Department News, Spring 2017
Message from the Chair
Dear Friends of the GW Physics Department
We have now been in our temporary quarters in Staughton Hall for almost a year. We have about six months to go before we return to our fully renovated Corcoran Hall. We have been working closely with the Provost Office to make sure that both the Physics Department and the university benefit by the products of the renovation. The Physics Department will occupy the basement and third and fourth floors in addition to the Cornelius Bennhold Auditorium on the first floor. Of note in the renovated Corcoran Hall basement are our new Optics and Innovation Labs around which will center upper division undergraduate teaching and research. Certainly, we would welcome contributions to these projects and to our new scale-up laboratories.
Since our last newsletter, our GW researchers have been busy with research in the areas of astrophysics, biophysics and nuclear physics as are described in the articles that follow. We have been able to attract substantial external funding of the order of several million dollars. Our researchers hold leadership roles in world-wide collaborations that enhance the reputation of GW Physics globally. We are about to graduate one of our largest undergraduate cohorts and have just accepted our largest cohort of PhD and master’s students ever.
I invite you to read the many interesting articles prepared by our faculty, post-docs and students. Information on giving is found at the end of this newsletter. Please specify any special dedications with your donations.
Thanks and best regards,
Corcoran Hall Renovation — A Status Update
Have you ever been involved in remodeling a house? Well, then you know that there are a million and one decisions that need to be made, from basic construction decisions to picking wall colors, selecting carpeting, deciding on new furniture, etc., etc. And that’s what we in the Physics Department have been doing over the course of the last few months since we moved out of Corcoran last May into our temporary quarters in Staughton Hall.
Of course, the hard infrastructure decisions (plumbing/electrical/HVAC, etc.) are being made by the architects and GW’s Jim Ellis, who as project manager for the entire renovation project is responsible for keeping everything on track and on time. However, a number of physics faculty and staff directly involved in interfacing with Jim and his team have had numerous meetings with various groups of people to decide on a range of matters—from the mundane, like which shade of gray the carpets should be, to the important, like which room layout best serves the department, which office walls should be made translucent to maximize distribution of natural light throughout the building or which lab tables should one choose and how should one arrange power delivery, data-line drops and projection equipment in the teaching labs to provide the best possible teaching environment. Some decisions could be made quickly, others required more detailed discussions. For the scale-up labs, for example, we found that there are no readily available solutions for the lab tables that fit the teaching goals of these labs, and so we designed tables with integrated power and data ports ourselves and they are now being custom-built according to our specifications.
Jim Ellis and his team have done a wonderful job of keeping us informed and involved in all steps of the renovation’s progress. The goal of this involvement of physics faculty in the decision processes is to make sure that the future Corcoran Hall is going to be the best possible environment for us, a departmental home that we helped shape and that we can be proud of.
As far as the building itself is concerned, at present the entire interior space has been gutted on all five floors, the main stairwell has been removed and the layout of the rooms is marked on the floors, as can be seen in the photograph of the fourth floor taken during the last faculty walk-through at the end of March. Compared to the flurry of activity we have been through in recent months in addressing all manners of issues regarding the interior build-out of the space, the space at present is not much to look at––basically just big, dusty empty spaces on all floors. However, Jim Ellis assures us that everything is on track and that we will have a fully functional Corcoran Hall back in time for the spring 2018 semester, as planned. We––faculty, staff and students of the Physics Department––are certainly eager to reclaim Corcoran Hall as our own (and to finally being able to unpack all the boxes still tucked away since our last move).
If you would like to help us in making Corcoran Hall an even better departmental home for faculty, staff and students alike, please consider donating to the Department of Physics. Each gift, no matter how large or small, will have a positive impact and will be deeply appreciated. Feel free to contact us for a list of items that, we feel, would add to the new Corcoran Hall but are not covered by GW's investment. For details how to make your gift, see the end of this newsletter. Do not forget to add “Department of Physics, for Corcoran Renovation” as designee or on the memo line.
GW Astrophysicists Help Build New Instrument for Gemini Telescope
Members of the GW astrophysics group, in particular Professors Alexander van der Horst, Chryssa Kouveliotou and Oleg Kargaltsev, are part of the team that will build OCTOCAM, a new workhorse instrument for the Gemini Observatory. The latter consists of two large (8-meter diameter) world-class telescopes, one in Chile and one on Hawaii, which are both built to observe visible and near-infrared light. In fact, of all the current large optical/near-infrared telescopes in the world, Gemini is the most sensitive in the near-infrared. OCTOCAM will be an extremely versatile instrument. It will make images in eight different visible and near-infrared bands at the same time (hence the name OCTOCAM), take spectra of objects over a very large wavelength range and do all of this at a high cadence. It can, for instance, take 10- to 100-images per second, which is very interesting for studying all kinds of quickly varying objects. With all these capabilities simultaneously, OCTOCAM opens up a new window in observational parameter space.
OCTOCAM is going to be installed at the Gemini South telescope in Chile, close to where the new Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is being built. The latter has such a large field of view that it can survey the entire sky in just a few days, and with good sensitivity. OCTOCAM will be used to perform follow-up observations of the most interesting objects on the sky that LSST finds. It will also provide the most exciting objects to observe with the Extremely Large Telescopes that are planned to be built in the 2020s. Given OCTOCAM’s capabilities, it will not only be able to do great follow-up observations of the most exciting new and quickly changing objects that LSST finds, and find out what those objects are, it will also advance our understanding of extreme physics by observing objects like neutron stars and black holes, study the first generation of stars that was born in the universe by observing their explosive deaths, and characterize planetary systems around other stars than our sun, and study the atmospheres of those planets. These are just a few examples of the exciting science that OCTOCAM will be able to do.
The OCTOCAM project is led by Antonio de Ugarte-Postigo, the principal investigator in Granada, Spain, and the project management is led by Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio Texas. GW is the third main partner in OCTOCAM, mainly through Professor Alexander van der Horst as project scientist. He is leading the scientific efforts within the OCTOCAM management team, and leading a science team of almost 50 astronomers from around the world, covering about 20 different sub-fields of astrophysics. Professors Chryssa Kouveliotou and Oleg Kargaltsev are members of this science team, because of their expertise in studies of various high-energy astrophysical objects. Gemini has granted $15 million to build OCTOCAM, of which most goes into the actual instrument, and GW gets $550 thousand of this to lead the scientific efforts. This money will cover the efforts of Professor van der Horst, and also allow him to hire an astronomical computer scientist who will build the software pipeline that will be used for analyzing all the data that will come out of OCTOCAM. The science team will also develop a large observing program with OCTOCAM in the coming years, so that OCTOCAM can be used to its full capabilities when it becomes operational at the end of 2021.
We are really happy to announce that the GW Physics Department has been selected as a site for the 2018 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)! From January 12 to 14. We will have around 100 undergraduate women from Virginia, Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania and Delaware on campus for a three-day event. Several of our students have participated in prior CUWiP events, at Old Dominion University, and in January 2017 at Virginia Tech. 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, and from other related specialisms. 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 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]).
Department of Physics Celebrates Graduating Class of 2016!
On May 14, the Department of Physics celebrated 11 graduates in the class of 2016: Brian Alden, Alejandro Barazza-Valdez, Erin Britt, Michael Helton, Max Levinson, Jacob Maibach, Sri Murthy, Zoe Pierce, James Ranfone, Cynthia Trinh and Zach West.
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, the department chair, praise the graduates for their achievements. He also presented departmental awards to several undergraduate and graduate students: the Professor Emeritus J. Roger Peverley Prize for Undergraduate Research in Physics to the graduating Brian Alden; the Berman Prize for Excellence in Experimental Physics to the graduating Sri Murthy; and the W. Parke Prize for Excellence in Theoretical Physics to the graduate students Dehua Guo and Bin Hu.
The department was very pleased to award Special Departmental Honors to three students this year: Brian Alden, Sri Murthy and Jacob Maibach. All three students had a GPA of over 3.5, both overall and in physics, and did a two-semester, in-depth research project of significant depth. Brian Alden did his research on “Searching the Universe for Radio Transients with LOFAR” with Professor van der Horst, and will go to University of Colorado Boulder for graduate school in astrophysics. Jacob Maibach did his research on “Theoretical Foundations for Cutoff-Clustering in Analysis of Transcription Factor Distributions” with Professor Peng, and will study for a master’s in data science at GW. Sri Murthy did her research on “Analysis of Cisterns and Projection Neuron to Kenyon Cell Specificity in the Full Adult Fly Brain” at Janelia Farm Research Campus, and will go to medical school at GW.
At the end of the award presentation, all the graduating students received two gifts that will remind them of their time at GW for years or decades to come: a GW Department of Physics mug and a wooden pyramid puzzle, similar to the one they all used to entertain themselves at the physics front office. After donning the robes, the faculty and students participating in the Columbian College celebration had a photo shoot on the Corcoran building steps.
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!
The Society of Physics Students: Year in Review
by Kara Zielinski, President of the Society of Physics Students
For the second year in a row, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) at GW have been rewarded the “Outstanding Chapter Award,” which is given to the top 10 percent of chapters across the nation each year. As the 2016-2017 academic year comes to a close, SPS will have to prepare another chapter report with a summary of all its activities to be eligible for the award again. Luckily, it has been quite a busy year. In addition to our usual programming of the Physics Department Halloween party and holiday party, SPS expanded its membership and programming to include more interaction with the department and more opportunities for our members.
The fall semester of SPS was predominantly focused on attending Sigma Pi Sigma’s Physics Congress (PhysCon), which is the largest undergraduate physics conference. This year was the first year that GW sent a group of students to attend. SPS activities in the fall focused on successfully fundraising enough to support the 12 physics students that attended the conference. Although this process was stressful, the conference itself made it all worthwhile. Attendees got to hear talks from notable physicists like Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Dr. Eric Cornell, Dr. Neil Turok and Dr. S. James Gates. Attending this conference made SPS members more excited about physics and more interested in attending other conferences. In the future, we hope to develop an SPS conference fund so that we can support our members.
SPS is so dependent on the Physics Department, and we wanted to give back, so SPS started open, free tutoring hours for all general physics and university physics classes. Our members held tutoring hours once a week and were able to help our fellow students learn and understand physics more. Many students from all different classes attended, and due to its success, we plan on continuing this next year too!
SPS also strives to give its members opportunities in physics. This year we held a Summer Internship Panel with help from the Center for Career Services. The panel was comprised of students and professionals to discuss their perspectives on summer internships, the application process, and how to make a good impression while working. This event was targeted mainly at our younger members and many felt more prepared after. Additionally, SPS freshmen and sophomore members have been working on the very first New Member Project. They decided to build a Super Conducting Rollercoaster. Members worked together to design the project, and are currently in the process of building it in the machine shop. Dr. Qiu helped fund and support this project, and that was vital for the project’s completion. For next year, SPS has received funding from the Student Association, and we hope that each year we can build more exciting projects.
At the beginning of the spring semester, SPS members attended the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at Virginia Tech. This conference had over 100 attendees, and had a spirit of excitement and inclusiveness. The undergrads were able to meet one another in a low-pressure environment. It was especially important for GW undergrads to attend CUWiP this year because GW will be hosting CUWiP next year. Attendees got a lot of ideas and have been excited to help plan for next year!
SPS has also continued its tradition of conducting outreach activities at LifePieces to MasterPieces, a D.C. afterschool program. Undergraduates and professors come together to plan and carry out weekly physics demos and lessons for the adolescent African American boys that attend this program. This is especially unique because the program is arts based, so SPS is able to provide the students access to science. Although sometimes the students seem more focused on the fun physics toys we bring them, especially rockets or oobleck, we still make sure they leave with at least one, new physics fact.
Overall SPS has worked hard to maintain and further develop the physics community at GW. This has been especially successful in recruiting new members and getting a majority of the physics undergraduates involved. We hope that in the future we can continue to grow and connect with the department and greater physics community in D.C
Attendees Oliver Berroteran, Joseph Crandall and Samantha Lumpkin interviewed Dr. Gates and wrote about his presentation:
Dr. Sylvester Gates: A Life of Trailblazing and Influence
Dr. Sylvester James Gates is a titan of physics. During his doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he became the first to study supersymmetry there, kick-starting a career that would earn him a National Medal of Science and an induction into the National Academy of Sciences. He served on President Obama’s Counsel of Advisors on Science and Technology, and he continues his research on supersymmetry as a professor at the University of Maryland. Given his impressive history as a scholar and cutting-edge researcher, hearing Dr. Gates speak and interviewing him was the highlight of my PhysCon experience.
Dr. Gates started his talk by explaining how he was not born with an affinity for physics. Being in a military family, he moved constantly, enrolling in six schools before turning 10. While places and friends came and went, math and physics were always there. Long hours reading books on space travel nurtured a genuine interest in astronomy, which in turn opened new realms of study unbound from the classroom.
Despite how much passion he had for the subject, Dr. Gates was disappointed to find that science was not as blind as he had come to expect. When he was 16-years-old, Gates was told by a fellow classmate that he was “smart, but you’ll never be as smart as a white man.” Throughout his adolescence he faced an endless cavalcade of doubters and naysayers, calling him out solely on the basis of his color, but Dr. Gates refused to back down. From the halls of his elementary school to the halls of MIT, he never lost focus and kept solving whatever problems came his way. He has authored over 200 published scientific articles and a book on supersymmetry, and has a collection of impressive awards and accolades.
Dr. Gates began his talk by reminding us of some of the amazing physicists that made his investigations into supersymmetry possible. From Newton to Einstein, they laid the ground work for researchers like Dr. Gates to make amazing discoveries and to carry the torch forward. While to undergraduates studying physics can sometimes seem like trudging through an unyielding forest, Dr. Gates views mathematics as a “safari guide." Mathematics is the language of supersymmetry and string theory, and trying to translate that math is at the core of Dr. Gate’s work. Currently, he is trying to understand four dimensional strings using Adinkra symbols. These symbols are a graphical way of describing multi-dimensional spaces, using multiple colors and lines to describe super gravity and supersymmetry.
Years have passed, but discrimination against minorities in physics persists. Still, we owe it to Dr. Gates, our peers and ourselves to keep an optimistic eye toward the future, and what we witnessed at PhysCon gives us many reasons to be hopeful. Throughout the conference, we participated in dynamic discussions about how to create a more inclusive physics community that help propel all of us, including minorities, toward successful careers. Since this theme came up multiple times at the conference, it was especially exciting to be able to talk with Dr. Gates about his experiences and how he overcame the difficulties he faced. He knows firsthand it’s not about boosting statistics to create the illusion of progress; rather the dream of all of us, to make real contributions to the field just as Dr. Gates is doing with supersymmetry and supergravity.
Our interview with Dr. Gates left us truly humbled. While his discoveries and passion are certainly things to be admired, it is his dedication and perseverance that truly moved us as students. Even in the face of discrimination and opposition, Dr. Gates still became an incredibly talented and influential member of the physics community; something we can all strive to emulate.
Seeing the Wind
For 50 years, astronomers have watched pulsars—neutron stars born in supernova explosions—sweep through space and produce pulses of radiation in different frequency bands. The pulses can be explained by a lighthouse model if the radiation is beamed as it leaves the pulsar magnetosphere. The source of such radiation will appear to pulsate if the beam repeatedly sweeps across the earth as the pulsar spins. However, explaining why pulses are sometimes seen only in the radio and sometimes only in gamma-rays is more challenging. Two studies recently published in The Astrophysical Journal (one of which was authored by physics graduate student Noel Klingler, advised by Professor Oleg Kargaltsev), provide a fresh look at the pulsar phenomenon by examining the structures of the particle wind nebulae produced by two pulsars.
In particular, the Chandra X-ray Observatory images help to answer the question of "why do some neutron stars pulsate only in radio waves, while others only in gamma-rays, and still others in both bands?" by revealing the orientation of these pulsars' spin axes with respect to earth's line of sight and providing an opportunity to check the predictions of sophisticated pulsar lightcurve models. Both papers featured international teams of astronomers and used observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The results of this research were featured in a press release, NASA webpages, and the main CCAS webpage. Read his papers on PSR B0355+54 (https://arxiv.org/abs/1610.06167) and Geminga Pulsar (https://arxiv.org/abs/1611.03496).
Undergraduate Summer Research
Every summer, we send out many undergraduates to enjoy and learn from research experiences all around America and abroad. We work with students to apply early for external Research Experience for Undergraduates programs at other universities, we help them seek placements with collaborators for individual experiences. We, in turn, offer research experiences to some of our own students, and those from other universities, through work with individual professors and through GW’s International Research Experiences for Students program. The latter ran from 2013 to 2016, taking 17 students to Mainz, Germany, to do research at the Mainzer Mikrotron electron accelerator, in all areas of experimental nuclear physics. One of our students, Joseph Crandall, reports on his experiences last summer:
Last summer, I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the GW NanoTechnology Fellowship program where we were trained on different nanotechnology tools and manufacturing techniques. During the second half of the summer, I worked at Oak Ridge National Lab continuing the additive manufacturing research I had started with Dr. Leblanc in the NanoTechnology program. I presented my nanotechnology research at both PhysCon in San Francisco in the fall, and at the SEAS R&D showcase in the spring. This summer I will be working on the ITER project in Cadarache France and next year I will be starting my master’s degree at the George Washington University in electrical engineering with a focus on photonic computing.
Michael W. Thacher
The GW APSIS team is delighted to announce the establishment of the Michael W. Thacher Visiting Professor Grant, extending over a three-year span (2017-2020). The grant is providing travel expenses annually for two guests of the Astrophysics Group in APSIS, to visit for a week to work with the group, either on ongoing collaborations or on new projects. Visiting scientists will be selected from a suggested pool by the group members; we are also open to external suggestions for visitors, provided that funds are still available. For further information, please email [email protected].
Michael W. Thacher graduated from GW in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. He began his career as a magazine writer and editor. After receiving an MBA from UCLA in 1983, he assumed increasingly responsible positions in corporate public affairs for ARCO, Northrop, and finally Unocal Corporation. Thacher's fascination with astronomy was sparked at the age of six by his mother, who woke him 5 a.m. one morning to see a spectacularly brilliant Venus shining in the night sky. Early in his career, he wrote articles about space exploration for publications like the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and Astronomy magazine. For the past 11 years, he has been a tour guide at historic Mt. Wilson Observatory in Southern California.
"GW has a strong—though not widely appreciated—tradition in physics, with giants like George Gamow and Edward Teller once on the faculty," Thacher said. "It's exciting to help support today's expanding emphasis on astrophysics and big data science." Thacher is married to Rhonda L. Rundle, a former news editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal. They have two adult sons.
In 2010, scientists in Switzerland from the CREMA collaboration made a new and very careful measurement of the size of the proton. This new measurement was amazingly precise, but was 4 percent smaller than the accepted value, disagreeing irreconcilably. This sparked a flurry of other measurements and analyses. The controversy, known as the “Proton Radius Puzzle” caused lots of excitement, with articles in Science and Nature, and in popular science magazines such as New Scientist (and, most recently Science News), and even in The Huffington Post and other news outlets.
There are two ways of measuring the size of the proton. Firstly, one can scatter particles from it, and by observing how the particles scatter, at what frequency and at what angles, one can infer the size of the object from which they scatter. The other mechanism is to look at the “transition lines” in atomic hydrogen: the energy emitted or absorbed when the single electron in atomic hydrogen jumps from one energy level to another. These energy transitions occur at very specific energies, and the energies at which they occur are modified by the finite size of the proton. By measuring these transitions very precisely, one can extract the size of the proton. Until 2010, measurements of the proton size made in both of these ways agreed.
The CREMA collaboration measured the size of the proton very precisely by using a special kind of hydrogen. Regular hydrogen has one proton and one electron. The CREMA collaboration replaced the electron in hydrogen with a muon, a particle just like the electron but about 200 times more massive. The muonic hydrogen is much more compact than regular hydrogen, and this makes the transition energies more sensitive to the size of the proton. Thereby they could make a much more precise extraction of the radius. This “muonic” radius was in complete disagreement with all of the “electronic” (scattering and transition energy) measurements, and scientists need to understand why, but still do not. Some of the potential explanations of the Proton Radius Puzzle are really exciting, including what is referred to as “Beyond Standard Model” physics, which could revolutionize our understanding of nuclear and particle physics. To figure out what exactly is going on, we need more experiments!
GW, in particular Professors Downie and Briscoe, was awarded $900,000 to help build the Muon proton Scattering Experiment (MUSE). MUSE will provide the missing piece of the experimental puzzle: so far there have been electron and muon transition energy measurements, and electron scattering measurements, but no muon scattering measurements with a precision sufficient to address the Proton Radius Puzzle. MUSE will do this and provide a simultaneous measurement of electron and muon scattering with the same apparatus, so will provide a very precise and well-controlled experiment.
GW is responsible for building the electronics which read out the detectors, working on the assembly of the whole experiment, and Professor Afanasev will provide the theory calculations needed to extract the proton size from the experimental measurement. GW Physics professors are playing key roles in this exciting experiment that could hopefully find the answer to this very intriguing puzzle!
GW Team Seeks New Solution Food Safety Challenge
George Washington University researchers have proposed a novel platform using nano-materials to promote safe hygiene practices in food processing and packaging. This new platform will use visible light to kill bacteria and other pathogens.
It has been estimated that pathogens cause 9,400,000 people to get food-borne diseases every year. Most of these pathogens are easier to kill when they are “alone." However, when the population gets higher, they aggregate and form a structure called “biofilm.” and destroying these biofilms becomes very hard. To address this challenge, Ganhui Lan, a GW Department of Physics professor and the co-PI of the proposal, teamed with three other professors from Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry to propose a preventive approach for controlling and eventually eliminating the formation of biofilms.
The team will apply computer-aided methods to optimize the design of nano-material that can efficiently make pathogen-killing residues using visible light. The optimized nano-material will then be fabricated and coated onto the food processing and packaging surfaces to control the multiplying of the pathogen population. And the effectiveness of this new platform will be quantified, evaluated and predicted using computational models for biofilm formation. This interdisciplinary approach has been supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, and a $450,200 grant has recently been awarded to the team for carrying out the research in the next 3 years.
Nuclear Phenomenology Research
Nuclear phenomenology addresses a wide range of problems in hadronic physics. The research at the interface between experiment and theory provides the analysis and interpretation of data in terms of quantities that theory can relate and compare to (partial waves, resonance properties, form factors etc.).
GW faculty Briscoe, Doering, Haberzettl, Strakovsky and Workman have collaborated with physicists from Mainz and Bonn (Germany) to understand the constraints data provide for the extraction of underlying scattering amplitudes. One result is shown in the figure above.
The GW-based SAID and JuBo analysis groups, and the BnGa group from Bonn included recent high-precision data in their respective analysis. The horizontal bars indicate the range in energy covered by these data in the observables E, G, H, P and T. The variances among the different groups' solutions decreased considerably through the inclusion of these new data as indicated in the figure. This common effort—the first of its kind—demonstrates that new data indeed lead to converging solutions among different groups, although differences remain that could be further reduced by future data.
Further collaborations with researchers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia have helped with the analysis of resonance content for data now nearing publication by Jefferson Lab. The group also continued their collaboration with the CLAS collaboration (CLAS was a detector at Jefferson Lab in Newport News) analyzing new data on the photoproduction of various final states. These ongoing projects have resulted in various publications in the past year.
The research is also extended to heavy mesons and their decays, with emphasis of what can be learned about the nature of particles in terms of their compositeness. Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Raquel Molina has been pushing this effort.
In summer of 2016, Dr. Maxim Mai from the University of Bonn joined the team. He was awarded a prestigious and very competitive grant of the German Research Association (DFG) to fund him during his research stay at GW. The extension for a second year was granted recently. In his research, Dr. Mai focuses on the properties of complex hadronic systems in a finite volume. This is a prerequisite to understand the results of lattice QCD simulations for many resonances of theoretical and experimental interest. Many of these resonances, some of them with exotic quantum numbers, will be searched for in the new GlueX experiment at Jefferson Lab in Newport News.
The group also continues the collaboration with GW's lattice QCD group to extract scattering amplitudes from their simulations and compare to experimental results. Senior graduate students D. Guo, B. Hu and researchers M. Mai, R. Molina, M. Doering and A. Alexandru published various articles on the topic in the past year, one of them in Physical Review Letters. Bin Hu also shares the 2016 Parke Prize for best theoretical student with Dehua Guo. He also won the first prize at GW's 2017 Research Days in the category "graduate student in physical and mathematical sciences." Altogether the group presented six posters at the Research Days.
A highlight of past year's research has been the involvement of undergraduate students in projects. Both Joseph Revier and Justin Landay co-authored publications in Physical Review. Revier provided output of GW's partial wave analysis program SAID that can be used by other groups in the field to improve their analyses. He presented his results in the form of posters at GW's Research Days and the APS April Meeting in Washington.
Landay (first author) applied advanced statistical techniques for model selection in the analysis of photoproduction data from Mainz. He currently extends his effort to the systematic analysis of the resonance content in such data to address the "missing resonance problem" that is a puzzle in the field since many years. Landay presented his results at the SPS meeting in San Diego in fall 2016, in the form of a regular talk at the APS/GHP conference in January 2017 in Washington, D.C., and with a poster at the APS April Meeting. He also won the second prize for the poster presentation at GW's Research Days in the category "undergraduate student in physical and mathematical sciences.”
Revier, together with Noel Klinger, received the Berman Prize for Excellence in Experimental Physics by the Department. Landay was awarded the Francisco Prats Memorial Prize for Outstanding Student in Theoretical Physics.
GW Postdoc Association
As the body of research at GW grew at a rapid pace, I noticed that such rapid growth brought along a larger number of postdoctoral and research scientists. I, a previous postdoctoral scientist, and a current research scientist at the GW physics department, joined GW in June 2015, and after engaging with the postdocs in my department, I noticed a common theme of desire that we all shared.
We all wished for a community feel for the postdocs at GW: a community that revolves around our wellbeing, that ensures an enjoyable postdoctoral experience for all, and most importantly, that introduce us to and readies us for the ever growing postdoc career opportunities, both in academia and outside.
With these goals in mind, I set off on a path of building such community here at GW, the GW Postdoc Association (GWPA). The idea was first pitched to physics faculty, and was met with encouraging enthusiasm. The idea was met with encouraging enthusiasm from all of my postdoc colleagues, faculty (including physics faculty who were among the first to encourage this effort), departmental chairs, school deans and the administration.
GWPA was launched in September 2016 (https://postdocs.gwu.edu). Its mission is threefold: (1) postdoc career development, (2) easier integration for new postdocs within the community and the university and (3) creating a direct link between postdocs and administration.
So far, we have done three professional development events, and a fourth to come in April. We have also managed a seat on the GW faculty senate, and finally, we have organized some social events for networking purposes. We have plenty of things to look forward to in the future, such as joining the National Postdoc Association (NPA) as a member university, continuing with the professional development events, and building a stronger postdoc family at GW.
Nobel Laureate Dr. John Mather Visits GW
In October 2016, the Physics Department Colloquium Series featured guest speaker Dr. John Mather, 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics Laureate, senior astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
Dr. Mather was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE) for which he was principal investigator. His work helped cement the big-bang theory of the universe in showing the thermal spectral nature of the isotropic Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) as well as the wrinkles in the space-time fabric confirming Professor Stephen Hawking’s theoretical predictions, among others.
The CMB constitutes the first observable light, which was emitted when the universe was only ~300,000 years old compared to its current age of ~14 billions years. This result was "regarded as the starting point for cosmology as a precision science" by the Nobel Prize Committee.
Dr. Mather was listed among Time magazine's “100 Most Influential People in The World” in 2007 and again among Time’s “25 Most Influential People in Space” in 2012 in the same issue as George Washington University's Professor Chryssa Kouveliotou. The colloquium followed meetings organized between Dr. Mather and faculty members of the Physics Department and a pizza lunch organized to facilitate student interactions the speaker.
During 45 minutes, Dr. Mather described to a full auditorium the JWST mission as well as the amazing science challenges that this incredible billion dollars machine currently assembled and tested at GSFC (Greenbelt, Md.) will meet with its 6.5 m diameter mirror located near the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point up to one million miles away from us during its five- to 10-years of operation starting in 2018. Dr. Mather told us how the infrared light collected by JWST will help us to understand the distant and, therefore, early universe, to probe the space-time fabric, to search for Earth-size new planets orbiting around far, far away stars and to explore their ability to host life. Dr. Mather's visit ended with a dinner counting students, postdocs and faculty members of the physics department.
4th DC/VA/MD Summer Astrophysics Meeting
The GW Physics Department and the Astronomy, Physics, and Statistics Institute of Sciences (APSIS) organized and hosted the 4th annual DC/VA/MD Summer Astrophysics Meeting (on July 15, 2016) focused on astronomy and astrophysics research by junior scientists (senior undergraduates, graduate students and junior postdocs). The aim of this meeting was to bring local students and researchers (e.g., faculty, post-docs, NASA researchers) together to interact, network, and learn about other's research. About 40 participants attended the meeting. The meeting was held at GW for the second time. The first time the meeting took place at GW in the summer of 2014. Physics graduate students Jeremy Hare and Noel Klingler played key roles in organizing the meeting.
Astronomy Night 2016 at the National Mall
The annual Astronomy Night event takes place at the National Mall and will occur on June 2nd in 2017 (from 6-11 p.m.). More information about the event and its precise location on the National Mall can be found at the event's website.
This free public event, organized by Dr. Donald Lubowich from Hofstra University, regularly draws thousands of people who are interested in astronomy. GW astronomers have been taking part in the event for the past three years. The GW table at the Astronomy Night 2016 featured hands-on activities and demonstrations, solar viewing, and videos about the research taking place at GW with the participation of faculty (Oleg Kargaltsev and Alexander van der Horst), postdocs (Blagoy Rangelov) and students (Jeremy Hare, Nick Gorgone and Noel Klingler). The event also featured optical, and/or radio telescope observations of the sun, moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn; a planetarium show with a portable blow-up dome; and a chance to mingle with astronomers from various places (such as NASA and Space Telescope Institute).
Alumni Updates/Class Notes
Frederick Battista, BA ’10 asks, “Did you know that software engineering is less fun than studying the fundamental nature of the universe? You did? How sad! And yet, it is fun to build things...”
Nayha Dixit, BS ’04, is a board certified medical physicist in radiation oncology at UCSF in San Francisco.
Derek Jones, BA, BS ’11, has been actively designing across the country in theatre, dance, opera, events, museums, architecture, art installations and more. He is the lighting design professor at Long Beach City College.Derek resides in Los Angeles.
Gregg Khodorov, BS ’15, is two years into a five-year MD/MBA joint degree program at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He is passionate about fostering innovation in healthcare, and is co-president of the Biomedical Entrepreneurship Network (see benrwj.com).
Jennifer Kuczynski, BS ’11, MS’16, completed her MS in systems engineering at GW in 2016. She is currently working at MITRE and living in Northern Virginia.
Matt Palmer, PhD ’01, works as a quantitative financial analyst for Bank of America in Atlanta. This past summer, he joined the board of directors of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company (aka The Shakespeare Tavern).
Rohit Patil, BS ’13, will be graduating from GW Medical School this May. He will then go to the University of Maryland for a residency in urology!
Krishna Tewari, BS ’80, received an MS and PhD in physics at American University in Washington, D.C. Krishna worked at NASA Goddard on various projects including COBE for 33 years and retired in 2013.
The Physics Department would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the school from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.
+ Faculty/Staff | # Parent | ~ Student | * Friend
Pie Frey, *
Mark V. Hughes III, BA ’69, MS ’77
Peter F. Koehler, MS ’63
Carla H. Messina, MS ’62
W. Stuart Riggsby, BA ’58
Rise G. Schnizlein, BS ’71
Ilana L. Spar, BA/BS ’08
Michael W. Thacher, BA ’70
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 in a number of ways:
- Give online through our secure donation page.
- Mail your check, made out to the George Washington University and with “Department of Physics” in the memo line, to
The George Washington University
P.O. Box 98131
Washington, DC 20077-9756
- Call the GW Division of Development and Alumni Relations at 1-800-789-2611 to make a donation by phone.