Faces of Cooper: Philip Yecko

Anushree Sreedhar (ChE ’18) & Caroline Yu (EE ’15)

     Meet Philip Yecko, Associate Professor of Physics, the newest member to the physics department.

     The Cooper Pioneer: Where are you originally from?

     Philip Yecko: I was born and I grew up in Pittsburgh. I was there until college and since then I’ve been pretty much everywhere.

     TCP: Can you tell me about your educational and professional background?

     PY: Sure! It’s a long story. When I was a student at MIT, I studied Physics. I didn’t know about Cooper at the time. If I had I would have loved to have been here, but at that time MIT was all I could think of. I was a graduate student at Columbia, where I did my Ph.D. in Astronomy.  I had been a physics major but I was more interested in classical physics than modern or particle physics. In order to do more classical physics in grad school, I had to go into something slightly different, so I switched to astrophysics. That’s also when I realized what interested me most was fluid dynamics. I began studying the fluid dynamics of atmospheres of planets and eventually of accretion discs, which are the structures that form solar systems. After that I did postdoctoral work in Florida, Paris, and Italy.

     TCP: That’s amazing. I’m going to assume that your favorite subject is physics then?

     PY: Yes, my favorite subject is physics! And I suppose everything I do is connected to fluids.

     TCP: And astronomy?

     PY: Yes. A lot of problems in astronomy can be studied from a fluids point of view.  But I also moved from studying these really large astrophysical objects like discs to fluids that are microscale and magnetic fluids in the blood.

     TCP: How did you hear about Cooper Union and what brought you to Cooper Union?

PY: I was a graduate student in New York City and that’s when I learned about Cooper in several different ways and when I first met Alan Wolf. To be honest, whenever I was looking for a place to work, I’ve always looked at Cooper. Until very recently, it never worked out. This is my fourth faculty position, but along the way, Cooper has always been a place of interest to me.

TCP: So you hope to stay?

      PY: Yes, absolutely! I’ve met so many people here who were Cooper students or have one or two or three different affiliations with Cooper. I think it’s great. You are lucky to be in a place where there’s a sense of place and people care about it.

      TCP: How would you describe your current role at Cooper?

      PY: I am half the physics department — me and Alan Wolf– we are the smallest department here.  I’m starting with the Physics Laboratory. There are a lot of things that I want to do there, teaching-wise, but I won’t be able to do them all in my first year here. Next semester I’ll be teaching Modern Physics which, among other topics, has quantum mechanics in it, one of my favorites. I’m really looking forward to it. That class will be in Rose Auditorium and I feel a little strange teaching in rooms like that.  I like to interact with people while teaching, to have everybody involved if possible. So we’ll see! It is a very nice space, so I think it will work out.

     TCP: Do you have a favorite professor or colleague at Cooper yet?

     PY: It’s too soon. I’m afraid I have met not enough people yet. So maybe later you can come back and ask me.

     TCP: What are some of your hobbies?

     PY: Hobbies? That’s a tough one. I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies. I enjoy cooking; it’s relaxing for me. I started growing some grapes. I’m hoping one day I can make wine out of them. I’ve done it once before and it would be fun to try again starting from the vine.

     TCP: What type of things do you make?

PY: With food I’m focused on Mediterranean. Because of time constraints, I usually just make things that are quick. In doing that, I’ve started using less and less meat, which I think is good.

      TCP: What advice would you give to Cooper students?

     PY: You should try to get as much as you can out of this unique environment and the opportunities that you have here. Work with your professors; do research with them. I’m really happy that a lot of students have come to me so far – interested in doing some research. Get as much as you can out of your classes, too.  Cooper isn’t the real world, which has a good side and a bad side. Try to get the good before you go out into the real world where things are more complicated – not as focused.

     TCP: What hopes do you have for Cooper over the next ten years, and beyond?

     PY: I’m aware that Cooper is going through a change as far as the undergraduate tuition model. I think Cooper is based on a lot more than that.  People are talking about a computer science major and a math major. The physics major hasn’t been here for a long time – but physics was really an important part of Cooper at one time so I think it can come back. I have a lot common interests with people in mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and math. Fluids isn’t just in physics, it’s also in engineering and in math – so I think there’s a good chance physics can keep growing here. I’ve been thinking a lot about what new courses can be offered and I’ve been listening to students and asking what kinds of courses they would like to have — maybe astrophysical fluids or geophysical fluids. It’s nice when you find an elective that really sticks with a certain place. So that it just clicks because the students really like it.  I used to teach a course like that in non-linear dynamics and patterns. It had applications in physics and astrophysics and biology and it became really popular.

TCP: Do you have any favorite books, magazines, or subscriptions?

     PY: I read the New Yorker regularly. I read the cartoons first and I love xkcd. I’m a big Kurt Vonnegut fan – I like reading but I don’t have much time to read.

Professor Yecko has beautiful pictures of nature as his screensaver…

     TCP: Is it safe to assume you like nature?

     PY: A lot of these involve fluids, you know. Every year in November there’s a fluids dynamics meeting of the American Physical Society. One part of it is a competition called the Gallery of Fluid Motion – you enter an image or a video. This year is the first time I’ll submit an entry. Obviously, the image has to have scientific content, which is not a problem. The problem is making it stand out visually in a meeting of 2000 people, many of them just walking by.

Photo Credit: Jenna Lee (EE ’15)

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