Reposted from

A senior’s gut decision in high school to major in physics holds steady four years later

Looking back on his gut decision in high school to major in physics after taking a class in it, graduating senior Abe Teklu remains somewhat mystified. “I guess I was just really confident,” he laughs.
Abe grew up around numbers and changing locations, moving from Ethiopia to Arizona at age six when his father got an engineering job at Intel, and then moving to Colorado before his family settled outside of Portland when he was 12.
His family is mathematically inclined. His mom is an accountant and his dad, who not so secretly yearned to be a mathematician, is an engineer who reads calculus books and earned a master’s degree in fluid dynamics. This home field advantage explains some of Abe’s youthful confidence (he “loved math” even as a child) but since then Abe has carried the ball all on his own.
At Oregon State as an Honors physics student, Abe has remained confident – at least most of the time – as well as comfortable with numbers and shifting contexts. He has had three research internships. The first was the summer after his sophomore year when he had a paid internship at Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) in Evanston, Illinois, in a rather niche but fascinating area of speculative research called astrobiology. There Abe analyzed mathematical models of theoretical predator-prey systems not limited to planet Earth.
The summer before his junior year, Abe headed down to San Diego for another paid internship, this time at the U.S. Department of Energy’s DIII-D National Fusion Facility. The facilty consists of a tokamak, a magnetic fusion device which Abe describes as “a big metal donut spinning plasma to get fusion energy.” Abe used magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) theory to model plasma confinement, with the goal of understanding which conditions better spread heat flux in the divertor region.
In his third research experience, Abe spent more than two years working in physics department head Heidi Schellman’s Particle Physics Research Group, analyzing neutrino-antineutrino data as part of the MINERvA, a major international research effort exploring matter-antimatter differences in neutrino physics. This involved aiming a beam of neutrinos from Illinois to South Dakota. Specifically, Abe worked on the recoil energies recorded when the rare neutrino-antineutrino reactions hit parallel strips of the scintillator, each of which is connected to a photomultiplier tube that determines how much energy is deposited in a strip.
Abe’s research experiences beyond the classroom gave him many advantages. For one, the DIII-D fusion internship formed the basis for his senior thesis. He also learned valuable lessons about the nature of scientific work.
“Unlike class, where there is always an answer, research is open-ended. It was difficult for me at first, but I came to appreciate that even if you don’t solve a problem, you are contributing to a much larger research effort with scientists around the world that will one day lead to a solution.”
Throughout his four years at OSU, community and relationships were key to Abe’s success, a sentiment reflected in his two top pieces of advice for new students.
“Have as much fun as you can freshman year. Talk toeveryone. You will have the most free time this year and so it’s a great time to meet new people and make friends. It gets harder after that.”
As an Honors College freshman, Abe enjoyed meeting friends in his dorm, Cauthorne, and also hung out in West so often that he was mistaken as a resident. He was and is “surprised by the amount of really smart people here. So many amazing people – and it’s so cool now to see all of my friends going off to exciting new destinations next year, from MIT to Brown to AI research!”
His second piece of advice?
“Talk to professors. Go to office hours. Not just to talk about academics, but just to talk about life. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Some of his favorite professors to hang out with are physicists Corinne Monogue, who he calls a “great teacher and person to talk to about anything at all” and Heidi Schellman. Abe suggests another good reason to talk with professors:  It’s a “great way to start research sooner.”
To wit, when Abe visited to Schellman during her office hours, she began describing her research and Abe just jumped in and asked if he could help.
“That day she gave me a key to her lab and I started doing research!” Two years later, Abe still has a coveted seat in Schellman’s Lab and is currently mentoring a new student to take his place after graduation.
Despite his success at OSU, Abe has faced his share of rejection and challenging times. Before joining the Schellman Lab, he was turned down as a freshman for research positions. The fall of his senior year was a really difficult time. After an intense summer working at the fusion facility DIII-D in San Diego, he returned to campus for a nonstop term which on top of his usual demanding coursework included studying for the Physics GRE, applying to graduate schools, writing his senior thesis and dealing with the inevitable “personal stuff.”
“I was overwhelmed and my confidence was shaken. Was I good enough? I had imposter syndrome. The only thing that got me out of it,” Abe reflects, “was just to endure. I just kept going step by step, every single day. I had to keep going and I did and it finally got better.”
It certainly did. Abe was accepted into the physics Ph.D. program at Stonybrook University in Long Island, New York, remarking with great enthusiasm upon the fact that there are no less than “60-70 physics researchers there!” Not wasting any time, he will jumpstart his graduate research this summer at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, working on a yet-to-be-defined research project with his graduate advisor.
Abe is grateful for the science education he has received at Oregon State and was not surprised when he heard that the Department of Physics recently received a national award for improving undergraduate physics education.
“All of my professors were great,” he said. The junior-year Paradigms in Physics series in particular, which was redesigned to include interactive pedagogies and real-world applications to better reflect how professional physicists think, was a real game-changer for Abe.
“[The junior-year Paradigms in Physics] was hard, but it was great and everyone in the class bonded together. We came out feeling that we could do anything!”
Abe’s gratitude extends to the many scholarships he received that helped cement his choice to go to Oregon State. He received the university’s four-year Academic Achievement award as well as a freshman year Honors College scholarship, a Kenneth S. Krane Scholarship in Physics and a David B. Nicodemus Scholarship in Physics.

Rebecca Grollman, Graham Founds, Rick Wallace and  Oksana Ostroverkhova’s paper “Simultaneous fluorescence and surface charge measurements on organic semiconductor-coated silica microspheres” has been featured by Advances in Engineering  as a key scientific article contributing to excellence in science and engineering research.  See

for a short summary of the paper and a short video highlighting the result.

Press release from Mississippi State about Physics Alumna Kimberly Wood:

April 9, 2018

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A tropical cyclone authority at Mississippi State is a new selection for the American Meteorological Society’s Early Career Leadership Academy.

Assistant professor Kimberly Wood soon will be among nearly three dozen 2018 ECLA members receiving special training in Washington, D.C. She came to the Starkville campus three years ago.

Founded in 1919 and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, the American Meteorological Society is the nation’s premier organization for atmospheric, oceanic and hydrologic sciences. Its 13,000 members include researchers, educators, students, enthusiasts, broadcasters and others in these fields.

Supported by IBM, the AMS leadership academy works to sustain a diverse network of early-career achievers. Creative problem-solving, conflict resolution and enhancement of communication skills are major components of the curriculum.

Wood is a 2012 University of Arizona doctoral graduate in atmospheric science and remote sensing. She became an AMS member in 2008.

“Dr. Wood is the only MSU faculty member that has intentionally flown into the eye of a hurricane to collect data,” noted John Rodgers, interim head of the Department of Geosciences. Alongside experiences with hazardous weather systems, she has “excellent computer modeling skills and extensive knowledge of the application of satellite technologies to meteorology,” he said.

Her research “adds a very important component to our already outstanding meteorology program,” Rodgers added.

Wood said her leadership academy participation “already has borne fruit in the form of expanding connections with colleagues I may never have interacted with outside of such a program.” She also credits “strong support” from MSU colleagues and resources for the development of her chosen career.

Last year, she was selected to represent Mississippi at a congressional visit day organized in the nation’s capital by the American Geophysical Union. After helping stress the importance of continued federal science funding, she was asked by the AGU to also join its Climate Science Day program taking place on Capitol Hill in early 2018.

“I believe both experiences positively contributed to my selection for the ECLA, as well as the vision I have for my scientific career,” Wood said.

Academy membership involves a rigorous evaluation process, with documentation required of major accomplishments, successful experiences communicating across cultures and disciplines, and challenges involving weather, water and climate systems.

Wood is a Beaverton, Oregon, native who earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at Oregon State University. She also holds a master’s in atmospheric sciences from the University of Arizona. More biographical information may be read via the “About Us” link at the departmental website

Missions of the American Meteorological Society and Early Career Leadership Academy are online at

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,200 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences may be found at

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at


Ben Whiteley, right, with Prof. Janet Tate and Elaine Whiteley at the COS awards earlier this year.

Ben Whiteley, who with his wife Elaine, had been long term supporter of Physics at Oregon State, passed away in Portland on May 4th. Ben was CEO of Standard Insurance from 1983-1994 and a leader in Oregon business and philanthropy. The Whiteley’s have sponsored the Whiteley Materials Research Fund, which supports research in Materials, and in memory of Elaine’s father – Edwin Yunker, long-serving chair of Physics – the Yunker Lecture series that brings famous scientists to our Department every year.  He was a long-serving OSU trustee. Ben and Elaine received the College of Science Distinguished Service Award in 2016.


Ben’s impact on Oregon and our Department cannot be overstated, we’ll miss him and send our deepest condolences to Elaine and his family.

Obituary from the Oregonian

Shane Larson, BS 91, has won the Vth Fermilab Physics Slam – a public contest in which scientists are given 10 minutes on stage to explain what the heck they do to over 1000 people in a sold out auditorium.  has a Chicago Tribune article about the contest.

Shane works  at the Adler Planetarium and teaches at Northwestern University.  He gave a talk here in 2016 on the LIGO gravitational wave discovery.


Steven Ellefson graduated from Oregon State University in 2014 with a B.S. in

Physics Alumnus Steven Ellefson with with the ViewRay (the world’s first MRI-guided radiation therapy system) and the ArcCHECK-MR (a diode array used for radiation dosimetry measurements of complex therapy plans) that he worked on for his dissertation at UW Madison.
Physics Alumnus Steven Ellefson with with the ViewRay (the world’s first MRI-guided radiation therapy system) and the ArcCHECK-MR (a diode array used for radiation dosimetry measurements of complex therapy plans) that he worked on for his dissertation at UW Madison.

Radiation Health Physics and a minor in Physics. While at OSU, Steven did computational radiation physics research with Dr. Todd Palmer in the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, completed a summer internship in medical physics at the Samaritan Regional Cancer Center, and was awarded the School’s Lower Division and Upper Division Student of the Year Awards in consecutive years.

After graduation, Steven went on to the Medical Physics graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he focused on the physics of radiation therapy. As a graduate student, Steven researched issues with using the ArcCHECK, a commercial silicon diode array widely used for radiation dosimetry of complex radiation therapy plans, for dosimetry on the ViewRay, the world’s first MRI-guided radiation therapy system. His research on the anomalous behavior of the ArcCHECK device under the influence of the ViewRay’s large magnetic field was presented at the annual conference for the American Association of Physicists in Medicine in 2015 and is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics.

Steven graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016 with his M.S. in Medical Physics and, through a competitive application process, was chosen for the Medical Physics Residency Program at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, which he is currently attending.

Steven says the fundamental problem-solving skills and ability to think outside the box developed in the Physics program at OSU were essential to his success.

He points out some special courses here.

“K.C. Walsh and the general calculus-based physics sequence: Dr. Walsh made the fundamental concepts so easy to grasp and his enthusiasm is contagious. He was able to simultaneously encourage and challenge me to be a better physicist. He was also always willing to talk about interesting extracurricular physics problems and even try to work them out if a student requested (such as why a motorcyclist will turn into or away from a corner depending on the speed).

“Dr. Tevian Dray and Vector Calculus II: I feel that I did not truly understand calculus until I took Tevian’s class. Taking his class made a collection of seemingly unrelated facts about calculus learned in previous courses coalesce into a singular paradigm in my brain. I am very thankful for his dedication to helping physicists and engineers understand vector calculus and the integral (no pun intended) role it plays in describing the physical world.”

“Dr. Corinne Manogue: While Corinne is amazing at teaching, what I remember most is her encouragement of students. She truly tries to bring out the best in students and challenges them to be better than they think they can be. I will never forget her telling us all before a final that our performance on the test does not determine our value as human beings.”

“Last but not least, Dr. David Roundy’s computational physics course was a great preparation for graduate school. So many problems are approached with computers today that being able to translate theories/models into a computer program ended up being an essential skill for me.”



Elaine and Ben Whiteley were honored with the College of Science Distinguished Service Award on Friday, November 18th, 2016 at a dinner and award ceremony in the Memorial Union.  Mr. and Mrs. Whiteley are pictured at the awards dinner with Prof. Janet Tate.  The Whiteleys are OSU alumni who graduated in 1951 and 1953 respectively, and are long-time friends of the Physics Department and the College of Science.  They contribute generously to the endowment for the Yunker Lecture series, in honor of Elaine Yunker Whiteley’s father, Prof. Edwin A. Yunker, who was on the physics faculty for 43 years and was department chair from 1949 to 1966.  They have also created a scholarship for students in Materials Science that bears their name.  Many of our students have received the Whiteley Materials Science Fellowship and we all continue to enjoy the intellectual vibrance that the annual Yunker Lecture brings.  Congratulations and thank you both for your support and friendship!


Congratulations to Dr. Scott Clark who is the 2016 recipient of the  College of Science’s Young Alumni Award.  Scott is co-founder and CEO of SigOpt in San Francisco, a startup company for tuning complex systems and machine learning models.  He’s a 4th-generation Beaver and earned 3 B.S. degrees (in Physics, Computational Physics and Mathematics,) from Oregon State University in 2008! He did research with Prof. Rubin Landau (Physics) and Prof. Malgo Peszynska (Math) while at OSU.  He earned his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics and his M.S. in Computer Science from Cornell University and then spent 2 years at Yelp developing black-box Bayesian global optimization techniques.  He subsequently founded SigOpt with his business partners and has raised millions of dollars in start-up funds.  (

We were delighted to host Scott in the department and the college, where he talked with current students and visited his old stomping grounds! On Friday evening, November 18th, Scott accepted his award at a banquet in the Memorial Union.  He was accompanied by family members, including his wife, Dr. June Andrews, who also has a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Cornell and is a  data scientist at Pinterest.

Scott said that what he liked best about OSU was the encouragement to pursue whatever he wanted and the excellent problem-solving and analytical skills he developed in our physics program!  Thanks Scott, and congratulations!