Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

Meet the Professor: Robert Elder Visiting Assistant Professor Robert Elder joined Washington and Lee University's Physics and Engineering Department in fall 2020.

elder-scaled-400x600 Meet the Professor: Robert ElderRobert Elder

Visiting Assistant Professor Robert Elder is the newest member of Washington and Lee University’s Physics and Engineering Department. Elder attended Ohio Wesleyan University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He went on to earn his master’s degree at Michigan State University.

Elder studies the atomic nucleus, and he is interested in the phenomena that emerge from the nuclear force between the protons and neutrons in the nucleus. His experiments are especially aimed at studying unstable isotopes that do not exist in our normal environments.

This summer, Elder started a new research project that hopes to improve the performance of a detector array he uses in his experiments. This detector array has several segments that report information about the gamma rays emitted from the isotopes he creates in the lab. The best way to use all the data from the detector array is not well known. Elder is looking into whether machine learning techniques such as neural network algorithms can better characterize the detector array. 

Read on to learn more about what Elder is up to on campus and how he spends his free time! 

What first attracted you to Washington and Lee University?

The sincere engagement I felt from the students on campus during my visit. W&L students are extremely dedicated and involved in their classes and activities. I wanted to be a part of that environment and contribute as much as I can!

What are you teaching?

I am teaching General Physics 1 this fall, which is a combined lecture and lab class.

Aside from teaching, what’s something that you’re passionate about? What do you do for fun?

I have a variety of interests outside of teaching, and I seem to be exploring a new one with each season of my life. During the past year, I ran an online Dungeons and Dragons campaign for my old friends, which has been a wonderful storytelling outlet for me. Currently, I’m coaching my son’s soccer team. I hope that once the pandemic is under control, I can find a fun place where I can sing karaoke again!

What is your favorite movie or book? Why?

I love all the movies by Wes Anderson, but I think “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is my favorite. I find it hard to pick a favorite book, but I really loved “The Hike” by Drew Magary. I also recently enjoyed “No One Is Talking About This” by Patricia Lockwood. 

As a student, what was the best piece of advice you were given?

In these days of abundant and overwhelming information, one of our most important skills is our attention. What a person chooses to pay attention to says a lot about them, and can have a strong impact on society. By mastering your own capacity to choose what you pay attention to, you have far greater control of your destiny. 

Share a fun fact about yourself.

I adopted a cat this summer, and she is awesome!

If you know any W&L faculty who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.