Chris Coffin and KC Walsh have both been nominated for the Carter Teaching Award.  The envelope will be opened at the annual College Awards ceremony on Tuesday January 12, 2016 at 4:30 PM in the Horizons Room at the MU.   Please consider going to support the Physics Team. or 541-737-4717


IMG_2954Bethany Matthews and James Haggerty, graduate students in Janet Tate’s research group, attended the 2015 Fall MRS Meeting in Boston, MA.  Each submitted a poster on their work with the DOE-funded EFRC, Center for Next Generation Materials by Design: Incorporating Metastability.  Both posters were nominated for “best poster” in their respective sessions – congratulations!  Bethany is pictured with her poster, “Growth and Characterization of the Metastable Heterogeneous Alloys (Sn1-xCax)S and (Sn1-xCax)Se“.  James’s poster was entitled, “Sb2Ox polymorphic thin films using pulsed laser deposition“.

La Sells Stewart Center was turned into an interactive science museum for two days last week. Teams of volunteers from across the College of Science shared their enthusiasm for science with approximately 2000 school children during the event. In the Physics room, kids enjoyed hands-on demonstrations of angular moment, electricity, optical illusions, buoyancy and lift.

discovery days fall 2015

The Fall Discovery Days Physics team included Gregg Stevens, Tym Mangan, Corinne Brooks, Renee Anderson, Guang Xi, Tyler P., Kelby Peterson, Jihan Kim, Chris Jones, Sam Grimm, Sam Wiard, Amit Bashyal, Kyle Vogt, Jake Bigelow, Evan Peterson, James Haggerty, Ryan Bailey-Crandell, Jay Howard, Hiral Patel, Emily van Zee, Jim Ketter, and Ethan Minot.


Alum Brandon Brown (Ph.D. 1997) has written a biography of Max Planck entitled Planck – Driven by vision, broken by war, published by Oxford 51abHwqgpDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_University Press in 2015.  Brandon’s long-standing interest in science communication led him to the Science Communication program at UC Santa Cruz after he earned his Ph.D. from OSU. He joined the faculty at the University of San Francisco in 1998, and is now is Professor of Physics. Asked where the idea for the book came from, Brandon said, “I’ve been fascinated by Max Planck’s life and times for at least the last 27 years or so. As a student, I was struck by the sadness in his old face and by the fact that he made his most important contribution in his 40’s. That’s not so common, especially in physics.” Brandon’s website for his book is

Shirley Dow Stekel in restored prairie in Wisconsin.
Shirley Dow Stekel in restored prairie in Wisconsin.


Alumna Shirley Dow Stekel, BA ’58, MA ’61  came back to visit the Physics department on September 29.  Prof. Stekel is retired from the Physics Department at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater  and visited with her husband Frank and daughter and son-in-law. After her first year classes, she was the only woman in her math and physics classes and remembers walking into the old Men’s gym for mass exams and feeling very alone. She says  “I just liked physics and math, and wanted to see how far I could go with it. But another very important part of feeling comfortable on campus were my friends at Winston House. There were 30 -35 women who lived and worked together there. Most quarters, I had a class with someone from the House. German, American Literature, Music Appreciation, etc. provided enough credits for a BA.” She notes that she had room for extra courses because she was not required to take ROTC.

She went on to get her Masters in Physics at OSU before moving on to faculty positions in Washington and Michigan and finally an Assistant Professorship at Whitewater with a sabbatical break at the Indiana Synchrotron facility.  During her visit to OSU, she visited the Minot and Lee labs and sat in on a 212 studio.  She had instituted similar group engagement methods at Whitewater two decades ago, inspired by the way Botany had been taught at OSU when she was here. She says Weniger is both the same and different from when it first opened, although Winston House has been replaced by the oceanography building. She has been a long term supporter of Physics at OSU and we hope that we still provide the same inspiring experience that she had here 55 years ago.
little bears big night skyAlum Katrina Hay (PhD 2008) has published a book for childrenLittle Bear’s Big Night Sky. Katie is a professor at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. Describing her book, Katie says “My outreach goal is to spread a positive message about science to as many kids as possible. This book invites young children to wonder and think big” .
The book is being promoted on Kindle and Amazon.
More information here.


Prof. Shane Larson, who now holds a joint position between the Northwestern Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, CIERA and the Adler Planetarium was recently elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his work in public education and outreach:

“”For impacting science and society through the integration of public engagement and research, and for empowering generations of future scientists by his example.”

You can follow his exploits as @sciencejedi on Twitter

Your chair (Heidi Schellman) knows Shane through her Northwestern days and asked him to bring us up to date on what he’s been doing since then.  We hope this will be the first in a series of Alumni profiles.

Shane Larson and his daughter Kate in Utah with his 16" Dobsonian telescope. Much better seeing in Utah than Illinois unfortunately.
Shane Larson and his daughter Kate in Utah with his 22″!!! Dobsonian telescope. Much better seeing in Utah than Illinois unfortunately.

Who are you?  What do you do both scientifically and for outreach?

Shane Larson: I got my BS in Physics at Oregon State in 1991.  I did my masters and my PhD at Montana State University (1999), then postdocs at JPL, Caltech, and Penn State. I was a professor for two years at Weber State University starting in 2006, then I was at Utah State University where I was tenured in 2013. For the past two years I’ve been a member of CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics) at Northwestern University, and also a member of the Department of Astronomy at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

I’m married to a PhD astrophysicist (Michelle). We have a 9-year old daughter (Kate), and three cats (Sierra, Xeno, and Lyra — yes, I’m the “crazy cat man” in the family!).

My research is in gravitational wave astrophysics; I was trained originally in classical relativity, but my interests and work lie at the boundary between gravity and astrophysics. Most of my physics friends call me an “astronomer” and most of my astronomy friends call me a “physicist” so it all works out perfectly, because they all think they can talk to me about the science that flows back and forth across the divide between the two disciplines.

My primary research is on ultra-compact binary star systems — binary stars comprised of two stellar remnants (white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes) in orbits roughly 1000 seconds long. This are excellent sources of gravitational waves (many systems are already known), and will be observable by future gravitational wave detectors in space. What my group is most interested in is what the detection of a handful of these sources can tell us about the entire population of remnants that fill the stellar graveyard of the Milky Way — these binary star systems are one piece of the fossil record of the stellar evolutionary history of the galaxy.

I do a lot of different outreach things. I blog regularly at on a variety of topics in science. When I was at Utah State University, I helped create and directed a program called “Science Unwrapped” which is a monthly lecture series coupled with face-to-face interactions with scientists and science activities after the lecture. The purpose of this effort was to bring a strong human dimension to our work as scientists. It was amazingly successful — from 2009-2013 we hosted 36 events with a total attendance of almost 12,000 people!

In my role at the Adler, almost all of my activities are public facing. Our professional astronomers spend time out in the museum every day talking with visitors and answering questions. We also do special events; one of my favorite things I get to do is watching science or science fiction movies here in Chicago, then answer science questions after the show for the people who came to the movie.

In addition to being a “professional astronomer” I’m also an active “amateur astronomer.” I build my own telescopes (I have a 12.5″ Dobsonian named “Equinox” and a 22″ Dobsonian named “Mariner”), and like to go to star parties whenever I can — I often go to the Oregon Star Party and the Table Mountain Star Party in Washington every summer. When I go to star parties, I almost always end up giving some kind of public lecture about astronomy and science; I’ve done about 100 talks in the last decade.

When were you at OSU and what do you remember about us?

I remember lots! When I came to OSU, I was initially in mechanical engineering, but I changed my major to physics three days after starting an astronomy class with David Griffiths. I’ve written a bit about that at my blog here:

All my classes and professors in physics are still very vivid in my mind. I had intro physics with Carl Kocher, and modern physics with Janet Tate; I had E&M with Cliff Fairchild, Mechanics with Swenson, and Math Methods with Corinne Manogue; I had Thermal with John Gardner, and Quantum with Al Stetz.

I did a little bit of research with David Griffiths on simulating impacts in aerogels (the material NASA used on the Stardust mission), and a little bit of research with Corinne Manogue on super-radiance in the Klein-Gordon equation. I spent most of my research days, however, working in Jeanne Rudzki Small’s laser lab in the Biophysics Department.  There I worked in “pulsed-laser photoacoustic calorimetry” which is scientist fancy-talk for “we shot proteins with lasers to make them unfold, then we listened to them fold back up again.” 🙂

My early exposures to teaching also came at OSU; I graded Modern Physics for Janet Tate, and I worked with Ken Krane one summer on an NSF Young Scholars grant.

Prof. Janet Tate has been named a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

“For contributions to structural, transport, and optical properties of a wide variety of electronic and superconducting materials.”

The American Physical Society is the national representative for the 50,000 industrial and academic physicists in the US.  Only 0.5% of APS members are Fellows of the Society at any given time.

Prof. Janet Tate and graduate student Bethany Matthews.
Prof. Janet Tate and graduate student Bethany Matthews.

On Monday Prof. Janet Tate received the F.A. Gilfillan Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Science.


Janet Tate receiving the Gilfillan Award
Janet Tate receiving the Gilfillan Award

Her research interests are in thin-film semiconductors for energy-related applications. Her group deposits thin films by physical vapor deposition, mostly pulsed laser deposition, and studies their structural, optical and electrical and thermal transport properties.

Over the past few years her group has created new methods of doping conductors to achieve a wide range of conductivities, with applications from solar cells to transparent transistors and have demonstrated some of the highest conductivities in p-type transparent oxides and sulfide thin films. Such behavior is more difficult to achieve with positive (p-type) carriers, than with negative (n-type) carriers, and her work has been very important in developing the field of transparent electronics, a major technology based partially on basic research done by Prof. Tate and her collaborators at OSU.

For more details on the award, see the College of Science story about the awards ceremony:

For more details on Prof. Tate’s research see her lab site: