Science of Superheroes is Meghan DeWitt’s favorite class to teach. Each day, her students learn about a different superhero and explore the science behind their special powers.
“We study quantum mechanics with Kitty Pryde, genetic modification with Wolverine, gravity with Superman, convection and heat flow with Storm, and electromagnetism with Magneto,” Meghan explains enthusiastically.
In another class, Math of Crime Solving, she and her students apply math concepts commonly used in forensic science to gather information to help solve crimes. For example, the concepts used to estimate a victim’s time of death, to map bullet trajectory, and to calculate DNA probability.
Since she joined the faculty at St. Thomas Aquinas College in 2014, Meghan has been teaching classes like these along with several others, such as College Algebra, Calculus, Math of Finance, and Operations Research.
With a background in teaching at larger institutions—Meghan previously taught in the mathematics department at her undergraduate alma mater Brigham Young University—she appreciates the opportunities and small class size at STAC that make it possible to get to know her students individually. For example, she especially enjoyed serving as the adviser for the Math Club and the Comedy Club.
Recently, Meghan was honored by the local community for her efforts that put protective gear (PPE) in the hands of emergency services workers. Crediting STAC’s Director of Campus Ministry, Dan Cummings, for getting the project started, Meghan raised funds for supplies and then used STAC’s 3D printers to make over 800 face shields and 1,200 face mask extenders that were donated to local paramedics and hospitals. “We were really happy we were able to do something to help the health workers on the frontline of the pandemic,” she says.
Though it’s been on hold because of COVID-19, Meghan’s scholarly research has the potential for far-reaching impact in healthcare and agriculture, among other areas. She is taking a new approach—applied group theory—to investigate swarms.
“Originally we started studying them so we could predict their movement and stop locust swarms from destroying crops,” explains Meghan, who earned her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “But we also use swarm thinking when building robot swarms for search and rescue operations or nanite swarms that might be able to perform surgery from inside the human body, or to understand the interactions between cancer cells that allow them to spread so quickly and in unexpected ways.”
A self-described “Army brat,” Meghan was born in Verona, Italy—the town that is the setting of “Romeo and Juliet”—where she spent her childhood. After stints in Maryland and California, she and her parents and two older sisters settled in Arizona.
Meghan is a classically trained pianist and cellist and has played with the Los Vegas and Los Angeles symphonies as a member of the Tucson Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Today, she treasures the grand piano in her apartment where she unwinds after a long day, and also has fun building with LEGOs. One of her favorite projects was the Hogwart’s Castle which the devoted Harry Potter fan keeps on permanent display.
“Travel is in my blood,” Meghan says, adding that her parents have been to all seven continents. “I hope to continue to do so for my entire life.” Her next stops are Norway, Sweden, and Amsterdam—an itinerary that got postponed because of the travel ban last summer. Italy, the beautiful Banff in Canada, and the rainforests in Costa Rica are among her favorite travel memories.