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Students capture beauty and physics in photos

This exotic glowing drink is actually tonic water as seen with a black lightFor physics major Anne Evans, everything just fell into place when she decided to submit a photo to the UNF 2021 Physics Photo Contest.

From finding a black light flashlight at her parent’s home to learning about light absorption in class to having an elegant glass to show off the tonic water, Evans had what she needed to create a first-place winner — “Ultraviolet Fluorescence.” Her glowing drink was chosen by the faculty of the Department of Physics based on the explanation of physics concepts behind the image as well as the aesthetics of the photo. Facebook followers voted it a third-place win.

“I had just learned the physics behind; it was like an application that I had just learned in my classes, so I totally understood it and knew I could easily write about, so that’s why I chose it,” Evans said. What she discovered in her research was that the molecule quinine in tonic water, when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, or black light, absorbs photons causing it to “jump up” several energy levels. It then immediately drops back. This repeats continuously making the tonic water appear to glow.

Evans' photo was one of 55 submitted to Dr. Jason Haraldsen, associate professor of physics, who has been hosting this annual contest since 2016. In addition to having the largest number of submissions this year, Haraldsen said the quality of photos was also impressive. After the physics faculty selected the Top 10 and their choice for No. 1, the rest of the voting was done on Facebook.

Gaining the most votes from Facebook followers was the image submitted by physics major Ethan Smith, who was on a casual outing when he discovered a photo worthy subject at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and Museum. In the museum was the original Fresnel (fray-nel) lens used when the lighthouse was activated in 1887. Though not in use, the lens was actively reflecting the natural light of the room through its many angles.

“When I first saw this thing, I was fascinated by how unique it was,” Smith said. “The photo doesn’t do it justice. Walking around it and seeing the light reflected was so cool.” In his description, Smith explained that the “strange shape and configuration of these annular lenses allowed for a very thin Fresnel lens to be nearly as effective as a much larger, traditional optical lens.”

The second-place winner was an area high school student who captured reddish lights produced from the electrical arc used by a welder to fuse metal. This is the second year that an entry from a high school student has made it into the Top three and the first year that a middle school student made it into the Top 10, Haraldsen said. In all, there were nine entries from area high schools and middle schools.

While Haraldsen hopes to see UNF students from across campus collaborate with physics majors to submit photos in the future, he is happy to see the increasing number submitted each year from area schools. “One of the points of this contest is to have area school students participate,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to inspire students to come to UNF. The second-place winner emailed me and said how excited he was to win second place, and in a few years, he’s hoping that he’ll get accepted to UNF. That’s the goal, to get students excited about the University.”

Read more about the contest on the UNF physics website and see all the Top 10 entries on Facebook.