Three OSU Physics alums are among 2,046 graduate students nationwide to receive the NSF Graduate Research Fellowships Program award that pays stipend and partial tuition for 3 years. Congratulations to all three! See the Impact article from the College of Science for some more details about other College of Science GRFP recipients.

Head shot of Mirek Brandt at Oregon State
Mirek Brandt in 2017

Mirek Brandt (BS in Physics & Mathematics 2018) worked in the Graham group while at Oregon State. His thesis was on The Impact of Crystal Morphology on the Opto-Electronic Properties of Amorphous and Organic Crystalline Materials. He won a Goldwater Scholarship as an undergraduate and then moved on to the University of California at Santa Barbara where he is doing his doctorate in Astrophysics.

Katelyn Chase (BS in Physics 2018) worked in Bo Sun’s biophysics laboratory during her time at OSU and wrote her thesis on Synchronized Cellular Mechanosensing due to External Periodic Driving. She is now a Ph. D. candidate at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University, conducting research in the Gitai bacterial biology laboratory, studying cytoskeletal proteins. She is interested in proteins involved in bacterial cell shape formation and maintenance. Her photo shows her in Iceland in January.

Patrick Flynn (BS in Physics and Mathematics, 2018) did his senior thesis project on Localized structures in a diffusive run and tumble model for M. xanthus, as part of the Complex Systems REU at the University of Minnesota with Arnd Scheel (Bo Sun was the local advisor).  Patrick also contributed to the linear solver code for the Monte-Carlo simulations performed in David Roundy’s research group in Physics.  Patrick is now a Ph. D. candidate in the Department of Applied Mathematics at Brown University. He is studying the Euler- and Vlasov-Poisson models appearing in plasma and astrophysics. His NSF GRFP proposal was about answering questions such as the existence and stability of solitary waves, or the existence of solutions containing many interacting solitary waves, for the Euler- and Vlasov-Posson equations.  Patrick says he is “very enthusiastic about being able to address questions that have been partially addressed by the physics community to discover new mathematics, and in turn inform scientific discovery. Of course, my time at Oregon State was very formative in this regard, and I still heavily rely on what I learned in the mathematics and physics programs there. After all, I first learned what a dispersion relation was from David Roundy!” The accompanying picture shows Patrick on the Brown Campus.

See the Impact article from the College of Science for some more details about College of Science GRFP recipients.

Dear Physics community,

The Physics Beavers are studying remotely this quarter.

Oregon State Physics is still operating, although our labs are in standby mode and our teaching is now all remote.   We’re using online channels like Zoom and Slack to maintain our tradition of student interaction in courses.  Students are still working together on problems and the Society of Physics Students  is launching an online game night.  We could not have done this without herculean efforts by faculty and students to create online labs, videos, and sophisticated live classes in 3 weeks.  Grad students are writing new labs and undergraduates are serving as learning assistants in the Virtual Wormhole.  See this video on vectors produced in our Lightboard studio to see what our students see.

On campus, research is on standby. Biophysicists Weihong Qiu and Bo Sun led the Physics effort to collect personal protective equipment (PPE) that Oregon State then donated to Oregon Emergency Management agencies.  But, you can’t grow carbon nanotubes or cancer cell lines at home so on-campus research is now on hold.  In the short run, we can work on writing things up, doing the literature searches we never have time for and analyzing data, but we’re eager to get back to our labs. 

If you are interested in helping students financially in the short term, Oregon State has set up an emergency fund for students in need.  Many students (or their parents) have lost their jobs and are struggling with basics like books, rent,  food and the now vital internet connection. Please consider donating to the Beavers Care fund which is providing emergency funding to OSU students (You can designate the College of Science) or to the Human Services Resource Center (HSRC) which provides food boxes, loaner computers and other emergency supplies for students.  

We’ll be providing updates as things progress. 

Heidi Schellman

Physics research isn’t just for Physics majors. Biophysicist Weihong Qiu hosts students from BioHealth Sciences and Biochemistry in his lab as well.

Haelyn Epp and Weihong Qiu preparing motor protein samples in the lab.

BioHealth student Haelyn Epp used her #SUREScience scholarship to work in a biophysics lab on motor proteins. “My scholarship replaced one of my jobs, [and] allowed me to focus on research in a way I had not been able to,” says Haelyn. Read the full article at:

Jake Jacobs (far right) and his family.

Robert  “Jake” Jacobs has been awarded a NASA Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award for 2019 in the competitive Earth Science Division. With this award, he is developing a method to analyze latitudinal circulation utilizing satellite measurements of ocean surface vector winds measured by the QuickSCAT and ASCAT scatterometers. Our objectives are to improve understanding of climatological atmospheric circulation patterns and how surface winds in the tropical Pacific influence El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. Latitudinal circulation plays an important role in weather and climate variability as it shapes where precipitation falls and how heat moves from the equator to polar regions. Improved accuracy of the boundaries between large-scale atmospheric cells can advance our understanding of climate and weather models.

Robert “Jake” Jacobs has been awarded a NASA Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award for 2019 in the competitive Earth Science Division.  With this award, he is developing a method to analyze latitudinal circulation utilizing satellite measurements of ocean surface vector winds measured by the QuickSCAT and ASCAT scatterometers.  Our objectives are to improve understanding of climatological atmospheric circulation patterns and how surface winds in the tropical Pacific influence El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events.  Latitudinal circulation plays an important role in weather and climate variability as it shapes where precipitation falls and how heat moves from the equator to polar regions.  Improved accuracy of the boundaries between large-scale atmospheric cells can advance our understanding of climate and weather models.

This type of work while exciting is not new, as astronautical projects have been a driving force in Jake’s life. His passion for space has taken him from an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering, from Purdue University, to satellite remote sensing at Oregon State University (OSU) where he is completing a PhD in Physics. Before arriving at OSU, Jake obtained a master’s degree in physics from Eastern Michigan University (EMU). While there, he worked with funds from the NASA Space Grant to develop an ion source that would be used in sputtering experiments to model the solar wind.

Connecting with his advisor, Dr. Larry O’Neill at OSU, has created an excellent partnership, as they bring different strengths to the table.  Dr. O’Neill’s wealth of experience has helped Jake to greatly advance his knowledge of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.  While Jake’s physics and math background have assisted with advancing spatial derivative analysis techniques.  This newest project has combined Jake’s passion for physics and math with a novel astronautical venture. He greatly looks forward to continuing this project with the support of the FINESST Fellowship.

In his limited free time, Jake enjoys reading, hiking, swimming and playing disc golf with his two small children, wife and two dogs.  An extra joy in his life is watching his children grow to love the universe and all its boundless opportunities.  The family also enjoys star gazing, which can be difficult in Oregon, so they use a home star theater system to learn about space, stars and the world above.

Tyler Parsotan
Tyler Parsotan

Tyler Parsotan has been awarded a NASA Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) award for 2019 in the extremely competitive Astrophysics category. His proposal, titled “Demystifying the Interplay between Explosion Dynamics and Electromagnetic Radiation in Gamma Ray Bursts”, was one of the 11% of selected proposals in this category.

Originally from NY, Tyler is a first generation student. His family is from the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. He acquired a BS in Space Physics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is now working on a PhD in Physics at Oregon State University.

Tyler is currently a fourth year graduate student working with Dr. Davide Lazzati on understanding the most powerful explosions in the Universe known as Gamma Ray Bursts. These events are so energetic that in the first few seconds of the explosion, they release more energy than our sun will emit in its entire lifetime. Understanding these events allows us to get a better handle on how matter behaves in extreme conditions and may eventually lead to using these Gamma Ray Bursts as tools that can uncover new cosmological truths.

Besides working on his research project, Tyler is the president and co-founder fo the OSU astronomy Club. The club is focused on fostering interest in astronomy at OSU and the community of Corvallis in general. Tyler, with the help of many other undergraduate and graduate students, has hosted the Astronomy Open House events where members fo the public are invited to Weniger Hall to learn about astronomy though interactive demos and rooftop observations. More information regarding OSU Astronomy can be found at:

In January 2019, undergraduate students McKenzie Meyer, Austin Mullins, Acacia Patterson, Elena Wennstrom and Kasey Yoke, accompanied by graduate students Mackenzie Lenz and Nicole Quist, participated in the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at the University of Washington. The conference is a venue for students to share their research, to hear from successful women in physics, to learn about graduate school and employment, and to meet other physicists. The participants heard from keynote speaker Dr. Fabiola Gianotti of CERN, and others who discussed their careers and addressed the barriers to the success of women and minorities in STEM. The group also toured condensed matter labs in UW’s physics department and labs at the Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics, which are interested in dark matter, accelerator physics, nuclear physics, and gravity. During the “Physics Slam,” faculty members competed to deliver the most entertaining presentation of their research, and one of the many attendees to present posters was OSU’s Kasey Yoke who authored “Validation of Anti-Neutrino Data from the MINERvA Experiment at Fermilab” co-authored by physics department head Dr. Heidi Schellman. The group also heard from a career panel highlighting the diverse employment opportunities for physicists, and they had the opportunity to meet with representatives of employers in small groups. The participants attended sessions including those on impostor syndrome, applying and succeeding in graduate school, participating in undergraduate research, applying to jobs in the industry, and writing in science. This annual conference is open to all undergraduate physics majors and proved to be an invaluable experience for the attendees. There are several venues around the country where the CUWiP conferences are held simultaneously. OSU hosted the Pacific Northwest CUWiP conference in 2016 and in 2020, the Pacific Northwest CUWiP will be at Washington State University.

Congratulations to Okan Agirseven of the Tate lab! Okan received the $500 Graduate Student Travel Award from the OSU Graduate School to attend the 30th International Conference on Defects in Semiconductors.  ICDS-30 will be held in Seattle, WA, in July 2019 and is one of the premier international conferences in the field.  Okan will be giving a contributed talk at the conference about his work on amorphous titania thin films.  Okan has learned how to make specific polymorphs of crystalline TiO2 from sputtered amorphous precursor films. This project is part of a larger effort to study metastable materials in the Department-of-Energy-sponsored Energy Frontier Research Center led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  Co-authors on the work are Janet Tate, Tate group alums David Rivella and James Haggerty (who started the project as part of his doctoral research) and current undergraduates Patrick Berry, Kelda Diffendaffer and Acacia Patterson. Collaborators are  Brian Gorman and John Mangum from Colorado School of Mines, John Perkins from NREL and Laura Schelhas from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
Graduate Student Jihan Kim has won the 2018 Physics Department Graduate Research Award

Jihan Kim in the lab

Jihan Kim works with Prof. Bo Sun on biophysical problems. Jihan’s research focuses on the mechanics of cancer-extra-cellular medium (ECM) interactions, which is one of the major factors dictating the physiology of tumors. This is a particularly fertile ground for interdisciplinary research, as physicists are  trained to analyze forces in complex systems. Jihan takes advantage of his physics knowledge in understanding deep biological questions.

Jihan’s first project is to measure the force exerted by cancer cells in 3D collagen matrices, which simulate a realistic tissue environment. He quickly learned MATLAB programing, and wrote a sophisticated image analysis algorithm to enhance images, and to determine the 3D deformation field caused by cancer cells. After publishing his first paper in PLoS ONE, Jihan noticed that a pair of cancer cells can permanently remodel a collagen matrix by creating a bundle of concentrated collagen fibers between them. He talked to a friend during the APS meeting about the observation, which eventually evolved into a collaborative project published in Nature Communications.

Having studied the forces generated by cancer cells and how these forces modify the cells’ environment, Jihan is working on his latest project. In this project, he studies how the environment direct cancer migration. Once completed, his PhD thesis will have a completed loop indicating the feedback between cancer cells and their physical environment.

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.
The PhIS group (Physicists for inclusion in Science) has been busy this year! The group fosters inclusion by providing an inclusive community, professional development opportunities, and mentorship for aspiring physicists. This year, their activities have included coffee breaks, mixers (including an amazing dinner and silent auction for the department), book clubs, and many outreach activities.  Check out all the fun at .  The 2018/19 elections have happened and the new PhIS leadership is: MacKenzie Lenz (President), Kelby Hahn (Vice President), Mike Vignal (Treasurer), Mattia Carbonara (Secretary).  They invite everyone to join!