SUNY Oswego faculty-student team creates new physics book


January 17, 2017

OSWEGO -- When SUNY Oswego physics faculty member Carolina Ilie was asked to write a new textbook on electromagnetism, she saw the project as a chance to attract some students to an unparalleled experience.

Ilie co-authored "Electromagnetism: Problems and Solutions" with former student and 2015 graduate Zac Schrecengost, while December 2016 graduate Julia D'Rozario created more than 500 digital illustrations for the problems textbook users will solve.

Commissioned by the United Kingdom-based Institute of Physics (IOP) and published by California based Morgan and Claypool, the new text serves as a companion to "Introduction to Electrodynamics" by David J. Griffiths, "the best book in the field," Ilie said.

"There is nothing in electromagnetics for this level of undergraduate students" in terms of a workbook that can provide problems they can solve and receive immediate feedback for, Ilie explained.

The IOP reached out to Ilie, who has taught "Advanced Electromagnetic Theory" at Oswego since 2008, and she is pleased to have current and former students bring it to life, including then-students Nicholas Jira, Vincent DeBiase, Ian Evans and Andres Inga, who served as text editors.

"I decided to try to challenge the students to take an active role and they got to be collaborators, which is really a big deal," Ilie said, especially in taking Schrecengost on as a full co-author because "he was extremely, extremely good in class and his high-level understanding of mathematics was the best fit."

Learning opportunities

"I was extremely excited about this opportunity," said Schrecengost, a summa cum laude graduate who is now a software engineer in Syracuse. "I enjoyed the idea that this book could be used to help students, at various levels, in their electromagnetic theory courses."

Ilie and Schrecengost divided the chapters, and when they would finish their respective sections, they would give them to each other for feedback. "We would also discuss the problems and think of what may be the best way of presenting them to the students, and how to order them for a good flow and difficulty gradient," Ilie said.

"Developing problems that were a bit out-of-the-box" was a learning process in itself, said Schrecengost, who satisfied the degree requirements in physics, software engineering and applied mathematics during his time at Oswego. "In terms of the 'book process,' I learned that the finalizing steps, such as preparing and editing proofs, took as much (if not more) time than writing the actual content."

Ilie chose D'Rozario, a dual major in physics and in cinema and screen studies she was already working with on research projects, because Ilie valued her aesthetic sense and work ethic, and the fact that she did very well in the "Advanced Electromagnetic Theory" course.

"The publishing process is something I've always been interested in learning more about," D'Rozario said. "When I get older, I'd like to work with it more, so to start at this young age was great."

For the visual aids that went with each problem, Ilie and Schrecengost would hand-draw them and turn them over to D'Rozario, who would create many versions of the figure in Inkscape, a professional vector graphics editor, and fine-tune them until a figure was perfect.

D'Rozario worked diligently on revisions and options for the illustrations, estimating she made around 500 figures overall -- offering four to five variants for any given problem, as well as revising the figures on the path to publication from feedback from the authors and/or publishing house.

But the collaboration is not over yet. Ilie said the team plans to write a similar book on the subject of electrodynamics.

PHOTO CAPTION: Publishing team -- When Carolina Ilie (left), an associate professor of physics at SUNY Oswego, was invited to write a new textbook on electromagnetism, she asked 2015 summa cum laude graduate Zac Schrecengost to co-author the book, recently released as "Electromagnetism: Problems and Solutions."