Faces of Rhodes

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Duan Yutong ′13

Hometown: Tianjin, China
Major: Physics
Minor: Mathematics
Research interests: I am interested in astrophysics, theoretical particle physics, and cosmology; specifically, AGN/black holes, grand unification, quantum gravity, AdS/CFT correspondence, and multiverse.

Extracurricular activities: I played piano in Rhodes Jazz Ensemble for a year and helped teach badminton club sports in the PE department. Outside Rhodes, I play Counter-Strike professionally and competed in the ESEA league for several seasons. I have been working for years as a journalist, editor, and e-Sports commentator for Pacific Online Ltd., a leading Chinese media group. Also, I have active connections with Tianjin TheaterJoker, a non-profit organization committed to promoting Chinese independent films and bringing in award-winning independent films from abroad.

Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.

I chose to study abroad and come to Rhodes College after high school for several reasons. By the end of middle school, I was extremely frustrated by having to constantly fight against the Great Firewall of China. I wanted to go to a place where basic freedom of information is not a concern. I had also heard enough about how bureaucracy constrains scientific research in Chinese institutions. So I started looking for top-tier U.S. schools that had a strong undergraduate physics program and a music tradition, as I am also very fond of music. Rhodes attracted me at first sight with its beautiful Gothic architecture and location in Memphis, which is home to proto-rock music. After doing more research on schools, I found the academics at Rhodes very competitive as well. The class size is small and the Physics Department is close-knit. Professors respect, trust, and interact with students, and care about their individual growth. The excellent faculty profile, breadth and depth of courses available, ample opportunities for student research, and adequate student support combined with the liberal arts foundation make Rhodes highly favorable. Overall it was an easy choice for me.

How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes College?

I have academically learned the foundational knowledge in my field and socially gained a lot of experience interacting with people from vastly diverse backgrounds. Personally, I have been pretty stable over the years—still most interested in studying the biggest and smallest objects in nature, and fond of the same tech/prog/black metal music.

Tell us more about your research presentation for URCAS. Could you give us a brief synopsis of your work?

I have actually done two major research projects and will have presented twice at URCAS by the end of this academic year. After sophomore year, I presented my fellowship research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I worked with Drs. Claudia Hillenbrand and Ralf Loeffler in the MR Physics Lab in the Department of Radiological Sciences on noninvasive quantification of glomerular filtration rate (GFR) using DCE-MRI, with the hope of replacing conventional measurement methods, which are invasive, lengthy, or inaccurate. I developed Matlab programs to automate, optimize, and improve the assessment of renal function of long-term Wilms’ Tumor survivors using MRI scan images.

My second URCAS presentation this year will showcase the physics honors research I have been doing with Dr. David S. N. Rupke in the Astrophysics Lab. We are mainly interested in galaxy evolution, and the study of galactic outflows may be key to explaining questions such as the regulation of black hole activities and star formation. My project is numerical simulation of Na I D absorption-line profiles formed by galactic outflows. I built IDL programs to simulate the synthetic absorption spectra for a model galaxy with any given wind structure along any line of sight, in order to investigate the properties of galactic wind.

Both projects have yielded theses and been presented at external professional conferences to international audiences.

How does your research contribute to your academic career?

My research is definitely a valuable academic asset to me, especially since I am going to pursue a Ph.D. degree in theoretical physics. It gave me the opportunity to have hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies, collaborate with top researchers in their fields, connect theories to real-world applications, and familiarize myself with routines and gain expertise in specialized areas. Thanks to the research, I have two theses in my pocket and a potential publication.

Compiled by Emily Sullivan

Tags: Mathematics and Computer Science