While the past year has been difficult, our students and faculty showed admirable creativity in response to the challenge, giving the department a great deal to celebrate at Honors Day on April 26. Undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty were all recognized for outstanding academic, research, and service achievements. Meet our 2021 awardees:
Alexander Sizemore and Tyler Ellison
This award recognizes exceptional achievement by a student in his or her first year of physics study. The faculty selects honorees based on academic excellence and scholarly potential.
Alexander Sizemore’s nominating professor described him as "having performed extraordinarily well in our honors freshman physics class. He has great potential as a future researcher."
Tyler Ellison took a less traditional path to UT, having served in the military before continuing his education. His nominating professor writes that "he shows great talent and promise. He stands out when I compare him to the many other students I have taught in the past."
Kyle Noordhoek and Adam Bryant
This award goes to undergraduate students who have excelled based on research acumen and a demonstrated penchant for solving problems through physics theory and experimentation.
Kyle Noordhoek has made important contributions since joining Assistant Professor Jian Liu’s research group as a freshman in 2016, including work that helped win a $400,000 DOE grant. His project is on frustrated magnets, which was a completely new topic for the group when it was assigned to him. He took the initiative to explore a new method to create frustrated magnetic heterostructures, and persistently tackled problems to refine the process, obtaining promising data that got the DOE proposal funded. The work has been written in a manuscript currently under review by Nature Materials with Kyle a co-first author.
Adam Bryant has studied the evolutionary dynamics of branching tissues for the past two and a half years, working with Assistant Professor Max Lavrentovich. Over multiple summers and semesters, he has independently pursued this line of research, which requires mastery of mathematics and computational techniques. Adam has also written the necessary code and considered the appropriate mathematical models with no outside help beyond his professor’s advice. He has also carefully curated his own GitHub repository for his code, which is now freely available.
Sarah Wellence and Maggie Hinkston
This honor goes to undergraduates who have made the most significant contributions to the department outside the classroom.
Sarah Wellence has served as an associate zone councilor for the Society of Physics Students and has helped guide that group through an amazingly productive time. They have once again won an outstanding chapter designation from the national office, and will be featured in the national magazine for their facul-tea series. Events like these have been especially important this past year in fostering a close-knit community for our students. Under her leadership, SPS has also created a mentorship program between upperclassmen and underclassmen or transfer students, led talks on building resumes and sharing research, done volunteer work in the community, recruited new students, and hosted SPS zone meetings.
Maggie Hinkston is another SPS leader who has also taken on a driving role as president of the Astronomy Club. She has lead outreach efforts, kept the conversation going during COVID by engaging her classmates on Discord, and worked hard to keep everyone connected and enthusiastic. During the past year she revolutionized the astronomy club, growing the membership ranks from a wide range of majors and organizing a Mars Perseverance Landing Watch Party that got local TV news coverage.
This honor recognizes undergraduate physics majors who have senior standing and who have demonstrated outstanding performance in academic coursework.
Lara Blokland won the Outstanding First Year Physics Student Award in 2018 and has since balanced outstanding academic work with research in the neutron nuclear physics group. She has worked on two separate projects: generating "pseudo-data" for a neutron lifetime project and developing neutron spin transport code for the neutron Electric Dipole Moment effort.
This award honors a student exemplifying the attributes of Douglas Roseberry, an energetic student with a penchant for both physics and leadership. After his untimely passing in 1959, the department awarded the first Douglas V. Roseberry Award to recognize a student of like qualities.
Brandi Skipworth has excelled both in academic performance and leadership. She helped her research class navigate the nuances and challenges of coding and analysis and worked with Professor Raph Hix on supernova nucleosynthesis, presenting her findings at last year’s Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. She is a strong and effective advocate for the needs of students and improves the atmosphere in the classroom and in the department.
Jesse Harris and Di'Arra Mostella
The Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award goes to graduate students who earn the highest rating from students taking undergraduate physics labs.
One of his students described Jesse Harris as "probably the best TA I have had in any class during my college career. He is very tolerant when I or others cannot fully understand concepts introduced in our class and will give amazing explanations that essentially break the concepts down to a point where a potato could understand, which has been insanely helpful for me."
Di’Arra Mostella earned this praise from a nominating lab student: "He is always willing to help answers all my questions, which is a lot. He tries to make a difficult concept as easy to understand as possible. He always gives us so much feedback on our lab reports and pre-labs so we can just continue to get better. He really does an amazing job."
Established Physics Alumnus Richard Manley and his wife, Melissa, this award recognizes a student who shares Dr. James Parks’ commitment to hands-on, innovative physics teaching in a laboratory setting.
Jesse Buffaloe goes above and beyond to help his students in Physics 221 and Physics 222 labs, whether he is teaching in-person or online. He carefully tends lab equipment to make sure it’s in working order and is well organized. He also gives valuable feedback about the labs and makes suggestions for improvement.
Beginning Research: Jinu Thomas
Professional Promise: Hao Zhang
Paul H. Stelson's family established the Stelson Fellowships in his memory to assist aspiring physicists in completing their education and to continue the fruitful interactions in physics between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Jinu Thomas is conducting original research in the field of resonant inelastic x-ray scattering (RIXS). After just a year of study, he has already co-authored a paper in collaboration with experimentalists from Switzerland, where he modeled RIXS spectra taken on doped quasi-1D cuprate spin ladders. This paper has been submitted to the prestigious Physical Review Letters (PRL), and he is second author. He also presented this work at this year’s APS March Meeting and is well on his way towards completing a second paper.
Hao Zhang has developed novel many-body techniques for modelling the behavior of magnets with strong spin anisotropy. He is a coauthor of a long list of papers, including research published in Physical Review B and a manuscript recently accepted by Nature Physics. His work is closely relevant to the research done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Neutron Scattering Division and impacts the interpretation of the experiments that are performed at the Spallation Neutron Source.
The Fowler Marion Award acknowledges the graduate student who has excelled in scholarship, research, and departmental citizenship.
Chenyi Gu is researching excited states on a quantum computer, with the goal to use it in the description of nuclear dynamics. She did much of the work for a corresponding paper published in Physical Review C, which was selected as an Editors’ Suggestion and is still listed on the PRC highlights page. She presented her research at the American Physical Society Division of Nuclear Physics meeting and also in a quantum computing seminar at ORNL.
Distinguished Professor Elbio Dagotto
This honor is sponsored by the UT chapter of the Society of Physics Students and goes to an outstanding teacher as selected by the undergraduate students.
SPS reported that Distinguished Professor Elbio Dagotto was selected "by a landslide" in recognition of the work he puts into his teaching and the care he shows his students. He also won the award in 2019.
Sigma Pi Sigma Inductees
As the National Physics Honor Society, Sigma Pi Sigma exists to honor outstanding scholarship in physics, encourage interest in physics among students at all levels, promote an attitude of service, and provide a fellowship of persons who have excelled in physics. Election is a lifelong membership and includes a once-year complimentary membership in the Society of Physics Students. Sigma Pi Sigma is an organization of the American Institute of Physics, and a member of the Association of College Honor Societies. It was founded in 1921, and there are now more than 90,000 historical members.
UT’s 2021 Sigma Pi Sigma inductees are:Graduate Students
- Andy Tanjaroon Ly
- Jose L. Bonilla
- Anjali Rathore
- Ryan P. Goodman