Zachary Radeka '14
Randolph-Macon College student Zachary Radeka ’14 caught a lot
of waves this summer.
As part of the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)
program, Radeka conducted research with the help of a Rubens’ tube, sometimes known
as a flame tube, which was invented in 1905 by German Physicist Heinrich Rubens.
Flames shooting out the top of the tube at various heights represented acoustic
waves. The Rubens’ tube illustrated the relationship between sound waves and sound
pressure. Radeka worked under the guidance of Physics Professor George Spagna.
“Because we don’t see acoustic waves in our everyday lives, it gives a good representation
of what they look like,” explains Radeka. “A jump rope is an example of a ‘standing
wave’—the wave being created by the rope is not traveling, it’s stationary. I explored
how parts of equations made by other researchers throughout the years could be refined
to match the flame heights exactly. In particular I noted if variables that the
researchers failed to take into account—for example, the diameter and length of
the tube—affected the flame heights.”
Radeka, who hails from Williamsburg, Virginia, is a
physics major and
astrophysics minor. He has been interested in physics since high school.
“I was extremely good at mathematics, and math teachers always try to explain how
math has applications in the ‘real world,’ but I never really saw them,” he says.
“During my junior year of high school I took a physics course and instantly fell
in love with it, because every ounce of mathematics that I had learned was being
used; math suddenly had an application!”
A typical day of SURF research involved “a lot of construction” for Radeka, who
spent much of his time building the flame tube apparatus.
“I also did a lot of data collection and note-taking, and that information was used
in my final SURF paper,” he says. “Professor Spagna’s mentorship was very important.
I relied on him to answer questions and give me advice.” Radeka presented his paper
at the recent SURF Symposium.
“I have been interested in the Rubens’ flame tube for longer than I like to admit,”
says Spagna. “It’s long been one of my favorite classroom demonstrations, and I
wrote my first paper on this apparatus in 1983. Zack continued and extended the
work done by previous students, including Dave Hook ’89 and
Frank Wang ’95. Zack learned some of the joys and frustrations of doing
research – but he clearly was excited when he saw something unexpected and then
demonstrated to himself that he could figure out an explanation for the underlying
Radeka is a member of several R-MC organizations, including the
Leadership Fellows program, Omicron
Delta Kappa and Sigma Pi Sigma. He also serves on the Randolph-Macon
College Relay for Life committee. As for his post-R-MC plans, Radeka is aiming high.
“I plan to go to grad school, and eventually I’d like to land a job at NASA,” he
says. “It has been my goal to work there for quite some time.”
SURF was introduced in 1995 as an endowment to
support scholarly undergraduate research by students in all disciplines. Students
conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research during the summer months, under
the guidance of a faculty mentor. The initial gift for the program was made by Benjamin
Schapiro ’64 and his wife Peggy.