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Tim Tharp

Assistant Professor

Tim Tharp joined the department in 2015.

Tim's specialty is in plasma physics, and within this area he has studied such diverse topics as fusion power, solar flares, and antimatter. Tim is an experimental physicist taken to the extreme: safety is always the highest priority in his labs, because his work frequently involves high voltage, high current, and large amounts of stored energy. Tim earned his PhD in plasma physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working on a fusion experiment called the Madison Symmetric Torus (MST). Fusion is an ideal energy source for the future of mankind: it can provide clean energy without any pollution or radioactive waste, and it is achieved using a fuel source that is virtually unlimited. However, more research is required before this dream can become a reality. MST is an example of a university-grade research fusion reactor that creates and confines plasma that is hotter than the surface of the sun.

After his PhD, Tim worked at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL) on an experiment called the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX). Magnetic reconnection is a process that occurs inside a plasma in which magnetic fields of opposite direction come together and annihilate. This interaction results in an explosive release of energy, such as that which occurs during a solar flare. Magnetic reconnection also influences space weather near Earth, where our planet's magnetic field interacts with plasmas in the solar wind.

Most recently (since 2012), Tim has been working on an antimatter experiment called ALPHA located at CERN. The goal of this experiment is to trap and study antihydrogen. Antihydrogen is formed from antiprotons (created by the CERN accelerators), and anti-electrons (emitted by radioactive sources). It has only very recently become technologically possible to trap these exotic atoms, and we can now start to address some of the most basic questions about antimatter, such as: "Does antimatter fall down or rise up in Earth's gravity?" The ALPHA experiment is an incredibly interdisciplinary endeavor which requires input from plasma-, atomic-, laser-, accelerator-, and particle-physics, as well as mechanical-, electrical-, cryogenic-, and superconductor-engineering.



Physics Department Mission Statement

The Physics Department is committed to excellence in undergraduate physics education and embraces the Ignation ideal of cura personalis, or "care for the whole person." The Department is a community of faculty, staff and students: Faculty advance the frontiers of physics in both research and education, staff contribute their expertise in facilitating all endeavors of the department, and students participate in learning and scholarship with the guidance of the faculty.