Physics professor Kate Jensen receives a five-year, $710,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research on the dynamics of fluid surfaces.

Physics professor Katharine (Kate) Jensen has received a five-year, $710,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support her research on the dynamics of fluid surfaces, such as when a pipe springs a leak or raindrops leave streaks of droplets on a windshield. The NSF website states that CAREER grants “support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

This NSF-supported research project seeks to understand the fundamental science behind these dynamics and related phenomena by developing an experimental laboratory program for exploring and controlling the interactions between fluids and solid surfaces. 

Headshot photo of physics professor Kate Jensen
Physics professor Kate Jensen

As part of Jensen’s research, she and her students use high-magnification microscopes, high-speed videography and digital image processing to capture complex interactions between surface tension, viscosity and flow speed as pipes leak, liquids break up into droplets on surfaces, and solid particles form patterns and shatter on the surfaces of fluids. 

At Williams since 2017, Jensen teaches Introduction to Materials Science and the course Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics. In addition to conducting research on fluid surface instabilities, her lab also studies soft adhesives and plant biophysics. She typically has about five students in her lab during the academic year and expects about 10 working full time this summer. 

By pairing her lab’s experimental observations, data analysis and theory, Jensen’s research provides fresh insights into the fundamental physics of everyday phenomena. The findings of her work have potential applications in a range of scientific fields and industries, including climate studies and food science. Of the NSF grant’s impact on students’ educational experience, Jensen says it will “provide valuable opportunities for undergraduates to do top-quality research and prepare them for whatever they may do next in their academic career and beyond.”

Published May 7, 2024

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