Department News, Fall 2017

Message from the Chair
Department Spotlights
Department Announcements
Alumni Updates/Class Notes
Donor Recognition
Support the Department
Stay Connected

Message from the Chair

Bill Briscoe
Bill Briscoe

Welcome to our fall newsletter. We are fast approaching our move back to the newly renovated Corcoran Hall. In our tours of the site, we are amazed with the progress being made and quality of the work being done. We share the progress of this project in this newsletter. Once we move we expect to have an open house so that friends and alumni can see what we have in our renovated facilities. 

One exciting event of the summer was the total eclipse that transited the USA. Many of our faculty were lucky enough to attend conferences and workshops scheduled along the path of totality. Others arranged special day trips to partake in the experience. An article in this newsletter describes the fun. 

The department continues to increase its advancement in research, both in quality and quantity with many peer-reviewed articles. Needless to say we take pride in the ability of faculty members to attract external funds. We also appreciate the efforts of the university and CCAS to provide supplemental funds in the form of startup and bridging funds. Some of these research efforts are describe herein. 

I thank those who have contributed to the efforts of the department. If you are looking for ways to contribute, certainly with the move back to Corcoran, there will be needs to outfit new classrooms and labs above and beyond the basic furniture provided by the university. This is especially true for our new Innovation Lab set aside for our advanced labs and student research projects. Please feel free to contact me or any faculty member for suggestions. 

Best regards,

Bill Briscoe

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Department Spotlights

Department of Physics Celebrates Graduating Class of 2017

Pao-Lin Tien
Graduates from left: Joseph Revier, Joseph Crandall, Matthew Kasturas, Dr. Briscoe, David Plotnick, Antonia Keutzer, Justin Landay, Francis Carmody, Oliver Berroteran

On May 20, the Department of Physics celebrated 10 graduates in the class of 2017: Jacob Aketch, Oliver Berroteran, Francis Carmody, Joseph Crandall, Matthew Kasturas, Antonia Keutzer, Alexandra Kidd, Justin Landay, David Plotnick and Joseph Revier. The accomplishments of these excellent students were highlighted in a department party in which many family members, other students and faculty members participated (more than 50 people in total). Everybody enjoyed some light snacks and drinks, and many very proud parents, grandparents, family and friends, heard Professor Briscoe praise the graduates for their achievements. He also presented departmental awards to several undergraduate and graduate students:

  • Gus W. Weiss Prize for Outstanding Student in Physics: Obinna Ome Irondi and Jeremy Hare
  • Craig Futterman Prize for Best Graduate Student in Biophysics: Zhouhao Zeng
  • Bennhold Family Award for Best Teaching on the Part of a Graduate Student: Giovanni Angelini
  • Francisco Prats Memorial Prize for Outstanding Student in Theoretical Physics: Justin Landay
  • James MacBride Sterrett, Jr. Prize in Physics: Will Raderman
  • Chair's Prize for the Best Poster Presentation by a Graduate Student: Noel Klinger
  • Berman Prize for Excellence in Experimental Physics: Noel Klinger and Joseph Revier
  •  Peverley Prize for the best Poster Presentation by a Undergraduate Student: Kara Zielinski

At the end of the award presentation, all the graduating students received two gifts that will remind them of their time at GW for decades to come: a magnetic sculpture desk toy and a GW Department of Physics mug. After donning the robes, the faculty and students participating in the Columbian College celebration had a photo shoot on the steps of Staughton Hall.

The department is very proud of this year’s graduating class. Congratulations to the graduating students, and we wish them every success in the future!

GW Physics and the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse
By Justin Linford, Postdoctoral Researcher

Professor Cobb instructs the public on the proper use of eclipse-viewing glasses in Kogan Plaza during the eclipse
Professor Cobb instructs the public on the proper use of eclipse-viewing glasses in Kogan Plaza during the eclipse

On August 21, 2017, the United States was granted the rare honor of hosting the moon’s shadow for about an hour and a half. Millions of people braved long, crowded roads to get a chance to see the total eclipse. The GW Physics Department had representatives at several events throughout the country.

Washington, D.C.

While the moon only covered about 81 percent of the sun from the perspective of D.C., at least people didn’t have to deal with the 300 percent increase in traffic congestion seen in some areas of totality. Several members of the GW Physics Department were on campus during the eclipse handing out eclipse-viewing glasses. Professor Bethany Cobb even set up a solar telescope in front of Monroe Hall for an extra up-close view of things. Six members of the GW Society of Physics Students were on the National Mall helping members of the public to view the eclipse safely.

Sun Valley, Idaho

The American Astronomical Society, High-Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) held their meeting in the path of totality in Sun Valley, Idaho (after they were kicked out of Jackson, Wyoming, by higher bidders). Among the meeting participants were GW’s Jeremy Hare, Noel Klinger, Nick Gorgone and Professors Sylvain Guiriec, Oleg Kargaltsev and Chryssa Kouveliotou. Several of the attending astronomers took a chairlift ride to the top of nearby Bald Mountain to get a little closer to the action.

Totality from the top of Bald Mountain, Idaho. Photo credit: Nick Gorgone
Totality from the top of Bald Mountain, Idaho. Photo credit: Nick Gorgone

Columbia, SC

In may be further proof that all nuclear physicists secretly wish they were astrophysicists, the NSTAR 2017 Workshop on the Physics of Excited Nucleons was held at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, right in the path of totality. They even scheduled a special “Total Solar Eclipse Reception” to ensure all the participants got the chance to experience the entire event. Giovanni Angelini, Oleksandr Koshchii, Daniel Sadasivan, Dr. Maxim Mai, Professors Michael Döring and Helmut Haberzettl, and our wise and illustrious department chair (who may or may not be the last person who needs to sign off on my pay raise for next year) Professor Bill Briscoe attended the meeting and put aside their preference for particles to enjoy nearly three minutes of totality. Professor Briscoe summed up the event well by saying, “It’s hard to amaze a physicist, but when totality hit and the corona popped out, I think everyone there was amazed.”

Sumter, S.C.

Not to be outdone by our colleagues travelling to attend meetings, Professor Alexander van der Horst, Associate Dean and Professor Evie Downie and my family and I made the trip to the small town of Sumter, S.C. The town organized a fantastic eclipse event with food venders, bouncy houses (for the kids, much to Professor van der Horst’s dismay) and plenty of free eclipse-viewing glasses. We were treated to about 1 minute and 45 seconds of totality, which went by much too fast for everyone present. Still, the crowd cheered when the sun’s light started to peak out again. However, it was unclear if the applause was for the sun returning, for the moon’s hard work or for how cool astronomy is in general.


Corcoran Hall Renovations Update

Dr. Briscoe and Dr. Haberzettl tour the Corcoran renovations nearing completion.
Dr. Briscoe and Dr. Haberzettl tour the Corcoran renovations nearing completion.

The Corcoran Hall renovation project is progressing well, right on schedule. All rooms have been laid out, drywall paneling has gone up, new energy-efficient windows have been put in, terrazzo flooring has been poured, the new HVAC system is about to be turned on, and the new main floating staircase is about to go in as well. Classrooms have been outfitted to receive new state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and new furniture for labs, classrooms, and graduate-student work spaces will arrive in late November or early December.

At present, faculty, staff, and students are scheduled to move into Corcoran Hall during the first week of January 2018. We expect Corcoran Hall to be fully functional for the spring semester starting on January 16, with all new teaching spaces ready for students and instructors. Physics Department faculty, staff and students look forward to this momentous occasion, so long in the making.

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Department Announcements


Justin Linford: The Classical Nova V1535 Sco

Professor Justin LinfordIn June 2017, I (finally) published a paper on the classical nova V1535 Sco. This object displayed odd behaviors in radio, optical and X-ray wavelengths. Combining all the data revealed that the system is most likely a rare “yellow symbiotic” system where the white dwarf is accompanied by a K-type giant donor star. The radio and X-ray observations also indicated the presence of multiple shock events after the eruption. Also in June, I attended the Broad Impact of Low Frequency Observing conference in Bologna, Italy. I presented a poster detailing the early results of searching for radio transient sources with the VLA Low-band Ionosphere and Transient Experiment (VLITE). With a great deal of effort by Zachary Waldron (an undergraduate student at American University), we were able to improve the limits on the surface density of radio transient sources. We also showed the effects of array configuration and beam shape on transient in generating false positive detections.

Maxim Mai: The Spectrum of Hadrons

Maxim MaiThe vast part of the mass of the visible mater in the universe is generated by the strong interaction, one of four fundamental forces of nature. This force is also responsible for the rich spectrum of hadrons (e.g., protons). Theoretical exploration of this spectrum is the general focus of my research. Specifically, there are several sources of data, such as experimental measurements, numerical calculations on the lattice as well as astrophysical observations. Understanding these data in a common framework is the main goal of my research. My work is mainly analytical, and relies on general principles of quantum mechanics and special relativity, conglomerated in the so-called Quantum Field Theory. Mathematical principles such as unitarity (related to the probability conservation) and analyticity (related to causality) are the main guiding principles. They allow us to construct universal understanding of the different sources of data, explaining the origin of matter and the universe in general.

Paz Beniamini: Gamma Ray Burst

Paz BenjaminiI have recently been working on different aspects of Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) physics. GRBs are (somewhat unsurprisingly) huge explosions of gamma-rays that typically reach us after travelling across the universe for a billion years or more. They are famous for being the brightest explosions in the universe. Together with Dimitrios Giannios from Purdue University, we developed a model for explaining the “prompt” emission of GRBs as a result of gradual dissipation of magnetic energy in the GRB jet. This leads both to acceleration of the jet and to energizing the particles within it that eventually produce the gamma-rays.

A major question in GRBs is the identity of the central source of the bursts’ energy from which the GRB jet launches. Specifically, is it an accreting black hole or a “magnetar”—a rapidly rotating and highly magnetized neutron star? After publishing the paper describing the work above in July, we have collaborated with Brian Metzger from Columbia University, and together we inspected the implications of our and other GRB models to the nature of the central engine. In a paper that was recently accepted for publication, and will be published later this year, we show that the “magnetar” engine coupled with the magnetic dissipation models produce radiation signatures that match well the observed bursts.

At the same time, a puzzle remains as to how to explain the longest and most energetic bursts. These strongly challenge any “magnetar” based model. More studies will be needed to resolve these issues. I have also been working with Alexander van der Horst, here in GWU. Together we examined the phenomena of “radio peaks,” which are thought to arise due to the interaction of the GRB with its surroundings, and can be seen by radio telescopes weeks after the original burst of radiation. We demonstrate how the times and magnitudes of these peaks constrain the amount of energy that is deposited in electrons, as the GRB shocks its external environment. This allowed us to compute that about 15 percent of the bursts’ energy is used to energize these electrons, and furthermore that this fraction is rather constant over time and from one burst to another. The paper summarizing this work has recently been accepted for publication.

Alexander Glossanov: The Proton Radius Puzzle

Alexander GlossanovMy recent research revolves around measuring the size of the proton, by elastic scattering of muons and electrons on protons, at the same time. Until 2010, scientists were reasonably certain of the size of the proton: about 0.88 fermi. In 2010 a group known as the CREMA collaboration measured the size of the proton using a special technique involving the use of muonic hydrogen, and their measurement was very precise, but much smaller than the accepted value, at 0.84 fermi. This became known as the “proton radius puzzle.”

Since then, many suggestions have been made as to what has caused this discrepancy, some of which involve revolutionary new physics. To date, however, none of them have been proven and so we still remain puzzled! The puzzle has caught the attention of the general public and physicists alike, with articles in Science, Nature, New Scientist, Scientific American and even the New Yorker. The GW efforts were recently featured in an article in the Columbian College Spotlight newsmagazine.

GW researchers, Professors Briscoe and Downie, PhD student Ievgen Lavrukhin and I are building an experiment in Switzerland which will run at the Paul Scherrer Institute. MUSE (the MUon proton Scattering Experiment) will study the proton radius problem by making a simultaneous measurement of electron and muon scattering on the proton. This will be the world’s first measurement of muon scattering with sufficient precision to address the proton radius puzzle. We have received over $1 million from the National Science Foundation, to build the data acquisition system—the complex system of modern electronics, computers and software which will read out the 3,500 detector channels needed to form an accurate measurement.

We are working in a collaboration involving almost 60 researchers from 24 different institutions across five countries. In collaboration with the GW experimental group leading the experiment, GW researchers Professor Afanasev and Oleksander Koshchii are working on the theory required to interpret the measurement. Together we hope to provide crucial data in our quest to resolve the proton radius problem.

Dr. Igor Strakovsky:  Strange Hadron Spectroscopy with a Secondary K-long Beam at JLab GlueX

Several GW faculty are involved in this project, including: Bill BriscoeMichael DoeringHelmut HaberzettlIgor Strakovsky and Ron Workman.

The GlueX Collaboration submitted the KLF proposal for JLab PAC45 in spring of 2017. The KLF project has to establish a secondary K-long beam line at JLab Hall D for scattering experiments on both proton and neutron (for the first time!) targets in order to determine the differential cross sections and the self-polarization of strange hyperons with the GlueX detector to enable precise partial wave analysis (PWA) in order to determine all the resonances up to 2400 MeV in the spectra of the Lambda-, Sigma-, Xi-, and Omega- hyperons. In addition, the KLF project intend to do strange meson spectroscopy by studies of the pi-K interaction to locate the pole positions in the I = 1/2 and 3/2 channels. The KLF project has link to ion-ion high energy facilities as CERN and BNL and will allow understand formation of our world in several microseconds after the Big Bang. More than 175 researchers from 54 institutes (25 of them are United States ones) are co authors. PAC45 was deferred the PR12-17-001 proposal while Robert McKeown, deputy JLab director for science, said that our proposal is encouraging and recommended to resubmit it for the coming PAC46 in summer of 2018. And we are going to do that taking into account all PAC45 recommendations. 

If the “missing resonances” exist, they have either eluded detection or have produced only weak signals in the existing data sets. The search for such resonances provides a natural motivation for future measurements at Jefferson Lab. As stated in The 2015 Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science: For many years, there were both theoretical and experimental reasons to believe that the strange sea-quarks might play a significant role in the nucleon's structure; a better understanding of the role of strange quarks became an important priority.


Kara Zielinski: X-Ray Free-Electron Lasers

Kara ZielinskiThis past summer, I had an internship with Dr. Brenda Hogue at Arizona State University (ASU) with BioXFEL, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, which centralizes research on X-Ray Free-Electron Lasers (XFELs) in the United States. XFELs are the most powerful X-ray sources, and have femtosecond (10-15s) pulses. This short, intense pulse makes XFELs ideal for protein crystallography with microcrystals and an avenue for development of single particle imaging with viruses. Through my time at ASU, I got to learn more about the power of XFELs, and work on preparing samples for eventual study with XFELs. I specifically worked in a virology lab, and my project had two objectives: developing a recombinant expression system for coronavirus proteins and creating models of these proteins.

The coronavirus envelope (E) protein forms an ion channel that is essential for viral reproduction, and understanding its structure would be beneficial in developing both treatments and vaccines. I aimed to express the E protein using insect cells to maintain eukaryotic post-translational modification. By the end of the summer, I setup the foundation to achieve this. I also used DeepView by Swiss Protein Databank to visualize the E protein, create models, and understand its monomeric and pentameric structures. I studied the wildtype form and created mutations at biologically relevant locations to understand how they may affect protein structure, especially in terms of how the pentameric ion channel would form.

My work led to new insights that will be further explored by ion channel activity tests with the mutant forms of the protein to determine if they can still function. My time at ASU renewed my interest in structural biology and work with XFELs. Every week I was exposed to new projects via seminars, and got to present my own research at the end of the summer. As a graduating senior, I hope to pursue a PhD at a university within the BioXFEL Center to continue this type of work.

Jack Hirschman: MUSE Collaboration

Jack HirschmanAs a second-year physics student, I would have felt fortunate merely conducting interesting research on campus at GW, yet I was given an even greater opportunity by Professor Downie: work on particle detectors at GW for the first half of the summer followed by work for the MUSE collaboration.

Avoiding the gritty details reserved for other papers, MUSE, the muon scattering experiment, focuses on measuring the proton radius to a much higher accuracy using (you guessed it), muon scattering. This meant I would be able to continue work on particle detectors and travel abroad as MUSE is an international collaboration. The labs needing additional hands were in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) and in Switzerland at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI)—as if there weren’t already convincing reasons to study physics.

Traveling abroad obviously had many highlights; however, some of the most interesting points came from observing and participating in such a large-scale operation: the group meetings over many time zones; the method in which researchers from different countries operate; and the general interactions with and among all of the members. No books or readings could prepare me fully as the skills needed are more acquired by practice rather than learned from text.

I spent my first three weeks in Dr. Guy Ron’s lab at HUJI gaining experience with gas systems, different types of particle detectors, and methods for hunting noise (think Red October but less intense). The lab’s work environment was one of the most impressive I have ever seen with everyone putting in huge chunks of time to work quickly and efficiently. Outside the lab I experienced Israeli culture, dwelled in the food scene, got lost, then didn’t get lost (as badly) and made many professional and personal connections.

The three weeks passed quickly before I moved on to Switzerland where I worked alongside Dr. Tigran Rostomyan (better known as Tiko). Here, I helped Tiko with the multiple projects he was working on which included assembling the Silicon Photomultiplier detector, designing converter systems, and soldering various adapters. Since MUSE requires muon and electron scattering, I had many opportunities to explore Experimental Hall, which houses the accelerator that produces the beamline. I found this exciting (luckily not in the physics sense) because each time I went into Experimental Hall I could feel the importance: the massive concrete structures, the radiation contamination testing platforms and the multitude of projects.

Outside of work, I had the opportunity to be a part of the close-knit community in the guest house. Here, I learned about the many other research projects being conducted at PSI along with joining in group cook-outs and group visits to Baden for a large decennial festival. Among other interesting points, being at PSI made it easy for me to ride a bike to a nuclear power plant; explore Zurich, Baden, Brugg and Bern; and even briefly travel to Barcelona to watch my favorite soccer team.

The experiences from this past summer were priceless. As I am now a junior, I will be able to work for MUSE for nearly two years, and I look forward to all that I can learn from this continued research.

Summer Research by Sarah Chastain

Sarah Chastain conducted research project at GW in summer 2017 working with Professor Karagaltsev. Sarah used data obtained by NASA observatories to study pulsar winds. These are nature's most powerful steady leptonic accelerators which inject into our galaxy copious amounts of electrons and positrons with energies up to a few PeV. The particle  acceleration mechanism operating in pulsar winds is still poorly understood by it may be linked to the geometry of pulsar magnetosphere.

Sara explored this hypothesis by searching for possible links between the morphologies of pulsar wind nebulae (PWNe) in the Chandra X-ray Observatory images and the properties of gamma-ray light curves (obtained with Fermi Gamma-ray Observatory) of the pulsars powering these PWNe. She plans to present her research in a poster at the 231st meeting of American Astronomical Society which will take place in D.C. in January 2018.


First year graduate students. Front row (left to right): Hao Wang, Ziying Jia, Yuexin Pan. Middle row: Isabella Illari, Sarah Chastain, Alyson Barker, Lucia Illari. Rear row: Xin Wang, Brennan O’Connor, Michael Moss, Grant Mitchell, Manoj Jamarkattl, Gexing Jiang.
First year graduate students. Front row (left to right): Hao Wang, Ziying Jia, Yuexin Pan. Middle row: Isabella Illari, Sarah Chastain, Alyson Barker, Lucia Illari. Rear row: Xin Wang, Brennan O’Connor, Michael Moss, Grant Mitchell, Manoj Jamarkattl, Gexing Jiang.

The year 2017 was record-breaking in terms of the number and quality of admitted graduate students. In fall 2017, we welcomed 17 new students into our program (12 for PhD degree and five for MS degree).

Most of the accepted U.S. students had visited the department before admitting our offer. We believe this was an important factor in the successful recruitment and would like to thank faculty, postdocs and senior graduate students (particularly Noel Klingler and Jeremy Hare) for finding time to meet and talk with the prospective students and to participate in social activities.

This year we also, for the first time, attracted significant number of prospective students with interests in astrophysics and astronomy. Out first-year PhD students expressed their interest in these area. We attribute this to the rapid growth of the astrophysics part of the program in terms of the new faculty and postdocs who bring the visibility and strong research profile to the department.

The PhD students that joined our department in 2017 are a strong and diverse cohort. The average undergraduate GPA for 12 PhD students is 3.5. Half of them are female students! The new U.S. graduate students came from seven states (the winner is New York) while the seven international students came from China, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia. Let’s, welcome them again and make sure they stay and enjoy being part of our Department!


Update on CUWiP

We announced in our last newsletter that the GW Physics Department has been selected as a site for the 2018 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), which will take place at GW from January 12-14. Since the last newsletter, we have planned much of the program and can now announce that Dr. Christine Jones Forman, the current president of the American Astronomical Society, will be our keynote speaker at the Friday evening conference banquet.

We are in the process of confirming our other speakers and are filling out our discussion panels. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in serving on a panel or otherwise participating in CUWiP, please get in touch with the organizing committee!

We will have around 100 undergraduate women from D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware on campus for this three-day event. Several of our students have participated in prior CUWiP events, at Old Dominion University in 2016 and at Virginia Tech in January 2017. They have found the events to be really encouraging, educational and refreshing, and so our students are very excited to be co-hosting the event!

The 100 early-career physicists will get to experience lectures, workshops and panel discussions from leading women in the field. There will be social events and an outreach demonstration fair organized by the Society of Physics Students. We plan to leverage the uniqueness of GW’s D.C. location and special university activities such as GW Teach to provide career advice and professional development in areas of policy, secondary teaching, industry, national labs and nonprofit work, in addition to the traditional academic career path. On Saturday, at lunch time, we will have a career fair, with employers, graduate schools and other organizations.

The CUWiP conferences are sponsored by the American Physical Society, and aim to support the participation and retention of women in STEM fields. APS also requires the host site to also support a substantial proportion of the cost. If you would be interesting in participating in this exciting event, through event sponsorship, by serving on a panel, participating in the graduate fair, or in any other way, please contact Professor Evie Downie ([email protected]).

Capitol Chats III

Capitol Chats

The Capitol Chats, an initiative established in 2015 by Chryssa Kouveliotou, is a series of annual small meetings, with about 20 people getting together for up to three days to discuss specific and focused questions on an astrophysical subject matter, and brainstorm on the possible answers.

The meeting format is geared more towards open discussion rather than the usual presentations and questions format. The first two meetings, in June 2015 and July 2016, focused on the nature of the gamma-ray burst prompt emission and the nature of magnetars, respectively. The third Capitol Chats were held from 16 to 18 August 2017, in the Science & Engineering Hall of GW, and organized by Alexander van der Horst, Justin Linford and Chryssa Kouveliotou.

The focus of Capitol Chats III was “Where are all the radio transients? And what are they?” While the radio sky does not seem to be as transient or variable as other wavelength regimes, a large fraction of observational phase space is still uncovered, and the transients that have been found leave astronomers with many open questions.

The meeting brought together radio observers and theorists to brainstorm about questions such as Where are the radio transients?; Which techniques and tools are used to find them?; How are radio transient searches embedded in multi-wavelength efforts?; and What is the future for radio transients?

The meeting was a great success, with many very constructive discussions, and plans for possible future collaborations between astronomers from around the world who participated in the Capitol Chats.

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Alumni Updates/Class Notes

Hans Bode, BS ’60, went on to earn a PhD in biophysics from Yale University. He then spent four years at the Max Planck Institut in Tubingen, Germany, as a post-doc doing research in developmental biology. This led to gaining a faculty position in developmental biology at the University of California at Irvine in 1970. He has been there ever since and retired several years ago.

Joseph Crandall, BS ’17, worked at ITER over the summer of 2017 and is currently pursuing a master's degree in electrical engineering at GW.

Brendan Freehart, BS ‘10, is a data engineer for a small traffic data company in Virginia. Outside of work, Brendan is a volunteer with the DCRCC.

Derek Jones, BA ‘11, BS ‘11, has been an active lighting designer across the country in theatre, dance, opera, events, museums, architecture and more. He is the lighting design professor at Los Angeles City College and Long Beach City College.

Martin McHugh, PhD ’17, began a new career as a data scientist at Anacomp, Inc. in April. He also welcomed his first child—a son—in September!

Francisco Pardo, BA ’09, is now assistant director of legal resources at the National Association of College and University Attorneys in Washington, D.C.

Carl Pearson, PhD ’12, will be working to develop science, technology and innovation collaborations between U.S. agencies and industry and African partners this fall.

William S. Riggsby, BA ’58, says, “It’s pushing 60 years since I finished my undergraduate experience but I have always tried to keep some kind of contact with GW. For many years, every time I was in Washington for some reason I visited the campus. For a while I got to see my old (and getting older!) former teachers; later what I saw was mostly new buildings and other physical changes. One thing that never seemed to change was Corcoran Hall, but I understand that it too is a different place now, or about to be.

“After graduate school and a post doc, I have spent my whole academic career at the University of Tennessee as professor of microbiology and then as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The path from physics to microbiology is too complex to go into here, but it started in my last year at GW when I read Schrödinger’s  What is Life. Although I have been away from real physics for a long time (I haven’t the foggiest idea what a quark is or what string theory is about), I still have a great appreciation of what physics at GW did for me. I like to believe that I think like a physicist. That’s why I endowed an undergraduate scholarship in physics some years ago and continue to contribute to it.

“My most recent ‘Close Encounter with GW’ was nearly a decade ago when I came for the 50 year reunion. I had the opportunity to meet with the then-dean of CCAS and with the previous chair of physics. But I will have another ‘Close Encounter’ when I will represent GW at the investiture ceremony for the new chancellor of our university. I feel really privileged to have had such a long and rewarding relationship with both of these institutions.

“P.S. We have a pretty good physics department here in Knoxville!”

Mikeala Sparks, BA ’17, is serving the Cherokee Nation with AmeriCorps in Oklahoma. Her main focus is four community gardens and nutrition programs regarding native food and plant species. She has now begun teaching science for 5th-8th graders.

Stan Torgovitsky, BA ’88, worked for NASA for nine years after graduating, received his law degree from GW Law School in 1996, has been working as patent attorney and is a partner at Dickinson Wright PLLC in the D.C. office.

Jian Yiren, MS ’17, is a data scientist at QM Simulations Inc, developing deep learning models for Drug-Target Interaction.

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Donor Recognition


The Physics Department would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the department from July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017.

Derek A. Brehm, BS ’14

Dr. Pie Frey *

Mark V. Hughes, III, BA ’69, MS ’77

Peter F. Koehler, PhD, MS ’63

Kasey B. Lewis, BS ’09

Carla H. Messina, MS ’62

Dr. W. Stuart Riggsby, AA ’57, BA ’58

Rise G. Schnizlein, BS ’71

Ilana L. Spar, BA ’08, BS ’08

Michael W. Thacher, BA ’70

Nicholas T. Weikert #

Stephanie A. Weikert #


+ Faculty/Staff
# Parent
~ Student
* Friend

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Support the Department

Gifts to the Department of Physics allow us to provide support for faculty and student research and travel, graduate student fellowships, and academic enrichment activities including guest speakers, visiting faculty, and symposia. Each gift, no matter how large or small, makes a positive impact on our educational mission and furthers our standing as one of the nation's preeminent liberal arts colleges at one of the world's preeminent universities.

You can make your gift to the department in a number of ways:

  • By mailing your check, made out to The George Washington University and with the name of the department in the memo line, to:

The George Washington University

2033 K Street NW, Suite 300

Washington, DC 20052

  • By phone by calling the GW Division of Development and Alumni Relations at 1-800-789-2611.

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Stay Connected

GWU Industry-based Alumni Networks

Connect with alumni in your industry through both virtual and in-person networking programs.

Volunteer with GW

Get involved with several opportunities from mentoring students to engaging with fellow alumni. 

Connect with GW Economics on LinkedIn!

Connect with the larger GW and CCAS community through LinkedIn!

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