Physics alumnus integrates art into the work of nuclear science education

February 27, 2024

Zach Constan ’95 knows it’s not enough to simply say you’re a global leader in nuclear research – if you want people to understand the importance of what you do, you’ve got to get creative.

“We have tours, public talks, summer camps, open houses, a video game, a museum exhibit, and even dance performances,” Constan said. “The community absolutely needs to hear about our discoveries, and I manage a number of ways to communicate them.”

As outreach coordinator for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), a U.S. Department of Energy-funded laboratory on the campus of Michigan State University, Constan “translates” nuclear science for a wide variety of audiences. FRIB’s world-leading research involves creating and studying nuclei that don’t exist on Earth but are often critical to how stars make new elements.

It’s a perfect, liberal arts type of job for the musician and would-be English major who discovered a love for physics at Albion.

“My first experience with the intersection of art and science at Albion really got me started on my path today,” said Constan, who wrote his Honors thesis on the acoustics of stringed instruments. With emeritus professor of physics Dave Kammer, Constan used machine learning to analyze the harmonic structure of cello tones and tried to identify “the Secret of Stradivarius,” he explained. “It was an incredible opportunity to combine art and science, and I loved the creative aspects of research.”

Along with falling in love with physics at Albion, Constan was intensely involved with the music department as a member of the orchestra, choir, and Phi Mu Alpha music fraternity. He was a member of the Honors Program Council, wrote for the Pleiad student newspaper, and hosted a show on WLBN, the College’s radio station.

The diverse activities may not have seemed like career prep, but they all added to the undergraduate experience that informs Constan’s approach to his work.

“I help our faculty, staff, and students to share their love of nuclear science, and I love interacting with the public, getting them excited about what we do at FRIB,” he said. “Working with partners, especially artists, to tell our story in new ways is always a thrill.”