Author: Jason Hancock

UConn Physics showing strong at the 2023 APS March Meeting

This year, international conferences have begun to come back into their pre-pandemic form. For the American Physical Society’s annual March Meeting, it was bigger than ever with over 12,000 participants in the world’s largest meeting ever devoted to physics. UConn showed strong as graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research scientists, and faculty researchers attended the meeting in Las Vegas March 5-10 and showcased their newest results. The team rolled in deep and gave diverse presentations to an international audience on many topics in condensed matter physics, ranging from high-fidelity electronic structure calculations and material modeling, synthesis and characterization of new materials with competing states, advances in industrial science related to advanced manufacturing, synchrotron-based investigations of correlated materials, nanoscale magnetic imaging studies, the development of new cryogenic instrumentation, twistronic effects, vortices in topological materials and circuit-based quantum information science. See you next year!

From left to right: Jacob Pfund, Bochao Xu, Joshua Bedard, Ilya Sochnikov, Gayanath Fernando, Jacob Franklin, Jason Hancock, Donal Sheets, Kaitlin Lyszak
Not pictured: Krishna Joshi, Guang Chen (MSE), Jorge Chavez, Priya Sharma, Alexander Balatsky, Pavel Volkov.

UConn Physics welcomes two new faculty in quantum science

This year, the Department of Physics proudly welcomes two new faculty members.

Pavel Volkov
Prof. Pavel Volkov

Pavel Volkov joins the Department of Physics as an assistant professor. He is a condensed matter physicist, specializing in the theory of strongly correlated and quantum materials. He earned his Ph.D. at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany, followed by a postdoc at Rutgers University. His work covers topics such as superconductivity, frustrated magnetism, ferroelectricity, and materials with nontrivial topology, often inspired by new experimental discoveries made around the world. During this academic year, Pavel will be on leave at Harvard University, working on the theory of two-dimensional Moiré materials, created by stacking single-atomic layers. He also enjoys mentoring students at all levels and bringing cutting-edge science into the classroom.


Lea Santos
Prof. Lea Ferreira dos Santos

Lea Ferreira dos Santos joins the Department of Physics as a full professor. She earned her Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, Michigan State University, and Dartmouth College. She then took a position at Yeshiva University for 15 years, where she climbed the ranks to full professor and chair of the Department of Physics. Her research on many-body quantum systems has been continuously funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It influences a broad range of disciplines across condensed matter, atomic physics, and quantum information science. Her awards include the Simons Fellow in Theoretical Physics, Outstanding Referee for the American Physical Society, NSF CAREER Award, and member of the U.S. delegation to the 3rd IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics.

Welcome, Lea and Pavel!

Kate Whitaker wins the Sloan Fellowship!

Original UConn Today article here

Rising Star in Astrophysics Receives Sloan Foundation Fellowship

Kate Whitaker, assistant professor of physics, stands next to a telescope inside the observatory on top of the Gant Complex on Feb. 14, 2019. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

As an assistant professor of astrophysics, Kate Whitaker spends a lot of her time thinking about stars. Hundreds of billions of stars that comprise galaxies, to be more precise. But with a recent fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, it is Whitaker’s star that is shining brightly.

Whitaker is one of 126 outstanding U.S. and Canadian researchers selected by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to receive 2019 Sloan Research Fellowships. The fellowships, awarded yearly since 1955, honor early-career scholars whose achievements mark them as among the most promising researchers in their fields.

Valued not only for their prestige, Sloan Research Fellowships are a highly flexible source of research support. Funds may be spent in any way a Fellow deems will best advance his or her work.

“Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today,” says Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle, and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of twenty-first century science.”

According to colleagues, Whitaker certainly fits the bill as one of the brightest young minds at UConn and beyond.

“Kate’s record so far is truly impressive and speaks to her potential as a leader in her field,” explains Barry Wells, head of UConn’s Department of Physics. “It was my great pleasure to nominate her for a Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, and I am thrilled they felt she was worthy of the prize.”

An observational extragalactic astronomer, Whitaker’s research tries to reveal how galaxies are evolving from the earliest times to the present day.

In addition to her position at UConn, Whitaker is also an associate faculty at the new Cosmic Dawn Center in Copenhagen, Denmark. Whitaker and her students actively collaborate with DAWN, working towards pushing our detection of quiescent “red and dead” galaxies even earlier in time.

She will be among the world’s first scientists to explore the universe using the new James Webb Space Telescope when it is launched in 2019, which she says will allow her to push into new frontiers of research.

Apart from that exciting work, Whitaker and colleagues Cara Battersby and Jonathan Trump were tasked with building a full-fledged astronomy program from scratch at UConn. Not only has their work exceeded expectations, the fruits of their labor are already beginning to emerge. Whitaker and colleagues have so far created five new astrophysics courses with two more slated for next year, established an official astronomy minor, and are operating a thriving research program that involves doctoral students, undergrads, and even local high school students.

“I am both thrilled at this opportunity and humbled to be named amongst such a prestigious cohort of scientists,” says Whitaker. “With the Sloan Foundation’s generous support, I aspire to continue to lead ground-breaking studies of the distant universe, the mystery of which will no doubt captivate our imaginations.”

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grant making institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics. A full list of the 2019 Fellows is available at the Sloan Foundation website at

Goodwin School 3rd grade visits the Physics Learning Labs

About one mile from the Gant plaza, Goodwin Elementary School teaches some really bright kids. On January 15, 2019, science teacher Nancy Titchen and Goodwin teachers brought the entire 3rd grade class on a field trip to the Physics Learning Labs mock-up studio for some science fun. Students enjoyed a liquid nitrogen show, witnessed quantum effects in superconducting magnetic levitation, experienced mechanics concepts such as angular momentum, and learned about vibrations and the phenomenon mechanical of resonance. The expert hands of a star team of PhD students (Erin Curry and Donal Sheets) and new laboratory technicians (James Jaconetta and Zac Transport) ensured students had a great time and learned some interesting science. Big thanks to the staff and the Goodwin School!

Faculty Profile: UConn Astrophysicist Cara Battersby

Meet the Researcher: UConn Astrophysicist Cara Battersby

UConn astrophysicist, Cara Battersby. (Carson Stifel/UConn Photo)

A young Cara Battersby once scrawled out the phrase “Science is curious” in a school project about what she wanted to do when she grew up.

This simple phrase still captures Battersby’s outlook on her research about our universe.

Recently shortlisted for the 2018 Nature Research Inspiring Science Award, Battersby has been working on several projects aimed at unfolding some of the most compelling mysteries of galaxies near and far.

“I’m really interested in how stars are born,” Battersby says. “They’re the source of all life on Earth.”

Many of the “laws” we know about how stars are formed are based exclusively on observations of our own galaxy. Because we don’t have as much information about how stars form in other galaxies with different conditions, these laws likely don’t apply as well as we think they should.

Battersby is leading an international team of over 20 scientists to map the center of the Milky Way Galaxy using the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii, in a large survey called CMZoom. She was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to follow-up on this survey and create a 3D computer modeled map of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The center of our galaxy has extreme conditions similar to those in other far-off galaxies that are less easily studied, so the Milky Way is an important laboratory for understanding the physics of star formation in extreme conditions.

By mapping out this region in our own galactic backyard, Battersby will be able to form a better idea of how stars form in more remote areas of the universe.

“I love that astrophysics is one of the fields where I can get my hands into everything,” Battersby says. “Stars are something real that you can actually see and study the physics of.”

Battersby is also investigating the “bones” of the Milky Way. Working with researchers from Harvard University, she is looking at how some unusually long clouds could be clues to constructing a more accurate picture of our galaxy.

“Because of the size of our galaxy, it’s infeasible to send a satellite up there to take a picture,” she says.

Since we are living within the Milky Way it is much harder for us to get a clear idea of what it looks like. We know that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, but we don’t yet know how many “arms” the spiral has and if it’s even a well-defined spiral.

These kinds of celestial mysteries have long fascinated Battersby.

Battersby says she would “devour” astronomy books and magazines her parents gave her, but it wasn’t until college that her passion truly developed.

She did her Ph.D. thesis at the University of Colorado on high-mass stars being formed on the disk of our galaxy. During this research she made an astounding discovery that every high-density cloud in space is already in some phase of forming a star, a process that takes millions of years.

This led her to conclude that star formation starts as the cloud is collapsing bit by bit, modifying previous ideas of the timeline of this process.

“If you look at something new in a way no one’s looked at it before, the universe has a great way of surprising us,” Battersby says.

View full story on UConn Today.


By: Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research



Welcoming Barrett Wells as new department head


In August 2018, Professor Barrett Wells entered as the new head of the Physics department, following Professor Nora Berrah.  Barrett is an experimental condensed matter physicists with a robust research program involved in both synthesis and advanced experimentation around novel phases of quantum materials. Barrett brings to the department strong administrative talent, having served a long term as the associate department head for undergraduate affairs as well as chairing many important committees since his arrival at UConn.

Learn more about Professor Wells and the physics department from a recent interview produced by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UConn Physics major wins national recognition for research

Connor Occhialini – Finalist 2018 LeRoy Apker Undergraduate Achievements Award

by Jason Hancock

One of our star undergraduates, Connor Occhialini, has won national recognition as a finalist in the 2018 LeRoy Apker Undergraduate Achievements Award competition for his research in the UConn Physics department. The honor and distinction is awarded not only for the excellent research achievements of the student, but also for the department that provides the supportive environment and opportunities for students to excel in research. Connor is in fact the second Apker finalist in three years’ time (Michael Cantara was a 2016 Apker finalist). Connor graduated with a BS in Physics from UConn in May 2018 and stayed on as a researcher during summer 2018. During his time here, he developed theoretical models, helped build a pump-probe laser system, and carried out advanced analysis of X-ray scattering data which revealed a new context for an unusual phenomenon – negative thermal expansion. With these outstanding achievements, the department presented Connor’s nomination to the 2018 LeRoy Apker award committee of the American Physical Society. Connor was selected to be one of only four Apker finalists from all PhD-granting institutions in the US. With this prestigious honor, the department receives a plaque and a $1000 award to support undergraduate research. Connor is now a PhD student in the Physics Department at MIT.

Search for teaching laboratory technicians

Laboratory Technician II (UCP 4)

Department of Physics

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

University of Connecticut

The Department of Physics seeks 2 dynamic and energetic applicants to join its teaching laboratory team. The Department is undergoing a deep renovation of teaching pedagogy in large-scale learning labs with full support of the University. The successful applicant will fill the Laboratory Technician 2, UCP 4 designation and assume responsibility for maintaining, troubleshooting, and organizing equipment related to learning activities in the large-scale introductory courses. In addition, the technician will be expected to provide support and training to graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants and interact professionally with the teaching staff team, students, and faculty to ensure the safe and secure operation of our teaching labs. Additional duties will include maintaining and upgrading equipment, developing new educational tools under supervision, evaluating and designing laboratory procedures, providing administrative support related to the teaching labs, and assisting in the training, support, and evaluation of teaching assistants. For information about the Physics Department, please visit:

Minimum Qualifications
Bachelor’s degree in physics or a related field and 1-3 years experience in teaching laboratory operations, or equivalent education and experience; sound knowledge of principles of and experience in experimental physics; ability to perform and explain lab procedures and edit manuals; working knowledge of standard MS Office software; ability to operate and maintain computer-based laboratory equipment; knowledge of laboratory safety procedures; ability to troubleshoot equipment similar in type and complexity to existing lab equipment; ability to perform tasks requiring manual dexterity and lift 40 lbs; ability to support evening labs as needed.

Preferred Qualifications
Strong written and verbal communication skills; familiarity with PASCO proprietary hardware and software; demonstrated ability to work well with students, faculty and staff in a diverse environment; familiarity with the LaTeX typesetting system; ability to create schematic drawings of experimental equipment; ability to revise current experiments and design new experiments; ability to design and perform basic repairs to electric circuits and electronic equipment; familiarity with basic experimental data analysis techniques and software tools; basic proficiency writing code in Python (or equivalent); familiarity with science education research; familiarity with studio-based instructional models;

Appointment Terms
This is a full time, 12-month permanent position with excellent benefits.

To Apply
For full consideration, interested applicants should submit letter of application, resume, names and contact information for three professional references to UConn Careers. Employment of the successful candidate is contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-employment criminal background check. (Search #2019124).
All employees are subject to adherence to the State Code of Ethics which may be found at

Astronomers granted early science time on James Webb space telescope

This item copied from the original UConn Today article by Elaina Hancock. The original article can be found here.

UConn on the Front Line to Glimpse Farthest Reaches of Universe

Two UConn physics professors will be among the world’s first scientists to explore the universe using the new James Webb Space Telescope when it is launched in 2019. The telescope, shown here at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is designed to be a large space-based observatory optimized for infrared wavelengths, and will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Two UConn physics professors will be among the world’s first scientists to explore the universe using the new James Webb Space Telescope, as announced earlier this month by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

[The] James Webb [Space Telescope] will begin teaching us entirely new things … things we don’t even know about. — Jonathan Trump

Just like the highly anticipated release of a new phone, game, or gadget, astrophysicists worldwide are eager to start using the new telescope, the latest technology for viewing distant elements of our universe, which is currently set to launch in 2019. But rather than stand in line for hours outside a store, researchers had to submit compelling proposals to secure their spot in line and an opportunity to use the new technology.

The highly competitive, peer-reviewed James Webb Space Telescope Early Release Scienceprogram was created to test the capabilities of the new observatory and to showcase the tools the telescope is equipped with. Of more than 100 proposals submitted, only 13 were chosen to participate in the early release phase, including two separate proposals involving UConn researchers Kate Whitaker and Jonathan Trump, both assistant professors of physics.

Full-resolution mosaic of the CANDELS/EGS field, the survey field for the CEERS proposal’s research. (Anton M. Koekemoer/Space Telescope Science Institute)

Passing the Telescope Torch

The James Webb Space Telescope, designed to be a large space-based observatory optimized for infrared wavelengths, will be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble telescope has been a versatile workhorse and vital tool since its launch in 1990, allowing researchers to peer deep into space and get crisp glimpses of distant galaxies.

But it has technological limitations, and is not currently scheduled for any upgrades or servicing. Since its last service in 2009, Whitaker says, many researchers have been keeping their fingers crossed that it would continue functioning. Hubble is currently the only way to make observations that are required for the type of research she and many others conduct.

“A lot of my research right now is pushing Hubble to its limits,” she notes. “It’s an exciting time, because with the capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope, we will really push into the frontiers of research.”

The Hubble (top left) and James Webb Space Telescope (top right). The middle portion of the image shows the relative location of the telescopes to Earth and the moon; Webb will launch much further into space. At the bottom of the image, the spectrum of light observed by both Hubble and Webb is shown, with Webb’s capabilities stretching farther into the infrared range, well past Hubble’s capabilities. (Slide from the Hubble 25th anniversary website,

The James Webb Space telescope is equipped with tools that will surpass Hubble’s capabilities. Webb will be launched further into space and will be capable of powerful imaging that will produce sharper images and be able to capture images into the infrared range.

Peering into the infrared range allows researchers to observe signatures, in the form of light, from events that happened long ago. The universe is constantly expanding and as light travels, it gets stretched over time, Whitaker explains. The further back you go, say a few billion years or so, the light is stretched so much that it will shift from the visible region of the spectrum into the infra-red.

Cutting-Edge Research, Winning Proposals

Whitaker is a science collaborator on a proposal titled “TEMPLATES: Targeting Extremely Magnified Panchromatic Lensed Arcs and Their Extended Star formation,” exploring star formation in galaxies at a distance of around 10 billion years in the past, something impossible to observe until the high resolution of the new telescope. They hope to more closely study characteristics of those distant galaxies that have until now, only been discernible in more local galaxies.

“Since we cannot travel to these distant galaxies, all we can do is sit here and wait for their light to reach our telescopes,” says Whitaker.

Trump is a co-investigator on the proposal called “CEERS: The Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey,” a plan to conduct an extragalactic survey in hopes of gaining insights into the formation of the first galaxies following the big bang. They plan to look at aspects of the assembly of galaxies, including their number density, chemical abundance, star formation, and the growth of supermassive black holes.

“Hubble has totally transformed our view of the universe and James Webb will begin teaching us entirely new things,” Trump says. “I’m incredibly excited to think about all of the things we don’t even know about, that James Webb will begin to tell us.”

The Early Release Program is aimed not only to showcase the capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope right away, but to make the data publicly available as soon as possible. It is anticipated that the data will facilitate huge breakthroughs in research.

Stay tuned: 2019 promises to be an exciting year in astrophysics.

Thousands attended eclipse viewing hosted by UConn Physics

On Monday, August 21, 2017, the moon eclipsed the sun across the US. What began as a small organic outreach activity blossomed into an epic community event. With help from UConn communications, the UConn Physics club, and staff in the physics department, astronomers Jonathan Trump, Cara Battersby, and Kate Whitaker hosted an eclipse viewing event open to the public. Solar projectors, solar glasses, and solar telescope drew and estimated 2,000 visitors, including many children and families to share in the majesty of the heavens.  To read more about the great American eclipse, read the recent UConn Today article by Elaina Hancock, featuring commentary by astronomers Trump and Cynthia Peterson.

For more about the event and others around the state, see this article in the Hartford Courant