Reports on recent events within the larger scientific world, with a member of the department explaining the science and commenting on its significance.

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.

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

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.

Research of Professor Daniel Angles-Alcazar featured in UConn Today

Galaxy clusters are the most massive objects in the Universe: a single cluster contains anything from a hundred to many thousands of galaxies, alongside collections of plasma, hot X-ray emitting gas, and dark matter. These components are held together by the cluster’s own gravity. Understanding such galaxy clusters is crucial to pinning down the origin and continuing evolution of our universe. An article recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes using of machine learning algorithms to solve a fundamental problem in astrophysics: inferring the mass of galaxy clusters.  “Measuring how many clusters exist, and then what their masses are, can help us understand fundamental properties like the total matter density in the universe, the nature of dark energy, and other fundamental questions,” says co-author and UConn Professor of Physics Daniel Anglés-Alcázar.


For more information about the research, check UConn Today article at https://today.uconn.edu/2023/04/astrophysicists-show-how-to-weigh-galaxy-clusters-with-artificial-intelligence/

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.

The Milky Way Laboratory Contributes to Art Exhibit at the University of Hartford

Prof. Cara Battersby’s researcMilky Way Lab at UHart Art Exhibith group, the Milky Way Laboratory, was invited to collaborate with Genevieve de Leon, the 2022-23 Koopman Distinguished Chair in the Painting Department at the University of Hartford, for an exhibition focused on the intersection between the Maya calendrical cycles and scientific studies of the cosmos.

From the Milky Way Laboratory, H Perry Hatchfield, Jennifer Wallace, Dani Lipman, and Samantha Brunker contributed scientific figures that are displayed as part of the exhibition.  These figures demonstrate the ongoing research focused on understanding the universe around us through the use of data and scientific analysis.  These figures balance well with Genevieve de Leon’s original, large-scale paintings of constellations in the Maya Zodiac which were created in a methodical, focused way similar to how large-sky surveys are observed.  Genevieve has studied Maya timekeeping extensively, and, through this exhibit, focuses on the intersection of various systems of knowledge.

Additionally, the exhibition includes multimedia work made by indigenous artists in the Native Youth Arts Collective and students at the Hartford Art School which focus on personal connections with the night sky.

Milky Way Lab at UHart Art Exhibit - Orion

Milky Way Lab at UHart Art Exhibit - GalleryMW Lab UHart Art Exhibit - group2

The exhibit, “To Order the Days/Para Ordenar Los Días”, is located in the Donald and Linda Silpe Gallery at the University of Hartford, and will be available from February 23, 2023, to March 25, 2023.

More information can be found at:


Post written by Dr. Samantha Brunker

Prof. Jonathan Trump interviewed by The Conversation about JWST Discoveries

The Conversation interviewed Prof. Jonathan Trump about his recent work with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), with an article and podcast interview available at this link. The interview includes discussion of Prof. Trump’s recent journal paper that used spectroscopic observations from JWST to understand the chemical enrichment of galaxies in the early Universe.

Prof. McCarron received a grant from Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Daniel McCarron, a physics professor, received a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for his work analyzing the quantum mechanical behavior of a simple hydrocarbon molecule: CH, or methylidyne. A highly reactive gas, methylidyne is abundant in the interstellar medium, and its simple composition promises to allow researchers to study the role of quantum mechanics within organic chemistry.

In order to expose the quantum nature of these molecules, Prof. McCarron has devised a way to cool them down to a millionth of a degree above absolute zero using laser light. At such a low temperature, “quantum effects are amplified and can reveal themselves in the lab,” he says. “You don’t really get that in a beaker at room temperature – things just happen too quickly and too chaotically.”

The AFOSR is funding the purchase of a high-powered laser to assist in slowing down beams of CH radicals from about 100 meters per second to several centimeters per second. This laser-cooling and trapping technology will allow amplifying and better study of the quantum behavior of this organic molecule, with an eye toward furthering scientific knowledge about the role of quantum mechanics in chemical reactions in general—a field where successful research has been scarce.

For more information: Four UConn Researchers Take DoD University Research Equipment Awards