Personal updates from faculty
This was a good year for the department, the highlight being our successful recruitment of two new faculty. Thanks for the administration and hard work of our faculty we are getting two new great Teacher/Scholars.
I got to teach Physics 114 again last semester and enjoyed it as usual. Those students are so motivated and a pleasure to teach. We are working on revising some of the associated labs as well as the intermediate labs.
My research group is doing well. Aryatara Shakyra graduated from Salem and is now a grad student in Arizona. She went with me, Ellie Alipour (a grad student), and Fernando Rigal (a Physics undergrad) to the NO Gordon Conference in Ventura CA last January. This year Ellie and Fernando are coming with the rest of the group (Swati, Nadeem, Andreas, and a new undergrad Jacqueline Zhu) to the SFRBM meeting in Vegas in November.
My oldest son is turning 21 and is at the Engineering school at NC State while my other two boys are in high school still.
Do drop by when you are in town.
Our group grew in size substantially last year with the addition of three new graduate students, Leda Gao, Ian Newsome, and Shohreh Gholizadeh Siahmarzgi. Robert Link continued to work with me throughout the year and Ray Clark worked with me during the spring semester. Ray spent the fall semester in Barcelona, Spain. Both Robert and Ray graduated with BS degrees in Physics in May. Robert, Ray, and the other graduate student working with me, Ritchie Dudley attended the April American Physical Society Meeting in Denver. Both Ritchie and I gave talks and Robert and Ray presented posters. Ritchie received a Graduate Richter Scholarship from Wake Forest University to spend three months in Valencia, Spain where he worked under the supervision of Alessandro Fabbri at the University of Valencia. I also traveled to Valencia for three weeks and both of us presented posters at the 22nd International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation that was held there in July. Ritchie also attended and gave a talk at a workshop entitled “Simulating gravitation and cosmology in condensed matter and optical systems” which was held towards the end of July in Trent, Italy.
In addition to the travel, since the last newsletter two papers have been published and one accepted for publication that include current and former students as coauthors. One paper which was on zero temperature black holes that do not evaporate due to the Hawking effect had former graduate student Mathew Binkley along with former undergraduate students Jillian Bjerke and P. Wilson Cauley as coauthors. A paper on certain types of Bose-Einstein condensates which can serve as analog black holes had Ritchie Dudley as a coauthor along with two external collaborators Roberto Balbinot and Alessandro Fabbri. A paper has been accepted for publication with Ray Clark as a coauthor along with two external collaborators Alessandro Fabbri and Michael Good. In it we studied the details of black hole evaporation at late times well after the black hole has formed.
Last year was the first year that Keith Bonin served as Associate Provost for Research and Scholarly Inquiry. Responsibilities include supervising and enhancing research endeavors at all of the schools at Wake Forest, as well as the College. Last academic year he visited three universities who have implemented new programs, recruitment strategies, and practices that have resulted in a significant increase in externally funded research expenditures over the last decade. This effort has the goal of adopting and modifying some of these practices to catalyze a similar increase in the years ahead at Wake Forest. In addition, last September (2018) he was awarded a 5-year NIH grant (as a co-PI) to study chromatin dynamics in human cells with the goal of understanding the mechanisms of therapy induced cancers. These are cancers that are induced by the cancer treatment, and are usually fatal in most cases. Last year 6 undergraduate students and one graduate student were engaged in research related to this project. Prof. George Holzwarth also worked on this project as a collaborator throughout the year. Finally, he again taught the Intermediate Physics lab course, which is a lab course tightly aligned with the Modern Physics course offered to sophomore Physics students.
This past summer, I traveled to San Diego to speak at a two day symposium for my former professor, Katja Lindenberg. She was retiring after 50 years at University of California, San Diego, which is where I received my Ph.D. She used to introduce me as “a former TA who stayed on as a friend.” Katja had a very distinguished and accomplished career (it is pretty rare to be honored with a symposium for a retirement), and her career is even more amazing when you consider that she was an immigrant from Ecuador and often the only woman at conferences in her field.
To me, however, Katja was someone who took the time to listen and encouraged me to be a better teacher. Thanks to her letter of recommendation, the first one she ever wrote for a TA, I received a university-wide Teaching Excellence Award. It remains my most precious award. Indeed, when I received a university-wide award from Wake for mentoring and teaching and just last semester a Physics Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award from the Physics Dept., Katja was the second person I told (after my wife, of course).
As it turns out, I am not the only one at Wake to have a connection to Katja. When I interviewed here at Wake about 9 years ago, I met with Bill Kerr, a Professor Emeritus in the Physics Dept. Before long, we realized that Katja was a mutual friend because Bill had shared an office with Katja in the same Ph.D. graduate research group at Cornell. What a small world! Towards the end of the conversation, he said, “If you’re a friend of Katja’s, I’m sure that you will love it here like I did.” Turns out, Bill was right, as always.
Oana D. Jurchescu
The Jurchescu research group welcomed one new graduate student (Ryan Sullivan), and one undergraduate student (David Filston). Group member Dr. Zach Lamport started a postdoctoral researcher position at Columbia University and Dr. Peter Diemer moved to WFU Medical School on a research scientist position. Undergraduate student Robby Bradford was named a Goldwater Scholar and he also received a fellowship that supported his research at Duke University over the summer. Former undergraduate student Sajant Anand won a National Science Foundation fellowship from the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (which he declined) and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate fellowship that will support his PhD studies at UC Berkeley.
Prof. Jurchescu gave seven invited talks this year at major conferences in the field, which took place in US, Singapore, Sweden and Croatia. She also organized two international conferences: Symposium EP06: Organic Electronics—Materials and Devices at the Materials Research Society (MRS) spring meeting, April 2019, Phoenix, AZ, and the Symposium on Organic and Hybrid Field-Effect Transistors XVIII at the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) Annual Meeting, August 2019 in San Diego, CA. In March, she became a member of the Division of Materials Physics Executive Committee of the American Physical Society.
In the last academic year, I have been able to put into practice the latest tweaks in how I teach first year physics. I mentioned in the previous newsletter that I radically changed the way I teach after returning from seven years in administration, with students viewing lectures via short videos the department produced, and using class time for interactive problem solving. I decided that I do not want to waste a minute of the time I am with my students doing things that could be done as well or better when we are not together. Thus, the students view lectures online, freeing up class time for students to work in small groups on hard problems. This way students encounter their gaps in understanding when we are all together and can quickly resolve them. My students learn more than before, and they report preferring this approach.
As of two months ago, I have four grandchildren. I have seriously embraced the role of “granddaddy”, and am doing all I can to hook them all on science. McKinley, when asked how she liked her first day at Disney World, replied “Great, but tomorrow can we go to Sciworks [the Winston-Salem science museum]?” So, I think it is working. Please visit when you are in town, and I will show you pictures!
The Salsbury group has been busy since our last update in the 2016-17 academic year. Since then Ryan Melvin and Jijaie Xio both defended their dissertations and both are working in industry using machine learning & modeling; in finance and pharma respectively. Both also earned Masters; in statistics and CS respectively, and Ryan also earned a certificate in Structural & Computational Biophysics.
Terra Colvin also graduated with his MS in physics and continues to work for the Cancer Center. Cenji Yu, a former undergraduate researcher, graduated, received honors in physics and is currently a PhD in Medical Physics at MD Anderson. In other news, Dr. Salsbury was promoted to full Professor and has been a faculty liaison to the TLC organizing workshops and panels for and by faculty in teaching, especially regarding computation in courses.
This past year was very eventful for Prof. Thonhauser. On July 1, 2019 Prof. Thonhauser was promoted to Full Professor of Physics. At the same time, he was also awarded the endowed chair and title of Wright Family Professor in Physics. In terms of research, we are happy to report that Prof. Thonhauser got his long-standing DOE support renewed through a $1,250,000 grant, this makes 11 years of continuous DOE support. This past spring, Prof. Thonhauser was also able to open his Molecular Playground exhibit at our local science museum Kaleideum to the public, see https://cfm.wfu.edu/outreach for pictures. This exhibit educates children and adults alike about the fundamental building blocks of nature—atoms, molecules, and solids—and was made possible through Prof. Thonhauser’s NSF support. Finally, last year was also the first year of the newly established Center for Functional Materials, see https://cfm.wfu.edu, where Prof. Thonhauser serves as the founding director.