Broadcast messages from the Department Head.

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

Department head greeting







Dear Friends of UConn Physics,

Probably the biggest event in the physics world this past year was the successful launch and early data taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It’s not just pretty pictures – the far infrared capabilities allow for the measurement of the most redshifted, thus most distant and earliest, galaxies in the universe and the infrared spectroscopy capabilities allow for the detection of specific gasses, like water, about distant exoplanets. Our astronomy group at UConn is fully involved with four professors (Profs. Trump, Battersby, Angles-Alcazar, and Faesi) participating in 15 separate first-year observation programs. Jonathan Trump has already written his first JWST paper on the chemical enrichment of the earliest universe. Jon has found that the production of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium proceeded more quickly than had been thought. For Jon’s paper, see A list of UConn-JWST-related links is available in a separate article in this newsletter.

Several of our faculty earned accolades. Tom Blum received the UConn Alumni Faculty Excellence Award in Research and Creativity. This is a career award, with a major element Tom’s contribution of new techniques for calculating the magnetic moment of the muon – the well-known g-2 result where the combination of experiment and calculation has now, for the first time, shown the inadequacy of the standard model. Cara Battersby received the CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. This is one of the most important awards available to new-career scientists. Cara won for her proposal to study turbulence in the center of our galaxy coupled with a project to create astronomy-related lesson plans for use in under-resourced high schools. Both of these awards, along with several other impressive accomplishments, are described in the articles in this newsletter.

Another major theme of the year is turnover and renewal. This year saw the retirement of Professor Lanny Brooks from the Hartford campus, Professor Juha Javaneinen, and Professor Philip Mannheim. We hosted colloquia on the career accomplishments of Philip, Juha, and 2020 retiree Phil Gould. From Philip’s colloquium, beyond the notable highlights of his own career, we learned of the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to develop a mathematical career for his Liverpool high school classmate – one Paul McCartney. Also leaving us this year were Financial Assistant Anna Huang and Lab Technician Zac Transport. While we miss all of them, we have had tremendous renewal as well. We have nine new staff/faculty hires in the department. These are:

  • Professor Lea Ferreira dos Santos – a theorist specializing in quantum chaos and many body systems.
  • Assistant Professor Pavel Volkov – a theorist specializing in engineerable quantum materials.
  • Assistant Professor in Residence Sylvanie Wallington has joined our Stamford campus.
  • Assistant Professor in Residence Asli Tandogan Kunkel has joined our Hartford campus.
  • Aislinn Daniels has joined as a Laboratory Technician.
  • Kaitlin Gorman has joined the main office as a Financial Assistant.
  • Robert Shamirian has also joined the main office as a Financial Assistant.
  • In addition, anyone calling into the department office may speak with Victoria Rosado has been working in our main office since May to cover for Carrie Cichocki while out on maternity leave.

Finally, I would like to remind everyone that we are having our first in-person public event since the pandemic hit. On September 23rd we will host Professor Donna Strickland, Nobel Laureate 2018, for the Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture. Prof. Strickland was scheduled to give this talk in March 2020 but was the first event that we canceled due to the pandemic. It seems fitting that this long-delayed lecture will now serve as a reopening. I urge you all to come to Storrs for the event, hear a fascinating talk, reconnect with your old professors, and let us know what you are up to now.

Best wishes to all,

Barry Wells
Physics Department Head

Greetings from the Department Head

New building, new teaching approach, new people – there is a lot of change and excitement in the air for the Physics Department in 2019. The most obvious change is that physics has moved into a newly renovated building. What most alumni will remember as the Math Building has been taken down to its frame and rebuilt as the new physics building, formally Gant South. The new building features large windows with lots of light, revamped teaching labs, and a theory suite at the east end of each hallway. There are also plenty of meeting rooms and nooks, complete with writing spaces, to foster spontaneous discussions. We moved into the offices and teaching spaces at the start of fall semester, whereas the research lab relocations are ongoing as I write.

Along with the new building comes new teaching laboratories. The most striking of these are our studio-labs, located in the Gant Plaza building in the center of the Gant Complex. These studio labs have allowed us to redesign how we teach our introductory physics with calculus courses. Instead of three one-hour lectures per week and a three hour lab, there are now three two-hour meetings per week with mixed activities. The rooms are arranged with groups sitting around tables, and class time is spent on group efforts to explore concepts, solve problems, and conduct laboratory measurements. We have been developing this program using the Phys 1601 and 1602 courses for physics majors. This fall we rolled out the first of four other courses to be taught in this method with Phys 1501, to be followed in successive semesters by Phys 1502, Phys 1401, and Phys 1402.

If your travels bring you to the Storrs area, please stop by our new building. I will give anyone interested a tour myself if my schedule allows.

We also have several new faces around the department this fall. We have hired two new assistant professors in astrophysics, Chiara Mingarelli and Daniel Angles-Alcazar. Both have been hired in a bridge program with the Flatiron Institute of the Simons Foundation. Simons is the leading philanthropic foundation focused on science, and the four centers hosted at the Flatiron are world leaders in computational methods. We also have two new full-time teaching faculty, Niraj Ghimire and Sarah Trallero. Niraj was our own Ph.D. student who had previously worked on our Studio Physics development team. Sarah has been working with our teaching lab support team, with previous experience at Kansas State teaching studio-style physics courses. We have several new members of our teaching lab support team, with three new technicians. Zach Transport and James Jaconetta began working with us last January, and Hannah Morrill joined us over the summer. And finally, while I am not a new face, I took over as department head about a year ago and this is my first go-round writing a welcome to our newsletter. I would like to personally thank Professor Nora Berrah, our past department head, for putting our department on a firm footing that has made my job much easier.

Barry Wells