Professor Spotlight: Ruth Malenda


Dr. Ruth Malenda has been an associate professor of physics since 2013. She is a member of American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American Physical Society (APS), Sigma Pi Sigma (SPS) and a co-advisor for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) and the Society of Physics Students. Dr. Malenda earned her bachelor’s degree at Kutztown University and her doctorate at Lehigh University.

What inspired you to go into your field of study?

I started out as math, I thought I was going to be an actuary. And then, I took some physics classes and I started finding out all the neat stuff you could actually explain with the math. And so, I just really liked that connection between this is the math, but this is what it explains — having that kind of manifest into something that’s tangible and understandable. And even sometimes things that aren’t tangible; so, we can use mathematics to explain quantum mechanics or planets. We can’t see that stuff. We can use mathematics and these principles that we know, and we can explain things that we can’t even see. That made me love the field.

What research are you currently working on?

I’m working on two projects right now. For my theoretical quantum work, I am working to model the energy of a Sodium Cesium (NaCs) model. I am working on a paper right now that looks at the energy of one of its excited states. I am also working on trying to learn how do astrophysics using the remote observatory at Moravian. We have a 25% timeshare on a telescope out in Utah. We can take data with this telescope. We do it remotely from here and then we can analyze it. I am taking a class right now. It is an online class here. There are at least 3 or 4 physics majors enrolled.

What do you think is the most recent important development in your field of study?

Important, I’m not 100% sure, but the thing I find the coolest is the work with gravitational waves. The principles that we learn in modern physics here, this device called an interferometer and you use it to measure wavelengths. We use it for light because we have a little one. Lygo is one used to detect gravitation waves. When they use it for gravitational waves, they do it with arms that are kilometer long each, and they’re under a vacuum to detect these gravitation waves. It’s incredible to me that the same principles that we learn about can be applied in this other crazy dimension and learn about gravitation waves.

What job would you have if you couldn’t be a professor, regardless of salary and job outcome? Why?

If I won a million dollars I would still be a professor. If I could just hang out and talk to my students about physics all day long, absolutely. And then I would use my million dollars to buy cool demonstrations and equipment. If I couldn’t do that, I think it would be really fun to make science kids show. There’s so much neat stuff out there and I think it would really cool to bring that to kids.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you were in college?

That everything is going to turn out the way it’s meant to turn out. I stress about things a lot. There have been a couple things in my life that have caused me to adopt this idea. You have to work really hard and do your best, but if you do those things, then things are going to work out how they are supposed to. That might not be how you expect them to or want them to at that time, but that doesn’t mean that’s not the right thing.

What is your biggest student pet peeve?

Students are really afraid to ask questions, and that is what school is all about. When students don’t ask me questions, I can’t help them. I would say student’s fear of asking questions and being wrong. You have to ask questions and, sometimes, what you think the answer is going to be is actually wrong. But that is okay! The point of asking questions is to learn, and sometimes you don’t always learn the thing you think you are going to learn. But I found that whenever you ask a question, no matter what, you learn something. You have new knowledge that you did not have before you asked the question.

What was the last streaming show that you binge-watched or the last good book that you read?

I read a book series called “The Broken Earth Series.” It is a sci-fi series about people who can control the Earth with their mind. It was really good, well written, and it won awards like the Hugo Award. It is a really interesting sci-fi series that is written from the perspective of a woman and her daughter, which is a novelty in sci-fi as well. It was a nice perspective to be able to read through. Right now, we are watching through the “Arrow” universe. So, we just got sucked into 8 episodes of the “Flash.” Which is alright, it’s not quite as gritty and a little more “campy.” It’s not bad, but I like “Arrow” better. I’m watching “The Office” too.

What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?

I’m pretty handy. At our house, I ripped up all the carpet, tore down all the wallpaper, primed the main floor, and painted most of the house. I can put up drywall, spackle, and rough wire. I made all the curtains and drapes in our house. I mow the lawn, and this summer I decided I wanted to learn how to fix the stone wall. So, this summer, I just watched a bunch of YouTube videos and fixed the stone wall in our backyard. Steve keeps calling me his freemason because I’m doing his masonry work for free. I can do it all on my own, but if you tell me what to do I can go put up drywall or help you stud out a room.

What’s your spirit animal and why?

So I saw this question and it made me laugh really hard because I actually have two answers. The serious answer is a blue herring. I see blue herrings all the time. I saw a blue herring on the day that I interviewed for this job. I saw one on my birthday last year. My parents see one at their lake house all the time and they say it’s me coming to visit them. For me, they’re just so calm, serein and peaceful it’s a reminder that everything is going to be okay and everything is going to work out the way it should. So, I just have a strange connection to blue herrings. For the second one, I would say that Ke$ha is kind of my soul sister. I feel like she’s my friend that I don’t actually know. She just seems so fun, she has a good time and we would definitely bond over how much we like glittery and sparkly things. I have a feeling, that we’d be friends. I feel a very strong connection to Ke$ha. The question was so funny for me because I am always joking with my friends about Ke$ha.

Why do you think people find physics scary? So, for example, if you ask you, “Hey what do you do, or what was your major in college?” and if you say physics, they give you a weird face.

Always, always with that face. They cringe at me, say, “Oh, I can’t take physics!” or “Oh! You must be so smart!” I say, “Guys, it’s okay!” I think it has to do with the math. I think people get really intimidated by it, but this stuff is so cool! Think about all of the physics that goes into driving your car, an airplane, a computer, or your phone. Your phone is insane to me. We talk, and then we make sound waves, then the sound waves get picked up by a microphone, they’re turned into electrical signals and zapped out and sent to another cell phone which changes it back into sound waves that hit your ear. All the physics that goes into that whole process, we do it and use it every day. That’s why I don’t understand why people can say they’re scared of physics. We use it all the time. It’s everywhere. stars, light, anytime things are moving, anything electricity, computers: it’s all physics. I think they’re scared of it because to communicate it to people we use mathematics. It’s the language that we use. If you don’t speak a language, it’s really scary and intimidating. If you got dropped into another country, and everyone is speaking a different language, it’s really terrifying and intimidating. People see mathematics and it’s not a language they’re used to. They get scared and turn off, but this stuff is so cool.