Making Atoms Cool: Cum Laude Master’s Student Regulates Atomic Systems
Mr Derrick Beckedahl graduated cum laude with a Master’s degree in Physics. His thesis was titled: “Generalisation of Theory and Algorithm for the Configurational Temperature Nose-Hoover Thermostat”.
‘The property of condensed matter systems can be predicted by solving numerically the equations of motion of a huge number of atoms on the computer,’ explained Beckedahl’s supervisor, Dr Alessandro Sergi. ‘To this end, integration algorithms that implement more and more realistic conditions on the mathematical description of atomic motion are continuously needed.’
Beckedahl said the temperature in an atomic system was based on one of two things - the speed of the particles or their position in relation to one another.
In collaboration with senior doctoral and post-doctoral students, Beckedahl generalised an integration scheme that estimates the temperature of an atomic system from its configuration, and keeps it constant in time. This way, time averages along the atomic trajectories on the computer can simulate time averages (and experimental results) in the laboratory when the system is kept at constant temperature by means of a thermostat.
Beckedahl, the son of UKZN geography Professor Heinz Beckedahl, says he has always been interested in the way things work, which led him to physics, and is also fascinated by programming.
Beckedahl completed his undergraduate degree in a physics programme that was offered by UKZN only, and is proceeding to a PhD in Computer Science, focusing on artificial intelligence.
He said he had enjoyed being a part of the Pietermaritzburg campus, where he was able to get to know his lecturers well. He also thanked his parents for their support and understanding.