Month: August 2023

Physics Faculty Work to Improve Accessibility and Destigmatize Disability Across CLAS

About 20% of UConn students are supported by the Center for Students with Disabilities. The true percentage of students who need help is even higher. With so many students who require diverse ways of learning, how can faculty make sure their teaching is adequate, effective and inclusive for all students? In order to address this situation, CLAS has supported the Accessibility Fellowship Program during the 2022-2023 academic year with the goal to study disability and improve the accessibility situation at UConn and generally in higher education. Indeed, research shows that these students can perform at the highest standards in the classroom and in research, if they are given appropriate conditions to do so. One of the fellows in this program was our Dr. Erin Scanlon, Assistant Professor in-Residence at the Avery Point regional campus. The Center for Students with Disabilities makes a difference by addressing aspects related to, e.g., submitting assignments or taking tests. This is important but not enough. Instructors can make an even bigger difference at a much earlier stage, before submitting homework or taking tests, namely while the students learn in the classroom. Small changes in the classroom teaching can significantly improve the performance of the students. Which small changes can faculty implement? A lot is known about this thanks to the research of Dr. Scanlon and other scholars in Physics Education Research (PER) who study the learning needs of students with special needs. For more information on this important topic see the UConn Today news article

Department Head Greetings

Dear Friends of UConn Physics,

Before highlighting some of the major events in the Physics Department during the past year, I need to sincerely thank Prof. Barry Wells for his leadership as Department Head for the past five years. Dr. Wells guided the department through the turbulent times of the COVID pandemic and resulting shutdown of virtually all in-person interactions at UConn and has left the department great shape. Fortunately, Dr. Wells will continue to support the Physics Department in his new role as Associate Dean for Life and Physical Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Thus, I am writing to you as the Interim Department Head while a search is conducted during the Fall Semester for a permanent head.

An indication of the health of the department is the success in our newest faculty obtaining external funding. In particular, Profs. Christopher Faesi, Lea Santos, Anh-Thu Le, and Erin Scanlon have all received major grants. While our more senior faculty have also been very successful, this has been a particularly good year for our Nuclear Physics program, with Prof. Kyungseon Joo having been named the Chair of the CLAS Collaboration, one of the largest programs at Jefferson Lab, as well as receiving the single largest grant in the DOE-Nuclear Physics program. In addition, Prof. Andrew Puckett just received one of the largest grants in the same program, and they are joined by their colleagues Profs. Richard Jones, Peter Schweitzer, Alan Wuosmaa, and Moshe Gai to round out an exception program at UConn.

In addition to research, the department hosted a series of five colloquium and seminar speakers from groups underrepresented in physics. Spearheaded by Profs. Menka Jain and Belter Ordaz, and with strong student involvement, including Debadarshini Mishra, Lauren Gorman, and Bjorn Larsen, the highlight of the series was a visit by Prof. Sylvester James Gates Jr. of the University of Maryland. In a separate focus on inclusion, Prof. Erin Scanlon (Avery Point) organized a Faculty Online Learning Community (FOLC) to explore issues of accessibility for students with various ability constraints.

Many of our undergraduate and graduate students have also had noteworthy successes. However, one in particular stands out: undergraduate Abigail Moran has recently been selected as a finalist for the Apker Award from the American Physical Society for her work on measuring galactic acceleration with pulsar timing. As this is a national award for the top outstanding performance and original scientific contribution from a graduating senior, being a finalist is already quite an honor.

In the meantime, we continue to grow our department with two new hires:

  • Assistant Professor Simone Colombo – an experimentalist working on pushing quantum measurements to their absolute limit.
  • Assistant Professor in Residence Matt Guthrie who has taken a special interest in modernizing our planetarium and observatory.

We also welcome Assistant Professor Pavel Volkov – a condensed matter theorist working on strongly correlated quantum materials, who spent last year on research leave at Harvard and is starting at Storrs this Fall.

Finally, I would like to cordially invite you to attend our 25th annual Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture on Friday, October 20, 2023 which will be held in our department. This year’s speaker is Professor Gérard Mourou is Professor Haut-Collège at the École polytechnique. He was joint winner, with his student Donna Strickland (UConn Katzenstein Lecturer in 2022), of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics, awarded for the development of Chirped Pulse Amplification of lasers. Professor Mourou has made numerous contributions to the field of ultrafast lasers, high-speed electronics, and medicine and this promises to be a fascinating lecture. I hope you can all attend and catch up on all that is going on in the department. I look forward to seeing you there.


George Gibson
Interim Department Head, Physics

The Mirion Technologies Inc. – UConn Physics Partnership

Mirion representatives meeting with UConn physics grad students
Fig. 1: Dr. James Zickefoos (black shirt) and Dr. Patrick McLeroy of the Mirion Technologies Inc. posing in front of Zimmerman’s setup for his senior Honor Thesis at the LNS at Avery Point, and discussing with LNS graduate students Sarah R. Stern and Deran K. Schweitzer possibilities for employment at Mirion Technologies, Inc.

Mirion Technologies, Inc. ( formerly Canberra Inc., located in Meriden, CT, a worldwide leading company for manufacturing of electronics and nuclear detectors, established a partnership with our Physics department. In this partnership between our Physics department and a local industry, our students are encouraged to apply to spend a summer internship in the “real world” setting of a local industry of Connecticut. Indeed, our first senior undergrad student Mr. Nicolas Zimmerman (UConn-BSc ‘23) was hired by Mirion Technologies Inc. as a non destructive analyses (NDA) specialist. We look forward to future students who will follow the trail blazed by Nicolas to contribute to the development of local high-tech industry and the very economy of our state.


On February 6, 2023, Dr. James Zickefoos and Dr. Patrick McLeroy of the Mirion Technologies Inc., visited the Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS) at Avery Point, that is directed by Professor Moshe Gai ( In Fig. 1 we show them posing in front of Zimmerman’s setup for his senior Honor Thesis. They discussed with our graduate students Sarah R. Stern and Deran K. Schweitzer possibilities for employment at Mirion Technologies, Inc. It is interesting to note that Dr. Zickefoos was the graduate student of the late Professor Jeffrey Schweitzer who was hired in 1997 by Professor Moshe Gai as a Research Professor doing research at Gai’s LNS lab; further solidifying the strong bond between our department and Mirion Technologies.