Liana Shpani ’21 says she studies physics to learn about the universe and describe it mathematically. But she wants to take that knowledge a step further, and also help others better understand the mysteries of the universe.
To that end, Shpani spent this past summer conducting research that deals with many-body quantum systems, one of the stiffest challenges in quantum physics. Her work involves analyzing geometric patterns produced by quantum Monte Carlo simulations and relating those findings to many-body entanglement (the interactions of microscopic particles), which has many potential applications in the field of quantum information science.
She has presented her research at Clark’s Fall Fest, and will be presenting at Academic Spree Day in the spring, the American Physical Society Women in Physics Conference in January, and the American Physical Society March Meeting in Boston.
“I learned about quantum mechanics and computational research, attended workshops, practiced goal-setting, collaborated with researchers, and improved my presentation skills,” she says. “I got a feel for what researchers do, and after last summer I am excited to get more involved.”
Funded by the Stanley Geschwind Summer Internship award, Shpani’s research was supervised by Professor Barbara Capogrosso-Sansone and Fabio Lingua, a post-doctoral research associate. Shpani works closely with her adviser, Professor Michael Boyer, to map out classes so that she can balance her physics courses and research with her minors in mathematics and computer science.
“Because the department is small at Clark, you get to know your professors better and get a lot of great advice,” Shpani says. “Also, the access to do research as an undergraduate here is a great opportunity to do more ‘real life’ physics.”
A native of Albania, Shpani has steeped herself in the study of physics. She is the recipient of the Roy S. Andersen Prize in Physics, serves on the editorial board of the Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal, and is a member of the editorial board of the Society of Physics Students at Clark.
Her achievements did not come overnight. Shpani has been competing in international math Olympiads since 2012, representing her country at the International Mathematical Olympiad in South Africa, the Balkan Mathematical Olympiad, and the European Girls Mathematical Olympiad in Romania.
Recently, Shpani participated in the University Physics Competition with fellow Clark students Alejandra Rosselli ’20 and Megan McIntyre ’19. At this international competition, undergraduates spend 48 hours analyzing a real-world scenario and write a formal paper describing their work. The Clark team chose the problem of sending a light sail-propelled nanocraft to the Alpha Centauri star system. “We had very little knowledge on the topic, but we were excited to spend the weekend learning about it,” she says.
Shpani notes that Capogrosso-Sansone has become an inspirational figure for her. “I am really fascinated by the kind of research she does, and now I am taking her class and I love her as a professor as well,” she says. “I aspire to be like her one day.”
Her post-college plans involve going to graduate school and continuing with her research. Her Clark experience, she says, has prepared her well.
“I love how physics challenges my imaginations and way of thinking,” Shpani says. “I’m passionate about learning how everything works and why, and I’m really thankful for being able to get involved in research since my freshman year. It’s given me a more concrete idea of a path that I can pursue.”