2023 Physics Newsletter

Department of Physics, CCAS seal

Message from the Chair
Department Spotlights

Department Kudos
Alumni Class Notes

Message from the Chair

Greetings to all our GW Physics Department alumni and friends!

As the new department chair, I would like to thank Professor Chryssa Kouveliotou for her dedication as chair during the past three years. I would also like to express how humbled yet excited I am to serve as department chair for the coming years. 

This newsletter features a few of the wonderful activities and amazing achievements by our students and faculty. In the past academic year, research by physics faculty and students led to more than 100 publications in peer-reviewed international journals, media appearances in large news outlets and prestigious awards. The department graduated highly achieving students at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Furthermore, the GW Society of Physics Students had the honor of being the local host of the centennial Physics Congress, the largest conference for undergraduate physics students in the world.

I would like to conclude with an invitation: Our faculty and current students would love to hear about your career journey after graduating from GW, so if you are in or traveling to the D.C. area, please reach out and visit us!

Best regards,

Alexander van der Horst
Department Chair 

 Back to top

Department Spotlights

This gif shows the shapes of GRB 221009A as captured by a NASA X-ray telescope. (NASA/Swift/A. Beardmore)

When a Gamma-Ray Burst is the ‘Brightest Of All Time’

GW physics graduate student Brendan O’Connor, who successfully defended his PhD thesis in May 2023, led a study that explained how a massive cosmic explosion was so powerful that scientists dubbed it the BOAT—“brightest of all time.” The research—“A structured jet explains the extreme GRB 221009A”—was published in the journal Science Advances and featured in GW Today.

“GRB 221009A represents a massive step forward in our understanding of gamma ray bursts and demonstrates that the most extreme explosions do not obey the standard physics assumed for garden variety gamma ray bursts,” O’Connor said. 

The research team also included recent physics PhD graduate Michael Moss, and Professors Chryssa Kouveliotou, Alexander van der Horst and Sylvain Guiriec


Researchers Develop Online Hate Speech ‘Shockwave’

A George Washington University research team led by Professor Neil Johnson created a novel formula that demonstrates how, why and when hate speech spreads throughout social media. Their work was covered by GW Today.

The researchers put forth a first-principles dynamical theory that explores a new realm of physics in order to represent the shockwave effect created by bigoted content across online communities. This effect is evident in lightly moderated websites, such as 4Chan, and highly regulated social platforms like Facebook. Furthermore, hate speech ripples through online communities in a pattern that non-hateful content typically does not follow. Their work was published in Physical Review Letters. The team included physics PhD students Frank Yingjie Huo, Sara El Oud and Lucia Illari.

 Back to top

Department Kudos

  • Andrei Alexandru became a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his research in lattice quantum chromodynamics, and he was first author of an invited article in Review of Modern Physics.
  • Evangeline Downie received a $1,032,688 grant from the National Science Foundation to study nucleons, in particular the proton with the MUSE experiment at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland.
  • Jerry Feldman received a Fulbright Fellowship for improving physics education.
  • Harald Griesshammer was the author of an invited article in the journal Few-Body Systems, titled “What Can Possibly Go Wrong?”
  • Oleg Kargaltsev received a $60,865 grant from the Space Telescope Science Institute to study a large sample of neutron stars with the Hubble Space Telescope, and a $47,904 grant from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to study a large sample of pulsar wind nebulae with the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
  • Axel Schmidt was co-author of an invited article in Annual Review of Nuclear and Particle Science, the journal with the highest impact factor in nuclear physics.
  • Brendan O’Connor, MS ’20, MPhil ’20, PhD ’23, received a $65,209 grant from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to search for jet-breaks in gamma-ray bursts with the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
  • Three PhD students in the Department of Physics won external fellowships. Sara Ratliff received a 2022-23 fellowship from the Center for Nuclear Femtography to study the motion of quarks inside protons and neutrons inside atomic nuclei. Erin Seroka was awarded a 2022-23 Jefferson Lab Graduate Fellowship for her work on short-range correlations between protons and neutrons in nuclei. Phoebe Sharp won a 2022-23 US Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Research Fellowship to investigate short-range correlations using a novel technique of photon-induced meson production reactions.

  Back to top

Alumni Class Notes

  • Dylan Basescu, BA ’21, is in his last year of law school at the George Washington University right across the quad from the Physics Department.
  • Derek Jones, BS ’11, designs and manages projects across the country with Panda roja Design including stage plays and musicals, dance, experimental events and trade shows while also consulting for hospitality venues, performance spaces and private homes
  • Tiffany Lewis, PhD ’10, joined the faculty of the Department of Physics at Michigan Technological university as an assistant professor. Her research group studies active galaxies and works with a variety of high-energy astrophysics collaborations.

Back to top