Department of Physics

William Griffin

BS physics and BA chemistry 2006

This year, students will be programming their robots with a programming platform called LabVIEW. I happen to use LabVIEW a lot in my job as a test engineer and I even teach LabVIEW classes, so I was able to help the local FIRST Robotics team learn a little about this new programming platform. By the end of the second night of training, the students were controlling the simulated robotic arm shown in the picture.

Wiliam Griffin w

While they could simply control all of the joints in the arm by turning the knobs in the program, they were encouraged to find alternate way to control the arm using physical devices and sensors. They wrote programs that would read a microphone, a dial (quadrature encoder), and a temperature sensor. Using the signals they obtained from these devices, they could choose to control their robot in any number of ways. For example, they could rotate the knob to rotate the arm, heat up the temperature sensor to bend its elbow, or make a loud noise to clamp its claw closed.

What drew you to physics?
I love to contemplate the nature of the universe. What is its past? What is its future? What are its most fundamental building blocks? What are the universal laws? More than any other discipline, physics tries to concretely seek out the answers to these questions. I especially love the surprises that have come along in the process. It turns out there is a fourth dimension, time, that we cannot see, but that can be manipulated. By understanding the laws that rule over space-time, we can understand how time might be dilated and space contracted. Studying the smallest scales, we have found that Schrödinger's cat is simultaneously actually alive and dead, at least until we go looking for it.

How did UNI physics prepare you for what you do?
I believe that in the process of learning physics, I unwittingly learned how to thoroughly and reliably solve intricate problems. This kind of skill is not only applicable to the physical sciences. I apply the same rigorous logic to problems I face every day in my work that I do to physics problems. I've learned a lot about determining what my problem really is and how to apply what knowledge I have to resolve the issue efficiently. An understanding of physics and the natural world is great, especially in my current job as an engineer, but a skill like problem-solving is invaluable in any career you might choose.