Lake Norman & Mooresville

Teen wins awards by excelling in physics

A Mooresville teen has earned international recognition for an extensive physics project involving light resulting from friction.

Elizabeth Schroder, 18, who lives near Perth Road, competed in May at the 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world's largest pre-college science competition, winning two awards. This followed winning top prize at the state level.

Schroder graduated from N.C. School of Science and Mathematics and will be attending the California Institute of Technology with an intended major in electrical engineering.

According to her former teachers, she will go far.

Jon Bennett, Schroder's advisor at the School of Science and Mathematics, had her in several of his classes over the years - research in physics, modern physics, and his research experience in chemistry, astronomy and the physics summer program.

It was in research in physics where Schroder first became interested in triboelectricity (an electric charge from friction) and triboluminescence (light from friction).

"My research involved basically testing out a few areas of the theory of triboluminescence where there were gaps in current knowledge," said Schroder in an email.

By fall of 2010, she had obtained reliable results from her experiment on how the speed of peeling adhesive tape affected the triboluminescence spectrum. She presented her project at the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society in Baton Rouge, La., in Oct. 2010, impressing Bennett.

Her project involved breaking adhesive tape bonds, which releases the triboluminescence. She found that the color of the light depends on the elements in the air around the tape, and that peeling the bonds in a vacuum releases X-rays strong enough to be used for medical purposes.

"Liz was creative and resourceful enough to conceive and design her project without much assistance from me," said Bennett in an email.

Schroder worked on the project for 10 hours per week during the spring and fall of 2010 trimesters, and 40 hours per week during the summer program. It took five months to conduct the actual experiment, and a few months of research and analysis before and after the experiment was finished.

By May 2011, she was ready to present her work at the Intel ISEF in Los Angeles.

Schroder was awarded by the Office of Naval Research on behalf of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, a tuition scholarship of $8,000 and by the U.S. Army, $3,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds.