Physics student Trevor Robertson publishes research in well-renowned undergraduate journal

By Editor-in-Chief Chelsea Cabral.

Trevor Robertson, a junior physics major with a minor in mathematics from Somerset, Massachusetts, has just accomplished a feat that few undergraduate students have the privilege of touting—getting their work published in an academic journal. 

Robertson’s paper, titled “Application of the Finite Difference Method to the 1-D Schrödinger Equation” was published in UReCA: The NCHC Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, a peer-reviewed web journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council. 

The UReCA provides a publication venue for undergraduates with works that make a significant contribution to their respective fields of study and can be anything from microbiology to musical composition. Through an online platform, UReCA encourages interdisciplinary creative activity and research, especially among undergraduates. 

“This paper effectively engages the reader with the time-dependent Schrödinger equation (TDSE), interspersing credible sources and describing applications of the TDSE in a myriad of fields,” a member of the UReCA editorial team said. “[Robertson’s] paper delineates a complex topic in a coherent and understandable manner.” 

“The time-dependent Schrödinger equation (TDSE) is a fundamental law in understanding the states of many microscopic systems [which] occur in nearly all branches of physics and engineering,” says Robertson of his project. “In my study, I use the well-known method for solving the TDSE, the finite difference method (FDM), but with an important modification to conserve flux and analyze the 1-D case given well-known potential energies. [While I] reported numerical results that agree with theoretical predictions, I find, however, solving the TDSE still encounters challenging problems of scaling to higher dimensions and arbitrarily refined grids.”  

Selections for the journal are decided from a swath of undergraduate submissions received throughout the year that represent a wide range of subjects—ranging from creative to intellectual work. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis from August through August, and this year marks the third issue of the journal, from which only 25 student submissions were accepted—with UMassD’s own Robertson joining a very cloistered and prestigious group of students that showcased research and analysis grounded in intellectual rigor that contributed to their respective fields in exemplary ways. 

Robertson owes much of his academic success and the cultivation of his deep intellectual curiosity to those he has worked with in the physics department.  

Though his published research was undertaken as a personal endeavor, he still finds the marvel of doing research and learning in the classroom environment to be one-and-the-same. 

“Overall, though my research and my classes have been separate, that’s the nature of the beast at this level,” Robertson says. “With physics, it’s a constant feeling of ‘what is going on?’ in both the classroom and in research but that’s what makes it fun. Most people in research and higher education are not in it because it is easy, we want to push the envelope of knowledge.” 

Aside from pursuing research and all-things-physics, Robertson still finds time in his busy schedule for other recreations such as playing piano, chess, and even engaging in community service on campus. 

“Most physics majors here are diverse in their skill sets beyond just knowing math and physics,” says Robertson. “Outside of physics, I also put a lot of time into tutoring at the STEM Learning Lab, as I find it incredibly fulfilling. I would like to think tutoring has been something that I’ve tried to engage everyone in and show people why this stuff is so cool. Without my studies I wouldn’t have the opportunity to show everyone exactly why I love physics so much.” 

Only in his junior year, Robertson has maintained a solid focus on his physics education and has flirted with the idea of even pursuing graduate level studies. 

“My plan is to essentially continue academia and schooling until either I physically cannot, or cannot afford to,” says Robertson. “The reason you go to grad school is to become a free thinker, especially with an emphasis on researching something no one has dared to touch on before.” 

Overall, Robertson has been pleased with the trajectory of his undergraduate career thus far. Initially coming to UMassD as a biology major with a focus on neuroscience, he saw the field of physics as an area where there was more versatility and variety available, as well as one “encapsulating the most deepest mysteries to uncover”—a reason that cemented his switch to the physics department. 

“The biggest thing is I have been so humbled by in my undergraduate career is the field physics,” says Robertson. “To be quite honest, in high school I was never challenged, but that’s because I wasn’t looking for it. If I could go back and slap old Trevor on the back of the head for being so naïve, I would. There’s so many things to explore and so many things that don’t make sense that there’s no possible way for me to say I’m bored in my field.” 

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