About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.
Lawrence University Professor of Physics Matthew Stoneking has spent much of the past decade splitting his professional time between the Lawrence campus in Appleton and a physics research institute in Munich, Germany, all in pursuit of a novel kind of plasma.
The experimental plasma physicist has brought his Lawrence students into the research process almost every step of the way.
In 2022, Stoneking was the recipient of a three-year, $431,200 grant from the National Science Foundation, funding that allowed him to expand his research on thermal equilibrium in non-neutral plasmas. The grant funded, among other things, internship support for Lawrence students, the purchase of equipment and lab supplies to build a new experiment in Youngchild Hall, and the costs of travel to Germany to work with collaborators at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics.
In the fall, Stoneking was named to an endowed professorship, the Alice G. Chapman Professorship in Physics.
Stoneking has been on the physics faculty at Lawrence since 1997. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
We caught up with him to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.
In the classroom
Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?
I expect students to enter my classroom with an openness to engage with the subject of the course and to cultivate their curiosity for the concepts and ideas that are central to the course. They should know that I will join them with enthusiasm and curiosity as well.
Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
Preparing lesson plans for each class day never gets boring for me. Even for courses I have taught many times before, there are new ways to present the key ideas and new activities to design that foster active engagement with those ideas.
Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?
Nine years ago, I had the chance to spend a sabbatical in Germany. I have spent more than three years in Germany since then. This opportunity changed my professional and personal life in numerous ways. I joined a research collaboration that has given me the chance to work on an extremely interesting project involving antimatter, magnetic levitation high-temperature superconductors, and experiments take place inside a nuclear reactor. I have also enjoyed learning to speak the German language, making new friends, working with new colleagues, and traveling in Germany and other parts of Europe.
Out of the classroom
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
It is hard to imagine what I would be doing if I were not a physics professor, but I have an interest in local history and might enjoy a stint as a tour guide.
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
One of my favorite spots is the patio at the Viking Room on a warm Friday afternoon in Spring Term.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
I like books and films that tell simple stories in interesting new ways and involve quirky characters. The films of Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers are ones I always look forward to and return to. My favorite film is also in this category, although it was not directed by Anderson or the Coens. It is called Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. My favorite book is The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. In music, songs with creatively constructed lyrics like those of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon appeal to me. Simon’s album Graceland is a long-time favorite.