2014: We Welcome New Faculty in 2014
The Department of Physics and Astronomy has welcomed six new faculty members in 2014.
During Spring Semester, Dr. Witold “Witek” Nazarewicz joined the department as a Hannah Professor of Physics, and is part of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB). He has previously been on the faculties of the University of Tennessee and Warsaw University in Poland, as well as being a corporate fellow at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Physics Division and a member of the Joint Institute for Heavy Ion Research directorate. His primary interests lie in the development of a comprehensive description of all nuclei, focusing on those very unusual short-lived nuclei which exist only under extreme conditions, but whose decay properties play a part in determining the observed abundances of more common types of nuclei. These investigations involve theoretical nuclear physics and many-body science and use high-performance computing to sort out the details.
Five more new faculty members arrived for Fall Semester: two more nuclear physicists, two high energy physicists, and a specialist in physics education.
The new members of the nuclear physics faculty are Jaideep Singh and Ulrike Hager, working on projects at the NSCL in preparation for the additional realms of study to be provided by the FRIB project.
Dr. Jaideep Singh specializes in the use of special nuclei to study fundamental physics properties called symmetries which have side effects such as the predominance of matter over antimatter in the observed universe. Searches for electric dipole moments in nuclei with unusual shapes are underway; a positive result would help to explain the observed composition of matter everywhere.
Dr. Ulrike Hager's research focuses on measuring nuclear reaction rates which are important in developing a detailed picture of what goes on in astrophysical sites such as novae. The rates of nuclear processes involving rare isotopes of elements can be difficult to determine with precision due to the abundance of more common nuclear interactions in the same set of nuclear beam reactions. FRIB will provide a source of particles enriched with these rare isotopes, and Dr. Hager is working on building a separator system to make it easier to distinguish reactions involving them from those of the more common isotopes.
Dr. Kendall Mahn specializes in the elusive neutrino, a very light sub-atomic particle which interacts extremely weakly with other types of matter. While it has been experimentally determined that neutrinos do have non-zero mass (which was not clear for many years), a side effect of this (along with some subtleties of quantum mechanics) is that different types of neutrinos can transform into other types and back again as they travel along at nearly the speed of light. Dr. Mahn makes detailed measurements of this transformation process, called "oscillation", in order to potentially determine underlying physics principles beyond those given in the current "Standard Model" of particle physics, which allows for neutrino oscillation but does not predict its parameters.
Dr. Tyce DeYoung's research is in particle astrophysics, using detectors here on Earth to study particles generated by extreme astrophysical environments: supernovae and the regions near black holes, for example. This study allows us to better understand those extreme environments, and also to better understand the properties of very high energy subatomic particles and photons. A good understanding of the known particle types may allow the discernment of effects from so far unobserved but theoretically predicted forms of matter such as supersymmetric partners to standard particle types, dark matter, and possibly particles not even related to those currently embodied in the "Standard Model".
Our new specialist in Physics Education is Dr. Vashti Sawtelle, jointly appointed by the Department of Physics & Astronomy and MSU's Lyman Briggs College. Her work focuses on understanding equitable learning environments at the undergraduate level, using modern theories such as social-cognitive theory in order to develop teaching strategies which may compensate for differences between students with divergent learning strategies and previous experience, among other factors in the educational process. She is the co-director of the MSU Physics Education Research Laboratory.