Recent Wellesley College Graduate Nabs Major Physics Honor

October 16, 2009

Molly Tarantino


WELLESLEY, Mass. -- Wellesley College 2009 graduate Bilin Zhuang, the daughter of Lichuan Zhang and Liqiong Zhu of Shenzhen, China, has been awarded the American Physical Society’s 2009 Leroy Apker Award for outstanding achievements in physics.


Wellesley graduate and Apker Award Winner Bilin Zhuang with her advisor, Associate Professor of Physics Courtney Lannert.

“The Apker award is the only award given by the American Physical Society to an undergraduate, so it is the highest honor the APS can bestow on someone at this early stage of their career,” said Courtney Lannert, associate professor of physics at Wellesley. “It's a real vote of confidence on the awardee's promise for becoming a great researcher, and rewards an undergraduate research project that has a real impact in physics.”

Zhuang will receive $5,000 and an allowance for travel to the meeting of the society where the award will be presented. The Wellesley College Physics Department will also receive $5,000 to support undergraduate research.

Typically, the award goes to one student from a Ph.D. granting institution and one student from a non- Ph.D. granting institution. This year both winners are graduates of women’s colleges— Zhuang and Kathryn Greenberg of Mount Holyoke College.

At Wellesley, Zhuang, who majored in physics and chemistry, worked on developing an alternate method to estimate the physical properties of geometrically frustrated spin systems. Advised by Lannert, she pursued her senior thesis, “Thermodynamics of Ising Systems of the Triangular Kagome Lattice and Small-Model Approximations to Geometrically Frustrated Systems.” The central idea of her research is modeling macroscopic systems in a disordered phase with much smaller systems of five to 25 atoms.

“She showed that their thermodynamic properties were very similar, and in one case, indistinguishable,” Lannert said. “I am not aware of any other work along these lines, so she's really opening up a new area of research.”

Zhuang is currently doing a year of research on magnetic systems at the Data Storage Institute in Singapore.

While at Wellesley, Zhuang also played the Chinese lute for the Greater Boston Chinese Cultural Association Music Ensemble. She performed at the Slater cultural show, the Chinese Students’ Association cultural show and at baccalaureate.

Wellesley College has been a leader in liberal arts and the education of women for more than 130 years. The College's 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from 50 states and more than 65 countries.