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