Innovations abound in New College physics lab

Matt Mancini and Mariana Sendova
Matt Mancini and Mariana Sendova, Ph.D.

By Abby Weingarten
With a provisional patent in the works and a multitude of publications to their credit, New College Professor of Physics Mariana Sendova, Ph.D. and 2020 physics graduate Matt Mancini are elevating the science landscape as collaborators.
Their recent paper, Direct Surface Area Measurement from Digital Images via Brightness Histogram Method (published in July in the Measurement Science and Technology peer-reviewed journal), is on the patent track—and its findings could ultimately reframe the study of environmental impacts related to climate change.
“We’ve developed an algorithm for efficient and ready measurement of surface area from 8-bit grayscale digital images, and we’ve discovered a new way to directly measure the surface area of large bodies of land or water,” Sendova and Mancini explained. “The reason this is worthwhile to patent is because this measurement helps researchers understand the depth and topography of—for example—lakes when they shrink—which is very helpful for scientists studying climate change.”
This discovery is among multiple groundbreaking research efforts to come out of New College’s Optical Spectroscopy and Nanomaterials Lab—a resource so spectacular that New College was the first and only undergraduate liberal arts college in the nation to open one.
Sendova was the pioneer behind the experimental physics space when she joined the College 20 years ago, and it has become a springboard for students like Mancini (who has broken publishing records for undergraduates at New College in his highly advanced academic field).
“Matt graduated 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,” Sendova said. “In general, in our area, a Ph.D. candidate is required to have two to three publications. Matt received his B.A. in physics with more publications than a Ph.D. student.”
As he was finishing his undergraduate career, Mancini had already published one paper with Sendova and was in the process of working on three other publication projects with her—regarding novel nanoparticle synthesis processes and materials characterization methods.
The two are still editing and submitting papers together, even as Mancini is pursuing a Ph.D. degree at Penn State University (PSU) this year. He is in the top-ranked National Science Foundation (NSF) research graduate program for materials science and engineering, on a Shively Weyl Endowed Research Assistantship to study in the lab of John Mauro, Ph.D.
One month into the fall semester, Mancini is already planning to submit an invention disclosure to PSU. He is researching the development of a lower-energy-cost soda-lime glass alternative to help reduce the carbon footprint of industrial glass manufacturing, and examining a 2-D Ge-Se glass matrix for photonics and optoelectronic applications.
New College, and Sendova’s lab, were the catapult for what will likely be a long career of innovation for Mancini.
He was greatly inspired by the tenacity of Sendova, who already boasts two United States patents and more than 80 publications in renowned journals. She holds a Ph.D. from Sofia University and has solved numerous scientific problems in applied physics, material science, nanotechnology, spectroscopy and biophysics. In 2012, she helped secure a $1.7 million grant for New College’s physics lab from the United States Army Research Laboratory.
“That was the largest grant in the College’s history, and it helped grow the lab I started. When I came to New College in 2000, they had just opened the building for the lab—it was empty and I created the sketches for the lab,” Sendova said. “The official opening to the public was in 2012 but we were doing a lot before that. Right now, most of the projects we’re doing are about glasses. We’ve developed glasses with new optical properties, and we’re measuring the properties of glasses.”
Mancini found this research fascinating, and Sendova always gave him the freedom to explore its possibilities.
“Mariana’s door was always open any time I had a question. She is an experimentalist and that is very different from a theorist. Theorists marinate on a problem but experimentalists have to be willing to throw spaghetti, and we did,” Mancini said. “When you’re doing that, you need somebody else to tell you, ‘That’s not even close to the wall’ or ‘That really hit.’ Your bad ideas get quickly thrown away and you get down to what’s really gold.”
Together, Mancini and Sendova found that gold. They look forward to sharing it with the world.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.

Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is the state's only legislatively designated Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in liberal arts and sciences, a master’s degree program in data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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