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Research Delivers the Full College Experience for Physics Student

Torri Roark | Undergraduate, Physics

Torri Roark still remembers feeling scared and overwhelmed the first time she walked in to volunteer in a research lab in the Department of Physics.

She had just changed her major from chemistry to physics. She knew she loved science but didn’t know exactly where her education would take her. Roark still recalls with clarity the advice her advisor and now mentor, Associate Professor Horia Petrache, gave her those early days.

“I was terrified when I began research. He told me, ‘It’s OK if you don’t know something,’” said Roark, a senior physics student from Noblesville, Ind.

“Later that semester, I was presenting my research at IUPUI Research Day,” she said. “I couldn’t have done that without the help of Dr. Petrache and the other scientists and collaborators who were willing to sit down and talk about my research.

Torri Roark has worked for two years in a physics laboratory studying the interactions between ions and lipid membranes embedded with proteins.Torri Roark has worked for two years in a physics laboratory studying the interactions between ions and lipid membranes embedded with proteins..

“That’s one of the greatest things about the physics department. I know all my classmates and instructors, and I can walk into the physics offices and get help whenever I need it,” Roark said.

What Roark lacked in research experience as an underclassman she has made up for with determination and a genuine interest in physics and its applications.

“I tutor students in the physics learning space, and a lot of the students get really nervous about physics and math classes,” said Roark, who also is earning a minor in mathematics. “I tell them that once you get past your early courses and start studying more of the applied physics, it becomes more interesting and you get to see really how cool it is.”

Roark says some of the early courses intimidated her as well. After more than a year in the physics lab, however, she now has the confidence to present her ongoing research in biophysics at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Maryland (where she also served as an intern) and the Biophysical Society’s Annual Conference, where she will return in February for the second time. She plans to pursue her Ph.D. in biophysics after graduating from the School of Science.

“Had I not been doing research, it’s almost like I wouldn’t have gotten the full college experience. Just taking classes doesn’t give you the whole perspective,” Roark said.

Her research involves the study of the interactions between ions and surfaces, specifically between ions and lipid membranes embedded with proteins. Although there are times when the work becomes tedious, she still gets excited when she obtains a good measurement and usable data in the lab.

“Physics encompasses everything else you learn in science,” Roark said. “I still get to use chemistry and biology everyday in the lab, but, more than that, I am learning how to work independently and solve problems.”

When not in the lab or in class, Roark still finds time to work part-time at a shoe store. She enjoys jogging, traveling and spending time with her dog and family.