VCSU undergraduates Lein and Blomquist publish computational physics research paper

Valley City State University students Matthew Lein and Rachel Blomquist have produced a paper, “Teaching Computation in Introductory Physics,” which has been accepted for publication in the Intermountain Engineering, Technology, and Computing (i-ETC) 2020 Conference Proceedings and IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

Lein, a software engineering major, and Blomquist, a mathematics education major, are both minoring in physics at VCSU and enrolled in the University Physics II course taught by David DeMuth, Ph.D., during spring semester 2020.

At the beginning of the semester, while studying gravitation, Lein and Blomquist noted a possible error in an approximation used in the solution of a problem in the course textbook. They then produced a detailed solution that calculates the time for two massive objects to collide from an initial separation in the vacuum of space.

The solution outlined in their paper is highly integrative, using principles of physics, calculus and computer science. Noteworthy is their use of the GlowScript 3D simulation platform, which renders simulations of the motion of objects using the Python programming language.

A goal of the paper was to provide a complete problem-solution manual to college and high school instructors, an effort spearheaded by Blomquist. In addition, Lein and Blomquist sought to provide an introduction to using GlowScript and Python for modeling physics problems and to demonstrate collaborative problem-solving in a university physics laboratory. The paper suggests framing the problem in a contextual way so that students might better relate to it and thus be more motivated to slog through the details of a complicated solution.

As lead author of the paper, Lein earns a credential with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a professional association universally recognized by engineers, which he hopes will positively impact his job search this spring.

Lein and Blomquist’s paper, to be presented at the i-ETC Conference in Orem, Utah, in September 2020, can be viewed online at