Fresh Faculty of the Week
By Sonum Dixit '13, News Section Editor
Ashley Carter, Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics, holds a B.S. and B.S.E. from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado. Her studies focus on optics and biophysics and their natural intersection, and microscope design.

What made you want to work at Amherst despite the fact that it is not a research university and has a fairly small physics department? Did you ever imagine that you’d end up teaching at a liberal arts college?

I always imagined myself as a professor at a large research university with a large research budget and lab. But, as a post-doc I found that I was inspired by the students that I was teaching in a small lab course. I loved interacting with the students, challenging them to think more about the physics in their everyday experiences. I realized that I wanted to be at a place where teaching is a priority, a smaller place where professors know the students and care about them. Amherst is the best of both worlds; I work with top-notch students and I don’t feel that I have given up on my research goals since the research in the physics department here is phenomenal.

What classes are you teaching this semester?

Physics 16: Introductory Physics I on Mechanics and Waves

It might be way too early to ask, but what aspects of Amherst do you enjoy most? What things about Amherst students do you not like dealing with?

I love the intellectual freedom that comes along with being a professor, freedom both in research and in how I conduct my course. The only problem is that if I try out something new and it doesn’t really work, I feel badly about it. Yet it does drive me to be both better researcher and teacher.

What are your research interests?

I am interested in studying the mechanics of biological cells and molecules. How do biological forms generate force? Conserve energy? Produce mechanical work? To look at these physics questions, we use custom optics and electronics to track small micron-sized particles attached to the protein, DNA molecule or cell of interest in vitro. By tracking movement and varying external parameters — the viscosity of the fluid, the amount of chemical energy available for conversion, or the amount of load — we can answer basic questions about the mechanism of biological movement.

What do you hope to contribute to Amherst in your time here?

My time is so short as a visiting faculty member, but my main goals are to inspire the non-major students that I teach to explore physics, to expose physics students to biophysics research and to bring a fresh perspective to the physics department.

Are you the only female in the physics department at Amherst? Is it weird or empowering?

Yes, I am the only female. But the physics department is small and my other affiliation with the new biophysics and biochemistry major has a nice balance of faculty.

Issue 04, Submitted 2010-09-29 03:05:58