Physics and Astronomy Summer 2017 Newsletter

In this issue:

New Science Complex Coming Soon!

There has been discussion and hope for a new science building at Sacramento State for many years. Well, after a number of starts and stops, we finally can say with certainty that a Science Complex Renderingnew building is on the way. Last June was the last time that we were able to park in the lot closest to Sequoia Hall because that is the new site for the new Science Complex at Sacramento State! The 94,500 square foot complex will occupy the space between the Guy West Bridge, the University Union, and the Hornet Bookstore. The new building is designed to earn U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold certification, meeting or exceeding standards for energy and water efficiency, materials and indoor air quality. Additional environmentally friendly features include a green terrace—a grass covered roof that provides insulation and captures storm water—and rain gardens which collect and filter water runoff.

This building will primarily be occupied by the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Chemistry, but Physics and Astronomy's presence will be very visible. At the center of the new building is a Planetarium that will be used for our astronomy courses as well as for public outreach events. Outfitted with a new fully digital projection system and lighting, the Sacramento State planetarium will be a place for generations of Sacramento-area children to learn about the universe. Adjacent to the Planetarium will be the Foucault Pendulum that late Prof. Chien Hu long hoped for us to have and display. The almost literal cherry on top of the dessert is a brand new Observatory complex that will house two high quality scopes under a retractable roof. An adjacent south-facing outdoor observing platform will allow our astronomy lab courses and public star parties to gaze into the sky without the vibrations that we have long suffered with on the roof of Amador Hall. 

The official ground breaking ceremony will be held on Sept. 18 and if things all go according to plan, the building will be completed in the summer of 2019, giving us time to get things in place to open for classes in the Fall of 2019. 

Top of page >

 Sigma Pi Sigma Congress In Our Neighborhood

The 2016 Quadrennial Physics Congress, sponsored by Mark Samuel and Jillian's modular optics system.Sigma Pi Sigma, was held in San Francisco in November of 2016. Sacramento State was well represented by the 22 students and 2 faculty members who attended. PhysCon, as it has come to be known, is the largest gathering of undergraduate physics majors in the world. This year, nearly 1200 students of physics came together for several days to hear an outstanding roster of keynote speakers:

  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell 
  • Jim Gates 
  • Eric Cornell
  • Persis Drell
  • Patrick Brady
  • Neil Turok

They also participated in several workshops, had tours of sites in the region (Google X, SLAC, and others), attended Club Congress (dance party), and had a chance to present their research in poster sessions. In fact, our own student Haley Marez won an award for her high energy physics research that she did at CERN last summer. 

Mary Ann Mort presenting her research during one of the poster sessions.In their annual report to the Society of Physics Students National Office, they told about their time at Congress:

We had around 22 students attend PhysCon in November, several of which presented their research during the Poster Sessions. One of our members, Haley Marez, was a poster winner! Five of our students met with Dr. Patrick Brady and were acknowledged in his keynote speech for their insightful conversations and discussions with him during the Breakfast with a Physicist event. Our members were very active in meeting other students from around the nation, sharing our passions, our challenges, and our successes with them.

It cannot be ignored (although he is quite humble about it) that our chapter advisor, Dr. DeGraffenreid, was an essential part of organizing PhysCon, making it the wonderfully enjoyable and timeless experience that it was.

PhysCon has become such a popular event that Sigma Pi Sigma has decided that every four years is too infrequent and that the next Congress will be held in 2019 in Providence, Rhode Island. Time for our SPS Chapter to start saving some money.

Top of page >

Biophysics Alive at Sac State

How do protein complexes self-assemble? What is the interior of a living cell like? How can we engineer “smart” bio-mimetic systems that can respond to their mechanical environmentPhysics undergraduate student Ashley Luiz presents at the NSM undergraduate research reception.t? These are some of the questions being studied by the Sacramento State Biophysics and Soft Condensed Matter Lab.

Together with Sac State undergraduate students, Prof. Mikkel Jensen and Dr. Eliza Morris, alumna and part-time lecturer, are working to understand the physics of biological and soft condensed matter systems, such as gels and polymer networks. One such system is the cytoskeleton, an “active soft material” that constantly Sac State Optical Tweezers System. In the foreground is the fiber optic cable through which the trapping laser travels. On the right is a camera used for brightfield microscopy. In the background is the objective and condenser. The large assembly to the left with the shiny metal posts is the stage and sample holder. consumes energy to regulate cell shape and mechanics, and allow the cell to sense and respond to external forces. The lab uses both computational simulations and experimental approaches to study these complex physical systems to learn about the fundamental physical processes that govern living systems, and to understand the physical changes that can lead to disease. Students from Sac State Physics, Biology, and Chemistry are currently working on research projects in the lab, and their work will be presented at the international Biophysical Society Meeting ( next year.

Lab equipment includes an opticalYour skeletal muscle is primarily made up of two proteins: actin and myosin. To generate force and contraction, the myosin motors consume energy to tug on actin polymers. In this movie (recorded by student Hila Swindell in the Sac State Biophysics Lab), myosin motors have been extracted from muscle and laid down onto a glass slide. The moving worms seen in the movie are fluorescently labeled actin polymers being propelled by the myosin motors. tweezers apparatus capable of manipulating microscopic objects with focused laser light with nanometer precision. This system is used to characterize the micro-mechanics of polymer networks and biological soft condensed matter, and will help the lab design and characterize biologically inspired materials.

Want to keep up with what’s going on in the lab? Visit its website here:

 Top of page >

Largest Class in Department History

The 2016-17 graduation season wasSome Spring Grads at Golden 1 Center. historic for a couple of reasons. While the fact that it was the first Sacramento State graduation ceremony at Sacramento's new Golden 1 Center, in our opinion, the fact that it was the largest graduating class in department history is the most important to us!

Between the winter, spring, and summer terms, we issued a total of 18 degrees! This number well exceeded our historical average of about 6 per year as well as our previous maximuSac State physics degrees issuedm of 11 (which happened three times). The increase is a result of our increased number of majors and our increased retention efforts. With 50 degrees in the past four years, we are among the top 5% in undergraduate-only physics programs in the country. For some perspective, according to the American Institute of Physics' Statistical Research Center, programs like ours typically graduate 6 per year and the most probable number is 2.

As next year is shaping up to match this year's size, we may need to consider having two rows at graduation in the future.

Top of page >

Prof. Barniol Duran Joins Us

This fall we welcome Prof. Rodolfo Dr. Barniol Duran teaching kids about impact cratersBarniol Duran to the Department as our newest Assistant Professor. Prof. Barniol is a theorist with research interests in the area of high energy astrophysics. Unlike the big machine that Prof. Moss uses in his high energy research, Prof. Barniol studies even larger and more powerful machines that we will never be able to build on Earth: Astrophysical Jets. Jets are fascinating objects found in a wide range of astrophysical systems, from protostellar objects to active galactic nuclei. These Nature laboratories provide us with a unique opportunity to study fundamental physics under extreme conditions. His research is highly regarded and he has more than two dozen publications in peer-reviewed journals.

A native of Ecuador, Prof. Barniol comes to us most recently from a post-doctoral position at Purdue University. He had a prior post doc at the Racah Institute of Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He earned his PhD from the University of Texas (where he was briefly an office mate with Sac State Alumna Amy Jones) and his Bachelor Degree (in Engineering Physics) from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey in México. During his time as an undergraduate, he did spend a year at UC Berkeley, where his fascination with astrophysics began, so he’s not completely new to Northern California.

3D Simulation of jets produced by Prof. Barniol Duran.Dr. Barniol has mentored several student projects and has plans to greatly involve students in his research here at Sacramento. He has already submitted a NASA research grant which would support students working with him. He also has a strong interest in outreach activities with experiences that span from school aged groups to the general public. He is very excited about our new planetarium.

In his own words: "My wife Jessa and I love traveling, learning from new cultures and their history. Our 1-yr old son Lucas is also already an avid traveler. We also enjoy music and spending time together outdoors."

As we were putting the finishing touches on this edition of the newsletter, we found out that we've been given approval to begin a new faculty search this fall! 

Top of page >

Alumni Spotlight: California's Radiologic Health Branch 

Housed within the California Department of Public Heath, the Radiologic Health Branch (RHB) enforces the laws and regulations related to radiation producing materials and machines to protect the public, radiation workers, and the environment across the state. From their website: "This includes licensing of radioactive materials, registration of X-ray-producing machines, certification of medical and industrial X-ray and radioactive material users, inspection of facilities using radiation, investigation of radiation incidents, and surveillance of radioactive contamination in the environment." Three of our alumni currently work there and given expected retirements in the next decade, we could have many more:

  • Brigitte Ciobanu (2010)
  • Rafael "Rob" Custodio (2008)
  • Victoria Brandt (2007)

Rob and Vickie are both regular visitors back to the Department (in fact, Rob taught evening lab courses for us for several years until a promotion at RHB put him on the road too much). Both have indicated that it was their extensive hands-on experiences in our upper-division laboratory coursework that put them well on their way towards a career at RHB. In fact, Rob has been encouraging us to look into creating a certificate in Heath Physics that could further streamline a career at RHB or as a Health Physicist in other places. For finding out more about these career opportunities, the Health Physics Society has put together a nice page on career options in the field of health physics. 

Top of page >