Frank Malatino Supercharges His Skillset with Chemistry and Physics to Give Back to Society

Frank Malatino, a senior Applied Physics major, sat behind a maze of multicolored wires intertwined with resisters and transistors in the Physics lab. He meticulously constructed the labyrinth of electrical elements, known as a circuit in the Physics world, by hand.

Malatino, of Ship Bottom, is studying circuits with Dr. Jason Shulman, assistant professor of Physics, because they can represent complex networks such as an intersection of roadways, a section of DNA, or a brain.

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“You can treat any interacting system as a network: genes, neurons, street corners. Sometimes these networks are hard to analyze,” said Malatino, and there could be ethical and cost implications to experimentation.

That’s where circuits come into the picture.

“Dr. Shulman came up with the idea with some of his collaborators to use circuits to model these networks,” Malatino explained about his research adviser.

Experimentation using circuits is a cost-effective, fast and ethical approach to making predictions.

A  circuit up close

A circuit up close

With Shulman and fellow students, Malatino used circuit experimentation to produces the same results as Kirchhoff’s Laws, which are the fundamental laws of voltage and current.  This work was recently published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed American Journal of Physics.

“I was always analytical as a child,” said Malatino, who later took science courses as his electives in high school.

In 2005, he came to Stockton from Scranton University and decided to major in Physics.

“I’ve always been really focused on doing something that would give back to society. I realized that science could be a vehicle for me to be the type of person I want to be and to do the type of work I want to do. It made sense to me. It just clicked,” he said.

While in Physics I, he realized he wasn’t familiar with the mathematics, not having taken calculus yet, so he switched his major to Chemistry, earning his B.S. degree in 2010.

It wasn’t until after he was in the workforce that he discovered his true passion was in Physics.

He was hired as an analytical chemist at Nipro Glass, formerly Wheaton Glass, in Millville. “That’s when I realized I really wanted to do Physics,” said Malatino.

When Nipro bought Wheaton, Malatino was laid off from his job, so he decided to return to Stockton for a second degree, this time in Physics. One door closed, but another door opened, he explained.

“I know now that I’m on the right track.”

“When I was taking Chemistry courses I wanted to know a different aspect of the chemistry. I wanted to know why the reactions were happening,” which was often beyond the scope of his courses. “Those questions are now being answered in Physics,” he said.

After graduating in May, Malatino plans to combine his Chemistry and Physics backgrounds by pursuing a PhD in condensed matter physics, which analyzes how materials interact as well as their properties to create materials that will do certain tasks.

He’s currently deciding between four graduate schools he’s been accepted to: the University of Houston, the University of Texas at Arlington, Portland State and the University of Oklahoma.

His pipe dreams are made of superconductors and recyclable electronics.

“If we had a superconducting material it would improve the way we transport energy. Right now we lose a great deal of energy over our power lines. Superconductivity would mean we would have current with no resistance and theoretically what we’d get from the power plant would be what we get delivered to our homes,” he explained.

He also dreams of electronic devices that could be repurposed once they stop functioning, such as a laptop or smartphone that could be taken apart to build something new.

“Once an electronic breaks or is obsolete, we can’t recycle them,” he said.

For the past two years, Malatino has been a teaching assistant for Dr. Yitzak Sharon, professor of Physics, who teaches “Atom, Man, Universe,” and “Introduction to Physical Science.”

Many of the students in those courses are not science majors, but “I get to excite them about things that excite me,” Malatino explained.

He also volunteers his time to tutor fellow classmates, which has helped him to hone his skills.  His experience as a TA and tutor helped him realize that he wanted to pursue teaching and research rather than returning to the industry. “That’s what drove it home to me and sealed the deal,” he said.

“[Tutoring] showed me that I can do it. You don’t know something until you’ve actually explained it to someone,” he added. “Am I getting this across effectively? If I’m not, I need to go back and revisit it.”

Malatino is the vice president of the Stockton Physics Club and a member of the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honors Society, Sigma Xi, a national research fraternity, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society and the American Physics Society.

His hobbies include surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, playing guitar and singing.

At the last Stockton Entertainment Team Battle of the Bands competition, Malatino gathered a group of friends to perform, and he used his Physics prowess to incorporate a light show. The band wore sound-reactive electroluminescent wire that flashed with the beat of the music.

Malatino has developed a strong tool set at Stockton, which comes with a responsibility, he says.

“I think it’s important that when we get these degrees, no matter what it’s in, we should give back to the society that put us in the position to be able to come here and do this work.”