By Abby Weingarten
Physics thesis student Matt Mancini completes his undergraduate career at New College this spring with more published papers than a doctoral graduate—a record-breaking achievement in a highly advanced academic field.
“Matt is graduating with two already published papers, one under review, and another three manuscripts almost ready to be submitted. Such a research record is truly exceptional, unheard of anywhere, nationwide,” said Mancini’s New College mentor, Physics Professor Mariana Sendova, Ph.D. “In general, in our area, a Ph.D. candidate is required to have two to three publications. Matt will receive his B.A. in physics with more publications than a Ph.D. student.”
With this rare accomplishment to his credit, Mancini will move on to Penn State University (PSU) this fall to pursue a Ph.D. degree in the top-ranked National Science Foundation (NSF) research graduate program for materials science and engineering. He was offered an endowed research fellowship to study in the lab of John Mauro, Ph.D.
Mancini’s experience at New College—particularly, his collaborative work with Sendova—profoundly shaped him as a person, a scientist and a successful scholar, he said.
“I came to New College because I wanted skills and knowledge to empower me for the rest of my life,” said Mancini, who is a Sarasota native. “I came in expecting that my love of math would translate into a focus on theoretical physics but, after approaching Dr. Sendova, I started to realize that experimental physics provided a significantly greater means for me to apply the previous skills I had developed.”
Mancini’s first published paper was entitled Thermal and Spectroscopic Characterization of Copper and Erbium Containing Aluminophosphate Glass (published in the fall of 2019 in Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal).
“As third author, I contributed the collection of Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) and Raman data to the project, as well as analysis of the DSC generated heat flow curves,” Mancini said, adding that this paper’s research led to his first primary authorship: Thermal Characterization of Glassy Solids: Constant Cooling Rate Cycles (recentlysubmitted to the Journal of American Ceramic Society).
Mancini’s second published paper was Digital Surface Area Measurement from Digital Images via Brightness Histogram Method (published in the Measurement Science and Technology journal). This paper developed an algorithm for efficient and ready measurement of surface area from 8-bit grayscale digital images, Mancini explained.
He has additionally submitted a paper entitled Rapid Optical Plasmonic Transformation of Silver-Doped Glass (which the Plasmonics publication is now reviewing). This paper looks at a novel method of nanoparticle synthesis in solid-state matrices through DSC, and provides a plasmonic merit factor that characterizes the percentage of nanoparticle precipitate in the matrix via examination of surface plasmon resonance. Another manuscript, which is only a week out from submission (likely to a journal similar to Plasmonics), is a related examination of rapid optical plasmonic transformation (but this time in copper-doped glasses), Mancini explained.
Currently, Sendova and Mancini are also working on four other publication projects—thermal and spectroscopic characterizations of several specific subsets of phosphate glasses, including the examination of effects of copper doping concentration on thermal properties for binary phosphate glasses.
For all of these projects, Mancini’s close work with Sendova was instrumental to their success.
“Dr. Sendova’s lab is an undergraduate physics lab unlike any other I have seen in the country, and the particular skills in spectroscopy, instrument maintenance, and vibrational (as well as thermal analysis) techniques are things that Dr. Sendova gave freely to me at whatever rate I wanted,” Mancini said. “If I asked for more input, help or opportunity, I always received it.”
Mancini worked as a teaching assistant in Sendova’s Physics I and Physics II classes, and developed a curriculum for a tutorial on material characterization techniques. He was also Sendova’s lab manager, and learned how to maintain, repair and calibrate all of the scientific instruments.
“I was one of the only undergraduate applicants for the grad programs I applied to that had hands-on experience with such a diverse array of research instrumentation (FTIR, Raman, UV/Vis, FluoroSpec, Low Speed Diamond Saw, X-Ray Diffractor, Thermal Furnace and Differential Scanning Calorimeter),” Mancini said.
When Mancini wasn’t in the lab, he was deeply involved in other campus projects. For example, he co-founded the first Student Physics Society, which currently has around 50 members. He helped to make New College an official Sigma Pi Sigma chapter (No. 581)—the College’s first National Physics Honor Society chapter.
As for his future, Mancini is already looking ahead to the research projects Mauro has outlined for him.
“Dr. Mauro is a renowned glass scientist and engineer who worked at Corning for approximately two decades, and he was an instrumental lead research scientist in the development of critical products such as Gorilla Glass,” Mancini said.
Mauro is encouraging Mancini to research the development of a lower-energy-cost soda-lime glass alternative to help reduce the carbon footprint of industrial glass manufacturing, Mancini explained. Another PSU project will involve examining a 2-D Ge-Se glass matrix for photonics and optoelectronic applications (part of Mancini’s Shively Weyl Endowed Research Assistantship).
Mancini feels ready for this ambitious undertaking. Sendova prepped him for all of this.
“Dr. Sendova has shown me how to ask good scientific questions and how to develop a strong supporting argument to defend your scientific discoveries (and effectively disseminate them throughout the scientific community),” Mancini said. “Being an effective scientific communicator and professional research scientist are the two points for which I have been most thoroughly prepared.”
Sendova couldn’t be prouder of Mancini’s achievements in the optical spectroscopy and nanomaterials labs, as well as his research in materials science. She initially met Mancini when he enrolled in her Introduction to Electrodynamics class in the fall of 2018, cheered him on when he received a Skestos Scholarship for summer research in 2019, and can’t wait to see his scientific career unfold.
“Matt is at the level of an exceptional graduate student. I gladly consider him a collaborator,” Sendova said. “He is an exceptionally talented, proactive, methodical, resourceful and hardworking scientist with huge potential.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.