- - -
News & Events
May 2009
Chairman’s statement
Academic Affairs
Revamping the Senior Lab
Faculty and Staff Honors
Physics faculty circa 1970
Recent awards in the Physics Department
Current Research Highlights
Is it wave or is it particle?
Chairman’s Statement
Dear Friends of the Department,
Welcome to the second issue of the first volume of The Propagator. We are pleased that you are interested in our program and continue on our e-mail list. The response to our first electronic newsletter was positive and we will continue to send these to you periodically. We are still operating in the simple rich text format and not using HTML yet. As before, if you are interested in the HTML format indicate so with a click in the request in the announcement.
In this issue, we follow our usual format of brief summaries of recent research and teaching initiatives. As always, our faculty and staff are working at the frontiers of efforts to improve our understanding of the physical universe and to communicate physics to those around us but especially to our students. In this issue we have picked two recent programs for emphasis: our neutrino experiments and an exciting new technique being developed here to ameliorate the fuel cycle problems inherent in wide usage of nuclear power. These provide an interesting pair in that the neutrino experiments are at the center of our understanding of the fundamental nature of the matter and energy that exists in our universe, and the other is a direct application of new technologies to solve an important societal problem.
Beside the work reported in this newsletter, we continue to build our program. This spring, we made offers to two young physicists who we hope will join us. These two candidates were selected from a pool of more than two hundred applicants. Our target fields were cell biophysics and cosmology. The cell biophysicist, if she accepts, will be the third biophysicist on our faculty. We are not finished building this effort. Although we have long had a reputation for world-class work in cosmology, the second new appointment will be an important addition from our department to a joint physics/astronomy program that has recently been formalized in our Texas Cosmology Center. We are convinced that our two candidates are the best young people available in their respective fields. This feeling is confirmed by the fact that both already have other offers from leading institutions. Our hope is that the quality of our existing programs, faciilties, colleagues, and support staff convince them that Texas is the right place to build a career.
On the teaching side, we continue to make important strides. In this issue, we report on the latest developments in our senior lab, a capstone course in experimental physics. In addition, we have just completed a thorough review of our majors sequence of courses. We established a junior lab which, in addition to introducing the students to the experiments that forced us to develop quantum mechanics and relativity, will require significant writing skills. To make room for this expansion of the junior lab, we have introduced a lower-division course in modern physics which includes but also expands on the theoretical material that was in the former junior lab. On the service side, we have joined the College of Natural Sciences in developing a general science course specifically for elementary education majors. We will report on this effort in detail in a future issue of The Propagator.
Since our last issue of The Propagator, and in cooperation with the Department of Astronomy, we had a very successful outreach lecture by Professor Donald Brownlee of the University of Washington on the rather special properties of the planet earth called “Rare Earth.” This lecture was also sponsored by the Mel Oakes Endowed Undergraduate Lecture Series, a wonderful use of gift money that provides enrichment to the educational experience of our students and other students at the University. This was the second of two outreach talks this spring. The other talk was by Professor Jim Cronin on the history of the study of cosmic rays and his recent experiments on ultra high energy cosmic ray events. We also continue our traveling circus of physics demonstrations for local elementary school kids. We are always interested in finding ways to expand this program.
In the decade starting with 1976, the Department of Physics at the University of Texas had the good fortune to be the home of John Archibald Wheeler. Johnny was one of the titans of the era of discovery in physics. Those of us fortunate enough to know him and to work with him knew him to have an incredibly rich intuition and an amazing computational ability. In addition, he was the most open and friendly individual. His death at age 96 in April a year ago marked the end of the era in which the foundations of our field were established. His special role is summarized in a special issue of Physics Today, the April issue. His period in Texas is a portion of the article by Charles Misner, Kip Thorne, and Wojciech Zurek at http://ptonline.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_62/iss_4/40_1.shtml. In addition, Johnny was well known for his skill at mentoring students. This is discussed in http://scitation.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTOAD-ft/vol_62/iss_4/55_1.shtml.
This will be our last issue of The Propagator for this semester. With the close of the spring semester, we often like to look back and think of all that has happened in the past academic year. This year has been an especially interesting one. We accomplished many new initiatives—this Propagator being one of them. The problems with the economy have begun to show in the budgets and operations of the University. Although we have yet to complete the current legislative session, it is clear that we are looking to an austere period that will likely last for several years. One of the positive aspects of our situation is that we are not alone and hopefully will be able to maintain our competitive edge. You can help. Gifts from friends, either general or directed to programs, can make the difference. For your ease in giving, there is a direct link at https://utdirect.utexas.edu/nlogon/vip/ogp.WBX?menu=NSPY.