Kerstin Nordstrom


  • Associate Professor of Physics
  • Chair of Physics
Kerstin Nordstrom

Prof. Nordstrom’s lab studies the dynamics of fluid-like materials – which may be fluids themselves, or “granular materials” like sand. These materials are often given the umbrella term “soft matter,” are commonplace in both nature and industry, yet are still poorly understood, sometimes exhibiting bizarre behavior. A well-known example is cornstarch in water (“oobleck”), which pours easily from a container, but is impervious to someone jumping on its surface. Her lab studies these systems experimentally using combinations of ultra-high speed video, computational, and machine learning techniques. Her work has been funded by an NSF CAREER award, and she was named a Cottrell Scholar in 2018.

She is also a strong advocate for diversity in science and public outreach. She organizes and hosts SciTech Cafe, a public lecture series in Western Massachusetts. She has served for LGBT+ Physicists, the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics. She organized Soft Matter Day for 3 years in collaboration with UMass Physics, a hybrid outreach/research symposium. She has published academic work on the connection of physics and personal identity. She lead MHC Science Launch in 2019 and 2022, a bridge program for students interested in physical science, with plans to resume in 2024.

At Mount Holyoke, she teaches introductory and advanced classical mechanics, statistical mechanics, and took over the pre-health introductory sequence for several years to rework it. In her introductory courses, she uses techniques validated by physics education research (PER) to improve learning outcomes. She also strongly believes the introductory lectures should couple tightly with the labs, and has redesigned much of the course material to be more context-rich, especially with respect to biological systems in the pre-health sequence. In her advanced courses, she asks students to complete computational exercises in MATLAB to develop their proficiency with writing code, to understand processes like numerical differentiation and integration, and to practice working with large datasets.

In 2017 and 2018, she traveled to India to participate in the Emory Tibet Science Initiative and taught physics to Buddhist monks. This dovetailed nicely with her love of travel. She also likes hiking, lifting heavy things, and was a rugby player in a former life. She also loves trivia.

Areas of Expertise

Soft matter physics, granular material flows, colloidal suspensions, active matter (microorganisms and robot swarms), using microfluidics for rheology


  • B.A., Bryn Mawr College
  • Ph.D., M.S., University of Pennsylvania


Recent Campus News

Mount Holyoke College Associate Professor of Physics Kerstin Nordstrom talks to NPR about rainbows.

The Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees has voted to grant tenure to nine faculty members spanning disciplines from gender studies to physics.

Physics professor Kerstin Nordstrom has been awarded the prestigious CAREER research award from the National Science Foundation.

Recent Publications

Beck J., Burton J.C., Kamela M., Kuchera M.P., Lovell A.J., Nordstrom K., Tenzin T., Ziffer J. (2021). Reflections on Physics Education and Communication with Tibetan Monastics. Frontiers in Communication (6), 221. 10.3389/fcomm.2021.731074

Harada, A. B., & Nordstrom, K. N. (2020). Gravity-Driven Flow and Clogging in the Presence of an Intruder. In I. Zuriguel, A.  Garcimartin, & R.C. Hidalgo (Eds.), Traffic and Granular Flow (pp. 365-371). Springer.

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