Friends, faculty, alumni, staff, and students gathered April 22 for the annual UT Physics Department Honors Day ceremony. We recognized a distinguished alumnus as well as an outstanding freshman; undergraduates who’ve demonstrated leadership and graduate students who are publishing in research journals. The students also presented their award for the Teacher of the Year.
Bob Compton was born in Metropolis, Illinois, but moved with his family to Oak Ridge when he was five years old. He graduated from Oak Ridge High School before attending Berea College, where he earned a BA in physics, and then the University of Florida, where he earned a master’s in physics. He returned to East Tennessee to earn a PhD in physics with our department, working with Dr. Sam Hurst at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He graduated in 1964 and began a long tenure at ORNL, where he was a Senior Research Scientist, Group Leader, and Senior Corporate Fellow. During this time he also helped to co-found Comstock, a mass spectrometry and chemical physics instrumentation company.
Though all his degrees are in physics, Bob has spent his career navigating the frontier between physics and chemistry. He has been a leader in experimental studies of electron and photon interactions with atoms, molecules, and clusters. He pioneered studies of transient negative ions of organic molecules such as benzene and naphthalene. In 1974 he was the first to report the observation of a dipole-bound negative ion, and he and his colleagues were the first to report evidence for a quadrupole-bound negative ion. He has made key contributions to the study of multiply-charged negative ions and was the first to propose the existence of a Coulomb barrier for the formation and decay of a multiply-charged anion, which accounts for its extreme stability and usefulness in electrospray mass spectrometry. Another key focus of Bob’s research has been in non-linear optics, including key developments in resonantly enhanced multiphoton ionization (REMPI) such as the first measurements of multiphoton ionization photoelectron spectroscopy and groundbreaking work in the origins of coherent control in chemistry. His scientific interests have also included fundamental studies of chirality at the atomic and molecular level, as well as hydrogen storage in nanomaterials.
In 1996 Bob retired from ORNL to become a full-time Professor at UT, a post he held until 2015. Among his long list of honors: fellow of the Optical Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society. He has received the Meggers Award from the Optical Society of America and the Beams Award from the American Physical Society, as well as an Erskine Fellowship from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
The Outstanding First Year Student Award recognizes exceptional achievement by a student in his or her first year of physics study. William has, according to his nominating professor, "consistently shown a high level of consistency in all tests, clicker questions and homework, and based on my conversations with him I will judge him to have a high potential for having a successful research career."
Noah has demonstrated tremendous intellectual acumen both in the classroom and the research lab. In 2017 he spent the summer as a research fellow creating Python tools to visualize the end stages of life for a massive star. In 2018 he worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he developed data-post processing visualization tools in a Jupyter notebooks with Python and applied machine learning algorithms in the course of a simulation run of core-collapse supernova. As his nominating professor wrote, "His excellent progress led us to add more to his summer project, in the form of our first effort to use machine learning to automate fault detection in our analysis pipeline. While we still have much to learn about machine learning, through his superb and very persistent efforts, we are considerably wiser. This wisdom is now shaping our future plans for machine learning."
Annastashia has made outstanding contributions to the life of the physics department, from volunteering at our Open House events for high school students to serving as a welcoming and supportive ambassador for her study group. She has also volunteered to help organize the Hidden Physicists career seminars, which provide students with an opportunity to interact with physics graduates from UT and other schools who are working in non-academic sectors. She helps set up in-person or Skype meetings with the speakers, advertises the events, and gave a presentation about the program at the Fall 2018 meeting of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society. As her nominating professor wrote, "I am ecstatic that our students are getting good information about career opportunities and I hope we can inspire other departments to do something similar." She is also the primary contact person for our Astronomy Club and an enthusiastic supporter of astronomy outreach, and is active in the wider campus community, serving as a resident assistant at Morrill Hall where she took the initiative to plan a program helping students understand various disabilities and how they affect someone’s everyday life.
Samuel is a dual physics and math major who excels at merging theoretical information with hands-on experimentation. He has been a standout in the Modern Physics Lab, where he has been assertive in performing the experiments, worked well with his lab partner, and submitted exceptional reports. He has also worked in research with thin films and nanostructures and has a demonstrated acumen for connecting course materials and lab course experiments with research. Kevin was recently named a Top Collegiate Scholar for the College of Arts and Sciences at the university’s Chancellor’s Honors Banquet. In 2018 he won a Chancellor's Honor for Extraordinary Academic Achievement and in 2016 he was won the department’s Outstanding First Year Physics Student Award.
James spent eight years as a linguist in the Air Force, served in Afghanistan, and is fluent in Pashto. He joined the department in the fall of 2015 and has not only excelled academically but has earned a reputation for reaching out to other students and helping tutor them. He has also been quite busy with research on two projects: working on method development for measuring fragmentation functions in heavy ion collisions, and implementation of heavy ion analyses in the Robust Independent Validation of Experiment and Theory (RIVET) framework. He has demonstrated a penchant for overcoming technical challenges while serving as the primary point of contact for a diverse group of students from a variety of backgrounds. His advisor writes "He brings a maturity and seriousness to his studies which I have not found matched by any other student, undergraduate or graduate."Brittney sets up all of the equipment for the traditional physics labs year around and has been doing so for the last 2 years. She is reliable and works hard. She is a pro at organization and has made lab disasters into workable space.
Casey has been a GTA for both hybrid studio labs and traditional labs and has excelled as a GTA with both. One of his students says this about him: "Casey is the bee’s knees! He is a confident, kind, inspiring lecturer that made physics fun. He asks good questions, and provides excellent instruction. It is clear that he really cares about physics and helping you learn." Shiyu is the GTA for optics lab and one of his students says this about him: "He was a fantastic optics lab TA. He was always asking if we needed help and facilitating as necessary, but instead of giving us a solution, he helped us to consider what the problem was and made us think of the solution. He wasn’t obtrusive and trying to fix what we were doing, but instead made us learn how to be experimentalists and learn from our mistakes. He was great in allowing us to learn in different ways and if there was a question about content always tried to explain it in several ways. I really enjoyed him as a TA, and having him allowed me to feel confident in my role as an experimentalist."
Kaleb actually teamed up with last year’s James E. Parks Awardee Nate Traynor to handle P137 and P138 labs. He was put in a tight spot this fall to change the way we do things for lab in P137. He had to put in a lot of extra time and did so with no complaints. He has also helped with Labview programming for Modern Physics Lab.
The colloquium award recognizes a graduate student who has been the most conscientious about attending and reporting on the talks presented during the department’s colloquium series in the academic year. For his consistency in attendance and thoughtful reviews of the material, the 2019 award went to Jesse Buffaloe.
Himal has done an outstanding job by searching for 2 exotic Higgs boson decays with the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the Large Hadron Collider. His results were in time for the international Moriond conference and are featured in a CMS collaboration press release. He also provided the paper publication which includes two additional measurements. It is available publicly on the archives and will be submitted shortly to Physical Review Letters. He is continuing his analysis work by searching for new signals not expected in the standard model.
Umesh’s research focuses on the theory of resonant inelastic x-ray scattering (RIXS), where he has been modelling RIXS spectra for quasi-one-dimensional (1D) quantum magnets using numerical methods. He has obtained several novel results and co-authored three publications in the peer-reviewed literature, and he recently submitted a fourth paper to Physical Review B. The key result of his work has been the demonstration that RIXS can provide a unique perspective on spin-charge separation and fractionalize quasiparticle excitations in 1D quantum magnets, which complements more traditional probes like inelastic neutron scattering. He has also worked closely with experimental groups and even initiated a new collaboration with the group at the University of Kentucky.
Joseph is helping develop a new generation neutron detector using a technology that we are pioneering at UT. He plays an incredibly important role and is the key creative and stabilizing member of this project. He leads the measurements, which wrapped up the prototyping phase of the project, and is also supervising the production phase of the demonstrator, a small scale array which will be used in physics measurements at accelerator facilities. His nominating professor writes that he has "reached the high level of independence and the success of the project can be largely attributed to his commitment. He has joined our group in a critical development phase of the new detector and has played a critical role to making it successful."
Every year the Society of Physics Students selects an outstanding teacher to recognize at Honors Day. This year that faculty member is Elbio Dagotto.
Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society, exists to honor outstanding scholarship in physics, to encourage interest in physics among students at all levels, to promote an attitude of service, and to provide a fellowship of persons who have excelled in physics. This year we inducted the following students into the society: Noah Crum, Ashley Holt, Hannah Miller, Katie Sylvester.