Department News, Spring 2015

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


Message from the Chair


Bill Briscoe





Greeting to all GW Physics types, both past and present. Since our fall newsletter there have been many events on which we will report.

Our Society of Physics Students has grown and become more and more active under the exemplary leadership of Adjunct Professor Gary White, who is also editor of the Physics Teacher. Within the department, outreach to the community, and regionally by hosting the latest SPS Zone Meeting at GW, our SPS students are showing great strides.

As I mentioned in our last newsletter, we are making additions to our astrophysics program by the addition of two new faculty: National Academy of Science Member Professor Chryssa Kouveliotou and Assistant Professor Alexander van der Horst, late of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the University of Amsterdam, respectively. We report on this growth in this newsletter.

Our department has also reached out internationally on several fronts. Professor Jerry Feldman recently returned from a stint in Italy where he developed a new undergraduate Experimental Methods in Nuclear Physics course; Assistant Professor Evie Downie reports on her International Research Experiences for Student program in Germany; and Associate Professor Harald Griesshammer has contributed a piece on his television appearance in China.

There is some sad news. Professor Emeritus Norayr Krikor Khatcheressian has passed away since the last newsletter. We offer our tribute to this soft-spoken and humble man in this issue.

We also celebrate the 33 years of dedicated service of Kenneth Kendell on his retirement at the end of this semester. Many thanks for your service, Ken.

As always, we have heard from some of you who have written to our Class Notes; I encourage more of you to do so. Please keep in contact. I certainly look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

William Briscoe
Chair, Physics Department



Department Spotlights

Celebrating Over 30 Years of Dedicated Service

Bill Briscoe gives Kenneth Kendall a desk clock
A tribute to Kenneth Kendall on his retirement from the George Washington University


By William C. Parke, Professor Emeritus and Past Chair, Department of Physics

Mr. Kenneth Kendall has helped both workers and students in our Physics Department for over 33 years, in his capacity as our laboratory specialist. But his contribution and influence is deeper. He has been a friend, an aide and an expert consultant in matters of laboratory and demonstration exercises in physics, all while being a gentleman with congeniality and empathy.

He was always willing to assist, both in repairs of our equipment, and in the development of new devices. This aid was extraordinary, as Ken had the mind, coupled with dexterity and long experience, to develop remarkable knowledge and skills in a variety of practical endeavors, including electronics and computers.

Ken had his office and small workshop in Corcoran 201. He could have taken advantage of a much larger space. Before Ken arrived, our laboratory specialist was Claude Jones (back in the 1960s), who had the whole of Corcoran 202 as his workshop with a large jigsaw and other heavy equipment. This is now where Dr. Frank Lee and Dr. Andrei Alexandru try to solve the jigsaw of quantum chromodynamics. Moreover, the Physics Department had the whole of Building V (now open space behind Lisner Auditorium). On the first floor of Building V was a machine shop, manned by the late Edward Charles Matthews. Exemplifying Ken's enduring friendships, he and Ed maintained contact long after Ed's retirement.

At one point, we even asked Ken if he could temporarily put up another person in his small space, a lab assistant, Juliet Crowell. This hardship Ken endured with evident chagrin but good cheer.

On top of his other qualities, Ken had an infectious sense of humor. While working on projects together, we would often trade amusing stories. Ken particularly liked to recall events that had a lesson; such as the time Professor Feldman was shocked to discover that his gold wedding band had become a dull silver color. A student earlier that day had broken a mercury thermometer during a physics lab class and had handed it to Professor Feldman. Somehow a bead of mercury had reached the ring. Mercury metal very easily amalgamates with gold, silver and copper. Ken and I nervously laughed at the incautious time when we had barometers with open mercury cups mounted on the walls of each lab on the second floor of Corcoran. Now, if there is a small amount of mercury spilled, protocol dictates evacuating the building with a subsequent call for the hazmat crew in white coveralls to crawl on the floor and secure every elusive mercury ball on the run as absorption of mercury compounds can cause brain injury.

We have used Ken's adventurous inclinations to good ends. Such as when we were installing Ethernet cabling on the second floor of Corcoran, Ken might be found above the false ceiling. Or when Corcoran 203 needed repairs for its Internet connections through the floor, Ken volunteered to go up a 25-foot ladder straddling the tiers in Corcoran 101 and chuckled as the ladder wobbled.

Ken has been generous with his time, and particularly compassionate, directing our surplus equipment and books to needy educational institutions. I never heard Ken express a harsh or negative comment about anyone. In all, we have been quite fortunate by Ken's presence and his contributions.

As Seen on TV: Dr. Gerald Feldman and Dr. Harald Griesshammer


Screenshots of Dr. Gerald Feldman and Dr. Harald Greisshammer on Voice of America China.
Dr. Gerald Feldman (left) and Dr. Harald Griesshammer (right)

Have you ever wondered what your name and affiliation might look like written in Mandarin? Professors Gerald Feldman (Nuclear Experiment) and Harald W. Griesshammer (Nuclear Theory) know. They recently appeared on Voice of America China, a U.S. funded Mandarin-language TV station.

Each week, the station features a "This-Week-In-History" segment. When it came to covering Einstein's 1939 letter to President Roosevelt, GW Physics received a media request from the show's producers. The letter famously warned that Germany might develop a nuclear bomb and triggered the United States' own nuclear program, the "Manhattan Project". The day after the request from Voice of America, Dr. Feldman and Dr. Griesshammer sat down in Monroe Hall with a camera team to produce about 20 minutes of material for the six-minute segment. Both talked about the chain reaction, the Meithner/Hahn discovery of neutron-induced nuclear fission and the history leading up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dr. Feldman suggested the YouTube video, which uses mousetraps and tennis balls to illustrate the chain reaction and Dr. Griesshammer brought along play dough to illustrate how the nucleus is split and the neutrons escape. Two weeks later, the segment was on the air.

The next month, Dr. Griesshammer was interviewed for another segment, "Breaking the Sound Barrier," on the first super-sonic flight by Chuck Yeager in 1947. He described how a "wake" of air builds up in front of the aircraft and makes it necessary to modify the design. He even managed to squeeze in a reference to a weird idea in archeological circles that some dinosaurs may have been able to produce sonic booms by whip-lashing their tails. That made a nice opportunity for a clip from Jurassic Park.

A Tribute to the Late Dr. Norayr Krikor Khatcheressian

Dr. Norayr Krikor Khatcheressian
Dr. Norayr Krikor Khatcheressian


Dr. Norayr Krikor Khatcheressian, 75, passed away November 25, 2014 at George Washington University Hospital. He was a professor in the Department of Physics and associate dean in the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences at the George Washington University.

Dr. Khatcheressian was born in Beirut, Lebanon, on January 1, 1939. He was a beloved husband of 46 years to Sossy Khatcheressian, loving father of James and Nora Khatcheressian and proud grandfather of Jake, Lina and Tomas Khatcheressian, and eldest brother of Elise Templeton, Jirair Khatcheressian and Hratch Khatcheressian. He was predeceased by his parents Krikor (a survivor of the Armenian genocide) and Mary Khatcheressian. Dr. Khatcheressian loved travelling with his devoted wife and spending time with his grandchildren, who were his pride and joy.

As a personal note, for those of you who are too new to GW to have known him, Nono, as we called him, was one of the first faculty members to welcome my family to GW. He had a wonderful, friendly and quiet personality and was kind to all around him. Back in the old days when the department took coffee breaks and lunch together at the cafeteria, Nono would always join us. He was noted for preparing his coffee with as much sugar as he could dissolve in the cup, while he quietly listened to the conversation. When he spoke in his quiet, almost a whisper, manner, everyone would stop and listen, for he usually had some insight that the rest of us missed. He never spoke ill of anyone and would put a positive slant on all things, even when the rest of us could not see the positive. He served for a time in the dean's office during his latter years at GW.

We shall miss him.



Department Announcements

Current Students

International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) in Mainz, Germany

The GW NSF-funded IRES (International Research Experiences for Students) program is going from strength to strength! We received many excellent applications and are very grateful for the participation of professors from Montgomery College and Northern Virginia Community College in the selection process. Six students have been chosen for this summer’s program: Srividya Murthy and Zachary West from GW; Yash Shevde from the University of Virginia; Hannah Glaser from Northern Virginia Community College; and, Daniel Albuquerque and Irina Koltsova from Montgomery College. The students will be flying out from Dulles on June 8th to begin their summer research experience at MAMI: the Mainzer Microtron Accelerator, in Mainz, Germany. Before they go, we will have a three-day training program here on campus, to prepare them for German culture, doing research at an international laboratory and to help them gain familiarity with the computer and detector systems they will be using. We’re very excited to see the students learn and grow as they research various topics ranging from construction of a neutron detector to calculating the energy deposits in an active polarized target using Geant 4, a specialized Monte Carlo simulation package created by CERN! You can follow the preparations for summer on the GW IRES Facebook page.

SPS Zone Meeting at GW a Great Success

Participants in the SPS Zone Meeting. Photo courtesy of the NOVA Community College SPS group.
Participants in the SPS Zone Meeting. Photo courtesy of the NOVA Community College SPS group.


On April 17 and 18, the GW Society of Physics Students (SPS) hosted the SPS Zone meeting where students from all over the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia came together for a true physics celebration. Almost 30 students from 11 different campuses gathered to learn about various aspects of physics, prepare for life after undergraduate studies and to present themselves, their research and some very exciting physics demonstrations to other students and faculty.

The kick-off was on Friday evening with a lecture by Daniel Golombek, currently the manager for membership & leadership at the SPS National Office, but for a large part of his career involved in the Hubble Space Telescope mission at the Space Telescope & Science Institute. He captivated the audience with some of the most beautiful astrophysical pictures ever made, showcasing many great results from Hubble’s 25 years in space.

On Saturday morning, the astrophysics theme was continued in an inspiring lecture by Professor Chryssa Kouveliotou, former senior scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and now the newest professor in the GW Physics Department. She discussed what it takes to be an astrophysicist, explained the field’s rewards and challenges and presented a long-term vision for the future of astrophysics. She also showed how theoretical computations, simulations and observations across the electromagnetic spectrum need to come together to understand some of the most enigmatic phenomena in the universe: gamma-ray bursts.

After enjoying the talks, it was time for the students to present their research in the poster session. The topics covered in the posters varied across almost all physics disciplines, so both students and faculty present had an opportunity to learn a lot about research outside of their own fields: electromagnetic levitation; research that might lead to skin patches to monitor health; even an explanation as to how geckos scale walls! At the poster prize ceremony in the evening, the jury, consisting of faculty members from different universities, remarked that the overall level of the posters was very high. But they were even more impressed by the standard of the presentations made by the students, the depth of their knowledge and how well they explained their research.

Faculty and students look at physics exhibits
Faculty and students look at physics exhibits. Photos courtesy of the NOVA Community College SPS group.


Saturday afternoon began with a graduate student panel, in which the SPS students and graduate students in different physics fields held vivid discussions about their experiences applying for graduate school, taking graduate level classes and doing research. This was followed by a physics-related treasure hunt on the GW campus, and several demonstrations of fun physics experiments by many of the students. The outreach demonstrations included a vacuum gun with ping pong balls, which crushed soda cans to dramatic effect; simulating supernova explosions with bouncing disks; predicting the rolling speed of differently shaped objects; playing with non-Newtonian fluids, leaving some of the faculty covered in cornstarch; and making and eating liquid nitrogen ice cream.

The final event of the day was a workshop by Sean Bentley, the director of the SPS National Office. He presented the American Institute of Physics Career Toolbox, discussed the various options there are after finishing undergraduate studies in physics and engaged the students in some exercises to demonstrate how to build their resume and prepare for job interviews.

The SPS Zone Meeting at GW was a great success! The hard work of the GW students in the preparations and throughout the meeting under the invaluable guidance of Professor Gary White, and the enthusiasm of all the students present at the meeting led to a very successful meeting which helped prepare the next generation of physicists and was thoroughly enjoyed by all!

SPS Works With Life Pieces to Masterpieces

by Kara Zielinski, Sri Murthy and Gary White

Undergraduate physics students conduct mini-workshops with Life Pieces to Masterpieces participants.

“Today, we’re going to make some Oobleck...” It’s not the kind of sentence that you normally hear in physics class, but then again this isn’t exactly your everyday physics class. This is “The ‘Phun’-damentals of Physics”—hands-on mini-workshops in science conducted by the undergraduate members of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) in the George Washington University Physics Department. The lessons are delivered on Friday afternoons to participants in “Life Pieces to Masterpieces of Washington, D.C.,” a youth development nonprofit organization that serves African American boys.

Project leaders Sri Murthy and Kara Zielinski developed the proposal for the SPS Marsh White Outreach Award in the fall of 2014, and were awarded the prize in January 2015, one of nine chapters across the country to be so honored. The proposal is framed around six consecutive science lessons expanding on the subject: "Where do we all live? On a rock called Earth going around a giant ball of fire called the Sun." It includes activities and demonstrations about orbital motion, light, astronomy, rockets, states of matter (including "Oobleck", a notoriously fun non-Newtonian fluid that is a sort of cross between a traditional liquid and a traditional solid) and velocity amplification. The grant includes $300 from the national SPS organization to be used for supplies and giveaways for the schoolboys. Such giveaways have included diffraction glasses, LED keychains, bungee rockets, bouncy-balls and candy.

Undergraduate physics students and Physics Department faculty smile with Life Pieces to Masterpieces participants.

Working with children is always full of surprises. SPS members have had to adjust the lessons on the fly to adapt to the environment and time constraints. These bumps in the road have only shown SPS areas where improvements need to be made in the future. After each session, members troubleshoot and reflect in an effort to plan better lessons for the next week and even hopefully for next year.

And it’s not just the school kids doing the learning. In preparing for the lessons, the presenters are learning as much or more about supernova explosions or spectral features as the young men do during the activities, often discovering new ways to think about the science for themselves along the way. In addition to developers Murthy and Zielinski, a substantial fraction of the undergraduates in the department have been involved, ranging from seniors to first-year students, including Jacob Maibach, Brian Alden, Oliver Berroteran, Max Levinson, Joseph Crandall, Obinna Irondi, Sara Wagner and Zoe Pierce. Even some of the faculty members get in on the fun including Alexander van der Horst, Xiangyun Qiu and SPS Advisor Gary White.

SPS members have really enjoyed the time spent with the young men at Life Pieces. It is a fun way to end the week and give back to the community, while spreading the love of science. The group is looking forward to the next cycle of science activities—whether they involve Oobleck, rocket science, rainbows, lasers or something new altogether—and hopes to expand its outreach efforts in the future.

Faculty News

Our Growing Astronomy Group

Faculty members in the Astronomy group.

The Astronomy Group at GWU has grown substantially in the past year and now has members from 10 different countries! Two new faculty members, Professor Chryssa Kouveliotou and Professor Alexander van der Horst, have joined the group, together with a new postdoctoral fellow (George Younes) and a graduate student (Nicholas Gorgone). These new members greatly enhance the expertise and visibility of the group in the area of high-energy astrophysics. Since joining, Professor van der Horst was already elected as the project scientist for the OCTOCAM instrument, which is undergoing a feasibility study for the Gemini observatory. In March 2015, Professor Kouveliotou and Professor Oleg Kargaltsev were selected to serve as U.S. representatives on the science team of Athena, the next generation X-ray observatory, a mission led by the European Space Agency (ESA).

It will be a busy summer for the Astronomy Group students. In summer 2015, five members (two faculty, one postdoc and two graduate students) of the Astrophysics Group at the Department of Physics will be attending the XXIX General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Hawaii to present their research. This year, the IAU Assembly is taking place jointly with the summer AAS meeting, and all students and postdocs received travel support grants from AAS. The event is expected to be the largest professional astronomy conference since the Big Bang with more than 3,500 astronomers from at least 75 countries. In addition, two graduate students will participate in the Summer School in Statistics for Astronomers XI at the Pennsylvania State University as well as in the Astro Hack Week 2015 at New York University.

The Astronomy Group is also helping to organize the 3rd DC/MD/VA Astronomy Meeting in Summer 2015, oriented toward graduate and undergraduate students conducting research in astronomy, astrophysics, and space science. This year, the meeting will be held at the Catholic University of America in D.C. Last year, the meeting took place at GW and attracted about 70 participants from 10 universities.

Last but not least, the Astronomy Group is dedicated to expanding and modernizing its educational program. New courses (to be offered in 2016) are being developed, and the existing ones are being revised and enriched with new activities. As an example, ASTRO 1002-11 students observe other galaxies using robotic telescopes (by iTelescope and Harvard Micro Observatory) as a part of their Astronomy observing project in Professor Kargaltsev's class. Here are some of the images obtained by students:


Student image of galaxy




Student image of galaxy




Student image of galaxy



Professor Feldman Spends a Semester in Italy on Fulbright Fellowship

Professor Gerald Feldman
Professor Gerald Feldman

Professor Jerry Feldman spent the spring 2014 semester at the University of Trento on a Fulbright Fellowship. He was teaching a course entitled Experimental Techniques in Nuclear Physics to a class of third-year undergraduate Italian physics students. The course was an upper-level elective and was taught in English since Professor Feldman does not speak Italian! The intent was to offer a survey course to give an overview of the important elements of nuclear experiments, including such topics as particle interactions with matter, different detectors (gas, scintillator, semiconductor), accelerators and beams, electronics and data analysis. The class met twice a week for two hours. At the end of the semester, Professor Feldman took the students on a field trip to the nearby national laboratory INFN Legnaro to see the various accelerators and detectors there and to meet researchers in the discipline.

Professor Feldman presented the results of his Italian classroom experience in July at the GIREP 2014 physics education conference in Palermo, Sicily. Part of his work with the Italian class involved collecting some data relevant to Physics Education Research (PER), including student performance metrics and attitude surveys, which were reported at the GIREP meeting. Since GW is a strong advocate of active learning and collaborative classroom interaction (i.e., SCALE-UP), Professor Feldman introduced several of these pedagogical techniques to his class. He also brought along some Turning Point clickers to Italy and used them in the classroom to pose multiple-choice conceptual questions to the students, enabling them to discuss the material with each other in real time. Needless to say, this is quite different from the more conventional formal lecture style of the typical Italian classes, but the new methods were embraced by the Italian students and their end-of-semester evaluations reflected a sincere appreciation for the more engaged approach of this class.

Professor Feldman also made the most of his time in Europe by giving a variety of seminars at different institutions. These included visits to St. Andrews (Scotland), Zurich, Oslo and Hamburg, where he talked about the development of SCALE-UP at GW and the collaborative group-learning environment. He also gave a couple of nuclear physics talks about Compton scattering at Mainz and Darmstadt. Finally, he gave each of these talks (PER and nuclear physics) to the Department of Physics at Trento.

Overall, it was a very productive semester and GW got some good exposure, and also the Italian students in the class got a “taste” of how much fun interactive engagement can be!


Alumni Updates/Class Notes

John Capone, BS ’10, is currently enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, since 2010. John received his MS in astronomy in 2012 and expects to complete his PhD in 2016. As part of his dissertation, he is developing a new astronomical instrumentation at NASA Goddard.

Brendan Freehart, BS ’10, lives in Columbia Heights and works as a data analyst for a software company near Farragut Square in Washington, D.C. He has traveled around the U.S. and to 10 different countries since graduation for backpacking trips, music festivals and to visit friends.

Craig Futterman, BS ’78, is a pediatric cardiac intensive care specialist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He continues to have a relationship with the Department of Physics by supporting the best graduate student in biophysics.

James Kelly, BS ’13, is finishing his second year of physics graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. In his spare time, and starting more seriously this summer, he'll be working in experimental nuclear physics, helping to commission a multi reflection time of flight spectrometer that will be attached to a cyclotron. He'll study unstable nuclei that play some role in the r-process inside stars. He also lifts weights, bikes, and goes to concerts and music festivals.

Kasey Lewis, BS ’09, currently serves as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He is stationed at Trident Training Facility on Naval Submarine Base Bangor in Silverdale, Wash.

Edwin Munévar, PhD ’14, is living in his home country, Colombia, where he got a faculty position in the Department of Physics of Universidad Distrital (Bogotá, Colombia). He continues to work on nuclear physics, leading a small group of undergraduate students.

Joseph Musielski, BS ’03, is planning to attend graduate school.

Bruce Ollodart, BS ’81, double majored in physics and mathematics at GW. Since graduation, he studied and became a property and casualty actuary. In 1997, he started a private consulting business in the property and casualty actuarial field. He has been married for 24 years with two kids—one in college, one soon on the way.

Sasha Philips, PhD ’01, works for Canberra Industries in Connecticut as the director of NDA & criticality systems in the area of nuclear waste and safeguards measurements. Sasha and his wife just had twins (Samuel & Avielle). Two-year-old brother Noah is excited.

David Rosenberg, BS ’09, a mechanical engineering major with a physics minor, recently graduated from the University of Michigan, in 2014, with a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering. In May 2014, he married Jessica Young, and is now a National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Naval Research Laboratory in DC.

Agung Waluyo, PhD ’06, is busy developing a business incubator & accelerator, Entrepreneurship Lab Indonesia (ELI), for science and technology based entrepreneurship in Indonesia. He welcomes students, faculty and alumni in Indonesia to join him.


Donor Recognition

The Department of Physics would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the program from January 1, 2014 to April 30, 2015. Your gifts were used to give student awards to those who have shown exemplary work.

We couldn’t have done any of this without you. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

*Student | + Faculty/Staff | ^Parent



Dayton Foundation Depository, Inc.
Devin V. Bageac, BS ’14, BA ’14
Frederick L. Battista, BA ’10
Jonathan Berman *
Ruth D. Berman *
Berhan Taddesse Demissie, MPhil ’13
Jiajie Diao, MA ’05
Dr. Ali Eskandarian, BS ’79, PhD ’87
Deborah Eskandarian *
Dr. Mary Anne Frey, BA ’70, PhD ’75
Craig A. Futterman, MD, BS ’78



Dr. Laura F. Horn, EDD ’06
Mark V. Hughes, III, BA ’69, MS ’77
Susan D. Hughes
John W. Kauffman, BS ’47
Peter F. Koehler, MS ’63
William H. Maston, Jr., BA ’07
Carla H. Messina, MS ’62
Irving Michael, BS ’50
Surya K. Neupane, MPhil ’50
Constance Tom Noguchi, PhD ’75
Philip D. Noguchi, MD ’75, RESD ’75



Robert Henry Nothdurft, MS ’75
W. Stuart Riggsby, AA ’57, BS ’58
Arun Selvaratnam, BS ’11
Tilan N. Ukwatta, MPhil ’08, PhD ’11
Saveena Veeramoothoo, BS ’14
Cedric X. Yu *