Physics and Astronomy Summer 2015 Newsletter

In this issue:

Sac State - ATLAS Team Member

Dr. Moss along side the ATLAS detector during the construction phase of the detector.

Over the past decade, Sac State has been part of the CSU Nuclear and Particle Physics Consortium (NUPAC). Through the Consortium, our students can take online courses in particle physics and two, Sasha (Moskaleva) Asghari (2012) and James Macdougall (2009), each spent a summer working at CERN under the guidance of Prof. Yongsheng Gao from Fresno State. Prof. Gao is the head of NUPAC and is a member of ATLAS.

In the Spring of 2013, we received permission to hire someone in the area of high energy physics to expand NUPAC. Our search resulted in the hiring of Joshua Moss. Josh was a post-doc at Ohio State University during the exciting turn on of the LHC and its subsequent discovery of the Higg's Boson. 

Moss has recently been awarded a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow him to remain a member of ATLAS. We are very excited about this not only for the opportunities it provides for Moss, but  it also allows him to send a few students each year to CERN in the summer to work with members of the ATLAS team.

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Partovi Summer Research Fellowship

Prof. M. Hossein PartoviIn October of 2014, Prof. M. Hossein Partovi lost his several-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Several weeks before his passing, Hossein joined family, friends, and colleagues at a celebration of his career with alumna Eliza Morris (2005) giving a special colloquium in his honor followed by a reception in the University Union. It would prove to be his last visit to campus.

He was a very active researcher in the areas of theoretical physics and economics and was an outstanding educator. Even while being one of the toughest instructors in the Department, he maintained the highest evaluations. He was widely respected around campus for his thoughtful insights on a wide range of topics. In his later years, Hossein took on more leadership roles in the Department, including two years as Chair. He worked closely with several emeriti to create programs that continue to benefit students and faculty alike.

We have created a program in Hossein’s name to honor his career. The Partovi Summer Research Fellowship will support students engaged in summer research with faculty on campus.

If you are interested in contributing to this program, please contact Laurie MacIntosh, Director of Development. 

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We're Getting Bigger!

Growth of majors. We are excited to report that our physics major programs are growing. We expect to crack the 100 majors threshold in the Fall of 2015, a 150% increase from 40 just a few years ago! This more-than-doubling of majors reflects not only the high demand for STEM-educated college graduates, but also our recent recruitment efforts. 

We have also strengthened our advising programs to help keep our students on track. Each major meets with a faculty advisor before registering for the next semester.

Having larger numbers of students is allowing us to expand our elective opportunities. We recently created an advanced scientific computing course, a dark matter and dark energy course, and many students are taking the high energy physics course through the CSU Nuclear and Particle Physics Consortium. 

In the past three years we’ve graduated an average of 10 students per year, nearly doubling our historical average. A quick count of those in the pipeline show we could exceed fifteen graduates in the 2015-16 academic year! We are well on the path to be one of the larger bachelors-only programs in the country.

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New Faculty

After many years of shrinking faculty numbers we’ve finally been able to hire new tenure-track faculty to put us back on the path to a comfortable-sized faculty. In the past two years, we’ve hired four new assistant professors. In the fall of 2014, Matthew Block and Joshua Moss joined the Department. They will be joined by Mike Ray and Mikkel Jensen later this summer. 

  • Matthew Block is a theoretical condensed matter physicist with a strong background in computational physics. He earned his Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara and his B.S. from Georgia Tech. He spent one year as a lecturer at the Northern Kentucky University after two years as a post-doc at the University of Kentucky. In his own words: "I am a homebody who enjoys video games, TV shows, movies, and political activism ... as long as it doesn't involve standing in the sun."
  • Joshua Moss is an experimental high energy physicist who is a member of the ATLAS experiment at CERN. As a post-doc at the Ohio State University, he was on the team that discovered the Higgs Boson. He earned his Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary after earning his B.S. from Hiram College. In his own words: "In addition to smashing protons together, my favorite activities are playing sports, including soccer, tennis and hockey, tinkering, and chasing after my two kids."
  • Michael Ray is a low-temperature physicist who has studied solid helium and Bose-Einstein condensates. The work from his post-doc at Amhert College has been published in Nature and Science. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amhert and his B.S. from the Ohio State University. In his own words: "I enjoy almost anything outdoors, and I cannot wait to get out to some real mountains for some hiking, camping and of course skiing." 
  • Mikkel Jensen is an experimental biophysicist who studies the mechanics and dynamics within cells and other soft matter physics. Originally from Denmark, he earned his bachelor degree from the University of Southern Denmark before coming to the United States to earn his Ph.D. at Boston University. He did his post-doc at Harvard University. In his own words: "In addition to my scientific interests, I am an avid curler and love piano." 

One of the things that excited us about all of these gentlemen was their strong desire to involve undergraduates in their research. In fact, Moss and Block are already working with students and we expect that Ray and Jensen will very soon after arriving.

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Applied Physics Concentration

Initial employment fields for physics bachelor degree recipients from 2011-2012.

In the Fall of 2015 we launch our new Bachelor of Science in Physics, Applied Physics Concentration. According to the American Institute of Physics, approximately 60% of those earning a degree in physics go directly into the workforce or go to graduate school in a field outside of physics and astronomy. Of those entering the workforce with just their bachelor degree in physics, approximately 2/3 move into positions in engineering, computers, or "other STEM" fields. Our numbers at Sac State are similar to this. Our traditional BS degree, like those at most schools, is designed for those planning to attend grad school in physics and is not optimized for students with other career plans. To learn more about initial employment for bachelor degree recipients, please see AIP's Physics Bachelor’s Initial Employment Report.

The Applied Physics Concentration keeps the core physics curriculum but adds to it specific degree requirements in computing, instrumentation, and project based learning. Students have nine units of electives that can be taken in physics, engineering, chemistry, or mathematics.

The new program coordinates well with our existing certificate programs in Scientific Instrument Development and Scientific Computing and Simulation. These certificates have been very valuable in securing positions for number of our graduates.

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Inspiring Tomorrow's Physicists

Recent Grads in the Classroom

Glen Kennedy
Class of 2013
Natomas High School

Randy Laforteza
Class of 2012
Natomas Charter High School

AJ Sisneros
Class of 2011
Burbank High School

Lisa Winters
Class of 2009
Boulder Creek Middle School

Steve Nixon
Class of 2008
Marina High School

David Stafford
Class of 2006
Rosemont High School

Several years ago, we created a targeted program to impact ranks of physics teachers in the Sacramento Region. The Bachelor of Arts in Physics, Teacher Preparation Concentration has done exactly what we had hoped it would.

Students in this program, coordinated by Associate Professor Vera Margoniner, take all of the usual physics coursework, but have additional lower division work in other sciences and have the opportunity to gain classroom experience while still an undergraduate. Working with local teachers, TPC students get to develop lesson plans and spend time in front of the class without having to wait until they get into the Teacher Credential Program.

We’ve had four students complete this program to date and all are working at schools in the Central Valley. The most recent student, Glen Kennedy (2013), was offered a position at Natomas High before he even finished his credential!

This program would not have gotten off the ground without the support of alumnus Joe Bania and his wife Barbara. They came to us in 2007 to express their concerns with the state of physics education in high schools. Their support, recently expanded by Emeritus Prof. Gene Barnes, has provided numerous scholarships to students in this program.

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