Alumni Newsletter - Fall 2019

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Greetings from the Chair
Dr. Justin Sanders
Friends and alumni of the University of South Alabama Physics Department:

It is with great pleasure that we send to you our newsletter for 2018-2019.  We have not had a newsletter for several years, so we have many exciting developments to relate.  We hope that this newsletter will be one of several ways we will use in the future to keep in contact with our community of former students and faculty.  If you would like to help us stay in contact with you, please send us complete updated information. Justin

One of the developments in recent years is that I have become the Department Chair.  Dr. S. L. Varghese retired at the end of 2014 after twenty-one years of leading the department.  I am fortunate to be able to follow the path blazed by Dr. Varghese.  The department continues to do well in educating the next  generation of physicians, engineers, scientists, and especially physicists.  We are also keeping active in research despite the poor environment for external funding in basic research. 

We hope you enjoy learning what we have been up to this past year, and we ask that you will contact us and tell us what you have been up to as well.

Justin M. Sanders
Associate Professor, Department Chair

New Faculty Highlight
Dr. Arjun Dahal
DahalThe department welcomed a new faculty member in August 2018. Dr. Arjun Dahal graduated from the University of South Florida with a Ph.D. in Applied Physics. He then completed a Postdoctoral Research Assistantship at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington where he investigated physical and chemical processes governing the thermal and photo induced reactivity of adsorbed molecules on RuO2 and TiO2. His current research interests lie in the field of nanotechnology, particularly synthesizing metal oxide nanoparticles and measuring the properties as a function of their stoichiometry, crystallinity, thermal stability, interface charge transfer, band gap energy, and photocatalytic activity. His research goal is to develop novel photocatalyst materials and improve the photocatalytic efficiency under visible light illumination. Dr. Dahal is very excited to begin working with undergraduate students in the lab.
Dr. Dahal moved here with his wife, Santosh, and two sons, Ashwin and Ayush. We are very excited to have Dr. Dahal on board and look forward to seeing his research unfold!

Undergraduate Research Activity
Research with Dr. Martin Frank
FrankDr. Frank’s search for magnetic monopoles and other exotic particles with the NOvA experiment continues with strong contributions from our majors. Josh Robbins presented a poster at the 2018 SURF Symposium about his summer’s research work on very slow monopoles. Hayden Britt and Mitchell Greene gave talks at the 28th Annual Mini-Conference at USM Gulf Park. Hayden gave a talk on the fundamental particles and Mitchell introduced the audience to cosmic rays. Mitchell, who is also an ALSAMP scholar, presented this same work at the 2019 ALSAMP Conference. The summer continued to be busy for Hayden, Mitchell, and Paul White who assisted in running shifts in our very own USA ROC (Remote Operations Center) in the basement and work on the monopole analysis. Mitchell was funded by a partial SURF fellowship to investigate the effects of cosmic rays on the monopole analysis. Hayden was funded by a partial SURF/Helminger fellowship to calculate the deflection of magnetic monopoles due to the Earth’s magnetic field. Paul was funded by a Helminger fellowship to investigate the effects of high energy activity in the NOvA detector. The group is grateful for the University’s and the Department’s generous support to enable all of these research projects.

Research with Dr. Jianing Han
Dr. Han's research focus is on atom-atom interactions with particular emphasis on atom-atom repulsion, such as van der Waals repulsion. In 2018-2019 academic year, physics majors Juliet and Morgan worked her my lab and submitted research results on electric field excitation suppression [1] on arXiv and submitted the article for publication. Juliet was supported by Helminger fellowship. In addition, Juliet and Morgan worked on a narrow-band laser system [2]. Moreover, Dr. Han’s lab achieved cold atoms below 1 Kelvin trapped in magneto-optical trap (MOT). This is the first MOT in the state of Alabama. The laboratory group posted their results on arXiv in Dec. 2018 and submitted the results for publication [2]. Undergraduate students involved in this research are Lindsay Hutcherson, Gayatri Deshmukh, Morgan Umstead, Andy Hu, Young Lee, and Juliet Mitchell. Lindsay is now a graduate student at Kansas State University, and she was supported by Helminger fellowship. Gayatri and Morgan were supported by an external grant from the Army Research Office (ARO). Andy was supported by UCUR fellowship from the University of South Alabama, and he is now in a graduate program. Young completed his thesis on “The preliminary work on macroscopic molecules of 87Rb in an ultracold Rydberg gas.”
[1] “Electric field excitation suppression in cold atoms.” Jianing Han, Juliet Mitchell, and Morgan Umstead, arXiv:1904.09706 (2019).
[2] “A standing wave Rydberg excitation diode laser created by a transmission grating.” Juliet Mitchell, Morgan Umstead, Jianing Han (in preparation).
[3] “A magneto-optical trap created by 2nd-order external cavity diode lasers.” Jianing Han, Lindsay Hutcherson, Gayatri Deshmukh, Morgan Umstead, Andy Hu, Young Lee, Zhanguo Bai, and Juliet Mitchell, (arXiv:1812.00997) (2018). (This is the first MOT in the state of Alabama).

NEW Study Abroad Program

A new study abroad course “To the LHC and Beyond: A Study Abroad of European Particle Detectors” will be offered May 2020 and directed by Dr. Martin Frank. The program will begin with one week on campus followed by two weeks in Europe. Students will have the opportunity for an in-depth tour of the world-famous CERN facility in Geneva, Switzerland, the Paul Sherrer Institute in Zurich, and other European centers of particle physics research. There will be opportunities to meet with scientists conducting research at these facilities, hear on-site lectures at, for example, the Large Hadron Collider where the Higgs Boson was discovered in 2012, visit Albert Einstein’s house in Bern, and visit European museums of science and engineering. This study abroad course will introduce students to particle detector concepts and will survey the design and the physics motivation driving the foremost particle physics experiments in Switzerland and Germany. All interested students who have completed PH 115 or 202 are welcome. If you are interested or know of any interested students, please feel free to contact the Physics Department for more information:
Dr. Martin Frank
Department of Physics
Office phone: 251-460-6224
Student Highlight
Sabrina de Jong (Senior)
DeJongOut of 650+ applicants, Sabrina de Jong, was selected to intern for the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) REU program during Summer 2019. She was mentored by Dr. Ariel Amir under post-doc, Ethan Levien, in the field of Biophysics. She worked on using stochastic simulations to get a better understanding of how bacterial growth rates evolve in a changing environment. Their hope is that these research efforts will inspire the development of better techniques for administering antibiotic treatments. Sabrina says that her experience was “incredible” and she “learned a lot of new things.”

A highlight of her REU experience and a “great honor” to Sabrina was her invitation to speak at the Native Youth Community Adaptation Leadership Congress (NYCALC). This week-long event hosts Native American, Alaskan Native, and Pacific Islander high school students to learn about ways they can help the environment and their communities. Sabrina attended the event a year prior, which allowed her the opportunity to connect with the director of the Harvard REU program. Sabrina stated “I was incredibly grateful to be flown there this summer to share my experiences and offer guidance to those high schoolers as they prepare for graduation and college.“

Sabrina is an active member of SPS and held the elected position of Public Relations Officer in 2018-2019 and elected Vice President for 2019-2020. Sabrina organized the Science and Math Trivia night to gather science and math based student organizations to network and mingle. One of her favorite experiences in SPS was traveling to CUWiP in January 2019. Sabrina is expected to graduate May 2020 with her Bachelors in Physics and Minor in Math. Upon completion of her undergraduate studies, she will pursue graduate school.

Recent Graduates and Their Accomplishments
Melissa Bierschenk (Class of 2017)
BierschenkUSA Physics Graduate, Melissa Bierschenk, recently received her Master’s in Physics from the University of Minnesota Duluth. Melissa returned to the USA Physics Department as a guest speaker for a summer colloquium on August 2, 2019. She presented her graduate research material which is heavily grounded in the peaked interest of gravitational wave astronomy as a result of the first detection of gravitational waves in 2015. Although detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) can observe gravitational wave events, it is important to accumulate a template bank of realistic waveforms produced by systems with varying parameters. An important part of the waveform is the inspiral. Melissa used Post-Newtonian approximations and considering physics such as spin and eccentricity to model the inspiral waveform. Additionally, she created visual virtual representations of the trajectories of two bodies as they spiral into each other, and how those parameters change over time. During the colloquium to students and faculty, Melissa discussed how she solved Post-Newtonian mechanics for quasicircular and eccentric orbits, how she used Python to create the corresponding waveforms, and the process of visualizing the trajectories and gravitational waves and display the appropriate animations.

We would like to keep in touch with our alumni! Please send an email or note to update us on what’s happening in your world. Email updates to Dr. Albert Gapud:

Tuesday Evening Physics
A highlight of the fall semester is Tuesday Evening Physics! Dr. Godang was the main organizer of this event which includes hosting local high school students for weekly presentations by our faculty. In 2018, we had a total of 55 students from 5 high schools attend!

25th Annual Physics Teacher/Student Workshop

The Annual Physics Teacher/Student Workshop is still going strong! This year we reached a 25 year milestone of hosting this workshop. The faculty work together each spring to host surrounding high school physics teachers and students on campus to explore the Physics Department. The visiting students are selected by their teachers and are considered the top performers in their high school physics courses. Students engaged in hands-on experiments, research laboratory tours, and physics demonstrations. Teachers always enjoy getting out of the classroom for a day of research lectures (and free lunch) with their best students! We hosted a total of 10 teachers and 24 students from coastal Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida this year.
Society of Physics Students
The department has an active SPS chapter on campus with Dr. Albert Gapud serving as the group’s faculty advisor. Annually, the SPS students host faculty, peers, and family to a fall and spring picnic. A group of students also spent Spring Break visiting the condensed-matter physics labs at LSU, and touring the LIGO facility in Livingston, LA.
Physics Development Fund
The Physics Department offers several scholarships to physics majors based on need and merit. If you are interested in contributing to the Physics Department development fund for scholarships and activities please contact

Anna Parks
Development Officer for Arts and Sciences
University Development
Phone: (251) 460-7676
2018-2019 Awards and Scholarships
Outstanding Physics
Major Zachary Nix

USA Foundation Physics Scholarship, Level 1
Sabrina de Jong
Juliet Mitchell

USA Foundation Physics Scholarship, Level 2
Atlas Poole
Duvalle Scholarship
Joseph Echevarrias
Paul White

Helminger Undergraduate Research Stipends
Errieol Milliner
Juliet Mitchell
Zachary Nix
Physics Faculty Presentations
Dahal, Arjun

Dahal A. & Dohnalek Z. (November 8-10, 2018) Formation of Metastable Water Chains on Anatase TiO2(101). Paper presented at 85th Annual Meeting of the APS Southeastern Section Knoxville, TN

Frank, Martin J.

Frank, M. J., NOvA Collaboration Meeting, "Slow Monopole Analysis - Collaboration," Fermilab, Batavia, IL. (February 23, 2019).

Frank, M. J., NOvA Collaboration Meeting, "Slow Monopole Analysis - Exotics Working Group," Fermilab, Batavia, IL. (February 21, 2019).

Frank, M. J., NOvA Collaboration Meeting, "Slow Monopole Box Opening," Fermilab, Batavia, IL. (September 20, 2018).

Frank, M. J., NOvA Collaboration Meeting, "Slow Monopole Trigger," Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. (May 8, 2018).

Gapud, Albert A.

Gapud, A. A., The 85th annual meeting of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society (SESAPS 2018), "Martensitic transformation in a single crystal of V3Si, as measured by NMR, magnetic susceptibility, and magnetoresistivity," Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society (SESAPS), University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. (November 8, 2018).

Godang, Romulus

Godang, R., The BABAR Physics Jambore Meeting 2019, "Measurement of Upsilon(4S) Decays to B0 Mesons pair," Stanford University, SLAC, California. (March 12, 2019).

Godang, R., The BABAR Collaboration Meeting 2018, "Measurement of Branching Fraction of Neutral B0 to D*+ Lepton Neutrino," Stanford University, SLAC, California. (December 10, 2018).

Godang, R., The 85th Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society 2018, "Searches For Higgs-like Charged Bosons at Colliders," SESAPS, American Physical Society, Knoxville, Tennessee. (November 8, 2018).

Godang, R., the Mississippi Conference Meeting, "Search for New Physics on B0 Decays to D*+ Tau Neutrino," Mississippi University, Oxford, Mississippi. (October 17, 2018).

Han, Jianing

Han, J., Hutcherson, L., Deshmukh, G., Umstead, M., Hu, A., Lee, Y., Bai, Z. (2018) “A MOT (Magneto-Optical Trap) created by narrow-band lasers.” APS Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Han, J. (2018), “Van der Waals repulsive peaks in quadrimers.” APS Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Jenkins, C. Merrill

Jenkins, C. M. (for the Mu2e Collaboration), “Search for the Neutrinoless Conversion of Negative Muons into Positrons with the Mu2e Experiment”, 85th Annual Meeting of the APS Southeastern Section, November 8-10, Knoxville, TN. Appendix 5.