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Current Research

I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology working with Tapio Schneider at ETH Zurich. There are currently four main questions that I am interested in addressing as part of my Ph.D. and beyond.

1. How do large scale zonal asymmetries in the climate system such as mountain ranges, continental boundaries, and ice sheets affect the global distribution of precipitation? This project mostly involves looking at the influence of stationary Rossby waves and the affect they have on moisture transport.

2. How do landscapes respond to the spatiotemporal variability of precipitation? This involves looking at the influence of zonal asymmetries on the temporal variability of precipitation (storminess) and incorporating this into a large scale erosion model.

3. What aspect of the climate system can account for increased sea surface salinity and deep water formation in the North Pacific during the last deglaciation, a recent result from James Rae? This deep water formation could be a missing step in what led to the increased carbon dioxide associated with the deglaciation.

4. How does the changing size of an ice sheet affect the global climate? What climate conditions are necessary to form an ice sheet? What conditions are necessary to cause the destruction of an ice sheet by melting and sliding at the basal layer.

Past Research

My first project as a graduate student was a change of pace for me and focused on the dynamics of individual neurons in the pressence of an oscillating electric field with Professor Christof Koch. I developed an integrate and fire model to study this effect. This model is much simpler than previous models so it will be useful for studying larger networks of neurons. Despite the simplifications, it provides good agreement with the experimental results of postdoc Costas Anastassiou.

I also pusued a research project with Professor Sandra Troian studying the dynamics of lipid membranes. Bilipid membranes are ubiquitous in biology, but their dynamics are very poorly understood because of the complexity. I worked on developing a theoretical model that can account for much of this complexity, including the advection associated with fluid flow, in a general sense. My interest was in applying this model to the growth of lipid membrane protrusions, the relaxation of membrane deformations, transport in membrane protrusions, and the poration and fracture of membranes.

Much of my undergraduate research focused on nuclear fusion with advisors Dr. Mike Ulrickson at Sandia National Laboratories and Dr. Paul Woskov at MIT. At Sandia National Laboratories I developed an efficient algorithm for calculating the magnetic field inside a tokamak (nuclear fusion reactor) given the parameters of the plasma. I also investigated the effect on the magnetic field of using ferritic materials in plasma facing components in tokamaks.

My work at MIT focused on an alternative plasma confinement scheme for nuclear fusion involving a levitating superconducting dipole magnet. This confinement scheme models the geometry of a planetary magnetic field which has shown effective at confining its magnetosphere. I built a microwave reflectometer which was meant to measure the density profile of the plasma based on reflection at the plasma frequency. The reflectometer was then hooked up to MIT's Levitating Dipole Experiment (LDX) to try to measure the density profile. This plasma confinement scheme should have the potential to reach higher peak densities due to a strong density peaking in the radial direction. See my paper and poster on this research.

I also have experimental experience in the field of nuclear physics and electrical engineering from my work retrofitting a linear particle accelerator with advisors Dr. Charles Yeamans and Prof. Ed Morse at UC Berkeley. For details on this research see our 2010 NSF Academic Research Initiative (ARI) Conference poster.

CV

RCWills.pdf