Postings created for publication in the Physics Department web page news feed.

A Team Effort is Giving New Life to a Classic Observatory

Elaina Hancock – UConn Communications

After nearly 20 years of being out of commission, UConn’s East Road Observatory is back up and running
After nearly 20 years of being out of commission, UConn’s East Road Observatory is back up and running. The observatory will be renamed in a ceremony on October 21st where the team that restored the facility will demonstrate its capabilities. (Contributed photo)

Professor Cynthia Peterson was the first woman on the UConn physics faculty, and over the course of her 49 years at the University, she was known for her enthusiasm and passion for teaching and outreach and was always generous with sharing her knowledge. She was also known for her pursuit of the installation of an observatory j

Less than two weeks after touring the inside of the observatory in January of 2023, the team, including Allen Hall pictured here, began taking apart the old telescope and started working on restoring the facility.
Less than two weeks after touring the inside of the observatory in January of 2023, the team, including Allen Hall (pictured), began taking apart the old telescope and started working on restoring the facility.

ust off campus in Storrs, and in 1970 she and machinist Richard Mindek built the East Road Observatory.

Sadly, after a few decades of use, the observatory eventually fell out of repair and was largely forgotten until recently. A team, including employees, students, researchers, an alum, and an award-winning telescope builder, have breathed new life into this important piece of research equipment and UConn history.

In the fall of 2022, Physics Assistant Professor-in-Residence Matthew Guthrie learned about the observatory and started to wonder about its history.

“When I learned that it was no longer in use, I asked around to see why and how we could get it up and running again. Getting it fixed up was not in my skillset, so I didn’t think too much more about it,” says Guthrie. “Then Allen Hall, a local award-winning telescope designer, emailed our department chair out of the blue in January. He wanted to donate a telescope that he built. We connected and I told him about the derelict observatory, about a week later we were taking it apart.”

Guthrie reflects that the facility was in rough shape, and Hall later admitted he thought it was a lost cause, but they stuck with it. Now, after months of repairs, troubleshooting, and cleaning out critters and junk, the observatory is back in action and will be formally renamed at a ceremony scheduled for Tuesday, October 24th where Guthrie says they plan to demonstrate its upgraded capabilities.

Guthrie says jumping straight into the restoration has been an amazing and collaborative learning experience.

“I’m learning as much as I can from him (Hall), and his mechanical and technical skills are exactly what we needed to get this place restored to its former glory, and given the work and upgrades we’ve already made, they’re even better than the original design.”

All the while, Guthrie has tried to find out as much as he can about the observatory’s history. For instance, there is also an additional cement pad and utility hookups that were not previously used, and there are hopes that the facility can be expanded in the future to include a classroom, says Guthrie.

An alum who worked in the dome as a student and has also helped with the restoration effort, Dennis Perlot ’82 (ENG), saw the logbook and remembered the last, ominous entry dating from 2009 which read: “Dome stuck, mount frozen.” Perlot says the now-lost logbook also contained entries about asteroids, comets, and other discoveries.

Here Guthrie is working on reassembling the telescope. He says, “My graduate and postdoc work was mostly theory-based, so being back in a place where I can literally get my hands dirty again makes me happy, and seeing the results of our labor has been rewarding.”
Here Guthrie is working on reassembling the telescope. He says, “My graduate and postdoc work was mostly theory-based, so being back in a place where I can literally get my hands dirty again makes me happy, and seeing the results of our labor has been rewarding.” (Contributed photo)

Other challenges have grown up around the observatory, says Guthrie, because when it was built, the site was likely in the middle of an empty field. Decades later, the field now hosts a patch of trees and agricultural research fields.

Guthrie says the agricultural research farm staff, including Farm Manager Travis Clark, has been very supportive in helping to remove some of the trees when they can. Though people working on the farm have wondered what the strange building was for a while, now it presents an opportunity for new collaborations. Guthrie says one plan is to plant a “moon garden” around the building with night-blooming flowers.

“Getting the facility back up and running has been an amazing and rewarding experience. This will be a force for good in the department and at the university,” says Guthrie. “Our department has big-shot astrophysicists who work on JWST and Hubble. They like their telescopes to be in space, but having a telescope here is a powerful thing.”

UConn researchers have access to a network of telescopes around the world but time on the scopes requires fees after submitting proposals justifying the need for research time on the scopes. Now, Guthrie says students and researchers can get some hands-on experience with an earth-bound scope right here in Storrs.

“There’s nothing more fun than going through the theory in class and then seeing what it looks like with your own eyes and making that connection. That’s one of my basic philosophies of being a teacher, you can do all the theory that you want, and you probably can be pretty good at it. But if you can’t apply it, and see what that theory does in real applications, there’s no point. Things like this observatory are great tools for that building perspective.”

The team repaired, cleaned, and upgraded the observatory and it is better than before.
The team repaired, cleaned, and upgraded the observatory and it is better than before.

Upgrades to the facility include GPS for tracking the stars, enabling different kinds of research the observatory was not capable of previously, and Guthrie hopes to set up the system so it can be controlled remotely.

“With tracking, the scope rotates just a little bit at a constant rate to track along with the motion of the stars and that lets us do real science because you must look at something for a long time to really study it. One of the things that we’re excited to do is exoplanet studies where you need to take a few hours of exposure to accurately measure how much light you’re getting from the star so that any variability in that light you can attribute to a planet passing between us and the star. Doing that requires accurate tracking.”

At sunset on October 24th, following the short opening and renaming ceremony, Guthrie says they will fire up the new 16-inch telescope for an exploration of deep sky objects, planets, and (if visibility allows), the Apollo 15 landing site.

Physics Celebrates 51’st Annual Ascent of Mount Monadnock

On October 14, 2023 40-50 members and friends of the UConn Physics department took part in the 51’st annual ascent up Mount Monadnock, near Jaffrey, New Hampshire. After the hike, the then-hungry hikers descended to the campground near Gilson Pond and enjoyed some well-earned refreshments, including burgers, hot dogs, and more sausages than anyone could eat. News of the group’s cheer “Let’s Go, Physics” from the summit is expected soon to be trending on youtube. Rumors are circulating that it may have been heard as far as Boston and Storrs.

UConn Physics annual climb of Mount Monadnock, taken October 14, 2023
UConn Physics Department members rest after ascent of Mount Monadnock near Jaffrey, NH 14-Oct-2023

Nobel Prize Winner, Professor Gérard Mourou, Katzenstein Distinguished Lecturer

The University of Connecticut, Department of Physics, is proud to announce that on October 20, 2023, Gérard Mourou, professor and member of Haut Collège at the École Polytechnique and A. D. Moore Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan and 2018 Nobel Prize winner, will be presenting the 25th Distinguished Katzenstein Lecture.

For the details of the lecture, see Physics Events Calendar

Gérard Mourou received his undergraduate education at the University of Grenoble (1967) and his Ph.D. from University Paris VI in 1973. He has made numerous contributions to the field of ultrafast lasers, high-speed electronics, and medicine. But, his most important invention, demonstrated with his student Donna Strickland while at the University of Rochester (N.Y.), is the laser amplification technique known as Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA), universally used today. CPA revolutionized the field of optics, opening new branches like attosecond pulse generation, Nonlinear QED, and compact particle accelerators. It extended the field of optics to nuclear and particle physics. In 2005, Prof. Mourou proposed a new infrastructure, the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI), which is distributed over three pillars located in the Czech Republic, Romania, and Hungary. Prof. Mourou also pioneered the field of femtosecond ophthalmology that relies on a CPA femtosecond laser for precise myopia corrections and corneal transplants. Over a million such procedures are now performed annually. Prof. Mourou is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and a foreign member of the Russian Science Academy, the Austrian Sciences Academy, and the Lombardy Academy for Sciences and Letters. He is Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

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

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.


Research of Professor Trallero’s group featured in Advances in Engineering

A recent publication by Geoffrey Harrison, Tobias Saule, Brandin Davis, and Carlos Trallero from the Department of Physics, University of Connecticut is featured in Advances in Engineering. The publication presents a novel method for mitigating the bit-depth limit by increasing the phase precision of the Spatial Light Modulators (SLMs). The technique is based on adding irrational linear slopes in addition to the desired phase to increase the device’s effective bit-depth through an effect similar to volume averaging. The research is published in Applied Optics.

Spatial light modulators (SLMs) are devices that can modulate properties of light waves, such as phase, amplitude and polarization. SLMs are extensively used in numerous applications, including data storage, material processing and optical microscopy. With the widespread application of SLMs, the need to address the bit-depth and spatial resolution problems common to most SLMs is urgent.

The publication by Prof. Trallero’s group presented a technique for overcoming the bit-depth limitations of SLMs and verified it experimentally. The authors expressed confidence that the presented method could be used to gain multiple orders of magnitude with more precision beyond what was measured and obtained in their study.

About Advances in Engineering: Advances in Engineering ensures that the results of excellent scientific research are rapidly disseminated throughout the world, in a fashion that conveys their significance for advancing scientific knowledge and developing innovative technologies. Content is mainly targeted to an educated audience of engineering and physics students, scientists, and professors. Engineering fields covered are Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Materials Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Nanotechnology Engineering as well as General Engineering (aerospace Engineering, communication Engineering, computer Engineering, Agricultural Engineering, and Industrial Engineering).

UConn STARs Visit Hartford High School

The UConn STARs visited Hartford High School on May 8th and 11th, 2023. We visited junior engineering students in the classroom of Mrs. Melissa Adams and the high school football team lead by Coach Jackson. We taught them all about quantum mechanics, solar telescopes, gravity, and of course electricity and they taught us as well. We had a blast with these bright young scientists in the making!

The UConn STARs program is for undergraduate students in physics, aimed to recruit and retain students from historically excluded groups in physics (including gender identity, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, first generation status, documented status, disability status, as well as additional categories). We hold regular meetings throughout the academic year to build community, offer academic and advising submit, as well as professional development opportunities. Each Spring, we visit a local classroom in an under-served community to inspire the next generation of STARs.

Passing of Frederick Edward Steigert

Frederick Edward Steigert, of Westerly, RI passed away surrounded by the love of his family on Monday, May 29, 2023. He was the husband of Judith Carol (Lance) Steigert. Born in New York, New York on September 11, 1928, he was the son of the late Karl and Margarete (Shuppert) Steigert.

Frederick was a dedicated teacher and scholar. He was educated at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He received his PHD in Nuclear Physics at the University of Indiana. He was Director of Undergraduate Studies at Yale University followed by a career teaching and as an advising professor at the University of Connecticut where he was beloved by his students to whom he was a mentor. Frederick was an avid runner, storyteller and a dedicated historian. He served on the school board of Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, Connecticut. He was a volunteer fireman in Bethany, Connecticut. He loved carpentry and masonry.

Besides his loving wife Judith Steigert, he leaves behind his daughters Heidi Polhemus and Cassandra Olesen. He also is survived by his sons Frederick W. Steigert and Richard E. Steigert and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter Christine Spencer.

All services will be held privately at the convenience of the family.

Department of Physics is hosting Summer School on Electron-Ion Collider

The Department of Physics is hosting UConn-NSF summer school on Parton Saturation and Electron Ion Collider (EIC). The School will take place in Storrs, from August 1 to August 10, 2023. The school chair is Professor Alex Kovner. The school website can be found at

The Electron-Ion Collider is the next big experiment in high-energy nuclear physics. It is going to address a plethora of questions about the structure of protons and nuclei. One of the main exciting phenomena that it is intended to clarify is the manifestations of parton saturation. This has been predicted to occur in hadrons at high energy as well as in nuclei at lower energies. Although tantalizing hints of saturating behavior have been observed at Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in Brookhaven National Lab and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, no cut-and-dry experimental case has been made for it yet. We hope that the experiments on nuclei at EIC will provide a convincing case for saturation. Another important aspect of EIC physics is scattering on polarized proton beams, which should improve our understanding of the so-called “proton spin crisis”.

The school is intended to graduate students and postdocs who want to extend their physics horizons or plan to pursue research in this or related areas. A preliminary list of lecturers at the school includes A. Mueller (Columbia), O.Hen (MIT), N. Armesto (Santiago de Campostela), A. Dumitru (CUNY, Baruch College), Yu. Kovchegov (Ohio State), L. Jin (UConn), V. Skokov (North Carolina State), B. Schenke (BNL). The schedule of lectures is available on the school website at