebook page WSUPhysicsandAstronomy or YouTube channel. Visit physics.wsu.edu for more details.

Media contacts:

  • Brian Saam, professor and chair, Department of Physics & Astronomy, 509‑335‑9532, brian.saam@wsu.edu
  • Adriana Aumen, College of Arts & Sciences communications, 509‑335‑5671, adriana@wsu.edu