Professor Emeritus Max Seel Passes Away

Professor Emeritus Max Seel

Max Seel, a professor emeritus of physics and former provost and vice president of academic affairs at Michigan Tech, passed away Sept. 14 at the age of 72.

Seel was a beloved member of the Michigan Tech community, leaving his native Germany in 1986 to join the University faculty as an associate professor of physics. Over the course of his three-decade career, Seel served as dean of the College of Sciences and Arts (CSA) from 1991 to 2008, as interim provost in 2009, and as provost and vice president of academic affairs from 2010 to 2015. Seel was a scholar-teacher, publishing more than 85 research papers related to electronic structure theory, several of which were published after he stepped down as provost and returned to the physics faculty.

Max is remembered by his colleagues for his sharp intellect and great sense of humor. Many have expressed that he was a calm, steady presence in rough times and someone who helped people talk through issues to reach the best possible outcome. Max is an integral part of our Husky legacy, and we will miss him.

Read Seel’s full obituary here.

Physicists develop a linear response theory for open systems having exceptional points


Linear analysis plays a central role in science and engineering. Even when dealing with nonlinear systems, understanding the linear response is often crucial for gaining insight into the underlying complex dynamics. In recent years, there has been a great interest in studying open systems that exchange energy with a surrounding reservoir. In particular, it has been demonstrated that open systems whose spectra exhibit non-Hermitian singularities called exceptional points can demonstrate a host of intriguing effects with potential applications in building new lasers and sensors.


At an exceptional point, two or modes become exactly identical. To better understand this, let us consider how drums produce sound. The membrane of the drum is fixed along its perimeter but free to vibrate in the middle. As a result, the membrane can move in different ways, each of which is called a mode and exhibits a different sound frequency. When two different modes oscillate at the same frequency, they are called degenerate. Exceptional points are very peculiar degeneracies in the sense that not only the frequencies of the modes are identical but also the oscillations themselves. These points can exist only in open, non-Hermitian systems with no analog in closed, Hermitian systems.


Over the past years, ad-hoc analysis of the scattering coefficients of non-Hermitian systems having exceptional points has revealed a puzzling result, namely that sometimes their frequency response (the relation between an output and input signals after interacting with the system as a function of the input signal’s frequency) can be Lorentzian or super Lorentzian (i.e. a Lorentzian raised to an integer power). In contrast, the response of a standard linear, isolated oscillator (excluding situations where Fano lineshapes can arise) is always Lorentzian.


Now, an international team of physicists led by Prof. Ramy El-Ganainy from Michigan Technological University, along with several collaborators from Penn State, the Humboldt University in Berlin, and the University of Central Florida, has tackled this problem in their recent Nature Communications article titled “Linear response theory of open systems with exceptional points”. In that work, the team presents a systematic analysis of the linear response of non-Hermitian systems having exceptional points. Importantly, they derive a closed-form expression for the resolvent operator quantifying the system’s response in terms of the right and left eigenvectors and Jordan canonical vectors associated with the underlying Hamiltonian.

A schematic representation of a complex non-Hermitian open system with many degrees of freedom made of coupled optical microdisk cavities. The linear response theory developed in this work provides a full characterization of the relation between output and input signals (indicated by green and yellow arrows, respectively) in terms of the eigenmodes and the canonical states of the underlying non-Hermitian Hamiltonian.


“In contrast to previous expansions of the resolvent operator in terms of the Hamiltonian itself, the formalism developed here provides direct access to the linear response of the system and demonstrates exactly when and how Lorentzian and super-Lorentzian responses arise” says Prof. El-Ganainy. “As it turned out, the nature of the response is determined by the excitation (input) and collection (output) channels” says Amin Hashemi, the first author of the manuscript. The presented theory describes this behavior in detail and is generic enough to apply to any non-Hermitian systems having any number of exceptional points of any order, which makes it instrumental for studying non-Hermitian systems with large degrees of freedom.


Physics Students Expanding Horizons

Students on the steps of the the Curie Pavilion of the Paris Radium Institute
On the steps of Musée Curie. L-R, Back Row: Wyatt Reller, Trevor Kieft, Marc Fritts, Dalton Knight, Riley Dickert. Front Row: Sarah Huffman, Kaz Zeiter, Bethany Hellman, Casey Aldrich, Daniel Koshar.
Marie Curie’s laboratory space
A 12 hour layover in Chicago allowed for time in the city. Here, students contemplate the unique optics of Cloud Gate (better known as “The Bean”)

This spring, senior physics majors had the opportunity to visit Paris, France, a center of sciences, arts, technology and culture for centuries.

The focus of the trip was a tour of the Laboratory for Optics and Biosciences, Ecole Polytechnique. Thanks to Director François Hache for his warm welcome. LOB scientists showed how their advanced microscopy techniques are used to study molecular and cellular biology, including the imaging of living tissues.

With Ecole Polytechnique demonstrating the future of microscopy, touring the Musée Curie (Curie Museum) presented an important tie to the past. Housed in the Curie Pavilion of the Institut du Radium, the museum presents the lab in which Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie performed her research between 1914 and her death in 1934.

Students also broadened their cultural understanding with visits to the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.

In a field with as rich a history as physics, it is important to find opportunities to understand how we fit into that history and our global community of science. Collaboration and communication with scientists worldwide is how our discipline will continue to grow.

Special thanks to the Elizabeth and Richard Henes Center for Quantum Phenomena, who’s support made this trip possible.

Two Students Receive DoD SMART Scholarships

Dan Yeager
PhD Candidate Dan Yeager

Ph.D. candidates Dan Yeager and Lucas Simonson have each been awarded a Department of Defense Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (DoD SMART) Scholarship.

The DoD SMART Scholarship provides students with full tuition for up to five years, mentorship, summer internships, a stipend, and full-time employment with the DoD after graduation. Dan and Lucas join a list of 26 prior Michigan Tech Huskies to have received this prestigious scholarship.

Dan is working with Professor Raymond Shaw, with a focus on cloud micro-physics and computational fluid dynamics. He is also serving as a physics representative to the Graduate Student Government.

Yeager will be affiliated with the Naval Oceanographic Office in Mississippi.

Lucas Simonson
PhD Candidate Lucas Simonson

Lucas is working with Professor Ramy El-Ganainy, where he studies Integrated Optics and Photonics; learning how light and matter interact on a quantum scale.

Simonson will be affiliated with the US Army’s C5ISR Center in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.

Lucas Simonson, physics PhD candidate awarded scholarship to study in Germany

Lucas Simonson is off to study in Germany

Lucas Simonson has been awarded a scholarship by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). He will study at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden.

The German DAAD is a joint organization of the universities and other institutions of higher education in the Federal Republic of Germany, and the world’s largest funding organization of its kind. Supported by public funds, the DAAD promotes international academic cooperation, especially through the exchange of students and academics. DAAD scholarships are awarded by selection committees comprising a panel of independent academics.

He looks forward to studying under Professor Kurt Busch starting October 2022 to the end of April 2023. “The rationale for this trip is that joining my advisor in Germany will allow me to proceed with my research activities at a fast pace without any delay due to his absence. It will also allow me to interact with world-class optics research groups at the Humboldt-Universität Berlin,” he says. “It’s a significant milestone in my academic career and will allow me to experience other cultures outside of those in the US to broaden my worldview,” says Lucas.

Studying in Germany adds another frame of reference in his study of physics. “Lucas is bringing a unique perspective to our group by combining an interdisciplinary education in both electrical engineering and physics,” says Ramy El-Ganainy, associate professor of physics.

Lucas obtained an MS in Applied Physics (back in the spring of 2021). He entered the PhD candidacy at the end of this past spring semester. Upon getting his PhD, Lucas plans to pursue R&D-related work at Ft. Belvoir in Virginia for The Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center, the U.S. Army’s information technologies and integrated systems center.

Guest Blog: Uncovering Global Dust-Climate Connections

By Kimberly Geiger, College of Engineering

A satellite photo of a dust storm
“Godzilla” Saharan dust storm in June 2020. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Developed at Michigan Tech, a new global weather station-based dataset named dulSD is enabling long-term, large-scale monitoring of the dust cycle.

As wind shapes the surface of the Earth, it pulls dust from dry, exposed land surfaces into the atmosphere. Xin Xi (GMES) uses observations and models to study the sources, transformation and transport of dust to assess its impact on climate and air quality.

“Airborne dust aerosols impact the Earth in a myriad of ways,” he explained. “Mineral dust interacts with the global energy budget, ocean biogeochemistry, air quality and agriculture.”

Satellite remote sensing, a major source of information to study global dust variability, lacked the specifics Xi needed. He revisited the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Integrated Surface Database and set out to create a new dataset for evaluating global dust, which he named duISD.

How much dust is there? Read more on Unscripted, the University’s research blog.

Women in Physics Outreach

Pictured left to right, back to front:
Tong Gao, Elise Rosky, Oindabi Mukherjee, Sushree Dash, Rita Wilson, James Turkovich, Shreya Joshi, Gabriel Ahrendt, Miraj Kayastha
Polarization of light has more applications than just sunglasses, as Sushree and the students discuss.
Pull Elise! Pull!
Elise and Miraj test the limits of static friction.
Sushree and a student discuss magnetism.
Optics principles like refraction and diffraction can be seen using everyday materials.

Michigan Tech Women in Physics is reaching out to the next generation of scientists, and inspiring more women to pursue physics as a career!

Women in Physics recently organized activities for Daniel Kelpela’s junior and senior physics classes at Gwinn High School. Along with presentations on their research, they provided hands-on activities teaching physics principles – from friction and angular momentum to optics and magnetism.

Nearly 100 students were able to hear what it’s really like to do research on a broad range of topics, including geophysics, atmospheric science, astrophysics, and materials science. They also had opportunities to ask questions about pursuing science themselves after high school. We hope to see some of them again soon at Michigan Tech!

Physics undergrads Rita and James helped organize demos that were tailored to the present studies of the high school students. The students enjoyed the hands-on experience from these demos.

Oindabi Mukherjee discussed the search for dark matter in the cosmos and presented a video from the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Tong Gao got the students excited about the prospect of solving the danger of exploding Li-ion batteries- and maybe winning a Nobel Prize in the process! Elise Rosky showed that science can be an adventure, telling about her research trip to Colorado to take data on a flying laboratory while studying ice nucleation in the atmosphere.

Women in Physics plan to continue visiting high school students in the future, to inspire young scientists and be role models for budding female science enthusiasts.

Some of our favorite reviews:
– It was really fun and awesome!
– It was awesome, not only did we get to see people’s
passion, but also watch them and see how much they enjoy their careers. Thanks for the chance to experience this.
– Very swell.

Students get hands-on experience with angular momentum – and dizziness!
A presentation on atmospheric aerosols by Shreya Joshi.

Professor Emeritus Don Beck Passes Away

Don Beck, Michigan Tech professor emeritus in Physics

Don Beck, Michigan Tech professor emeritus in Physics, passed away on May 11, 2022.

Beck joined the Michigan Tech Physics Department in 1980 as part of an initiative to develop the research and Ph.D. programs in the department. His previous appointments included the University of Illinois, the National Hellenic Research Foundation in Athens, Yeshiva University and Yale.

Much of Beck’s work at Michgan Tech centered on computational atomic physics applied to transition and rare-earth metal ions. He was passionate about his research and pursued it with persistence. He was an MTU research awardee in 1999 and named a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2001 in recognition of his seminal work on relativistic correlation methodologies in electronic structure theory.

Beck retired in 2016 having published over 150 scientific papers. He received funding from many sources, most notably for his ongoing work on Lanthanide ions, which received continuous NSF funding for over 30 years. He always played an active role in the department, College of Sciences and Arts, and university. Most notably, he helped develop and provide leadership for the graduate programs in the department. As a principal advisor he graduated 10 Ph.D. and 6 M.S. students. At the University level, he was particularly active as an advocate for the Van Pelt and Opie Library and improved faculty benefits.

He was a friend, colleague and mentor to many in the department.

https://www.mininggazette.com/obituaries/2022/05/donald-richardson-beck/

Physics Major Anthony Palmer Wins Best Poster at Computing [MTU] Showcase

Michigan Tech physics and applied and computational mathematics double major Anthony Palmer, along with computer science PhD candidate Elijah Cobb, won the best poster recently in the Computing [MTU] Showcase for “Universal Sensor Description Schema: An extensible metalanguage to support heterogenous, evolving sensor data.”

Image of Anthony Palmer and Elijah Cobb in front of their poster at Michigan Tech’s Computing [MTU] Showcase
Anthony Palmer (left) and Elijah Cobb present their poster at Michigan Tech’s Computing [MTU] Showcase

Collecting and processing underwater sensor data is a critical need for U.S. Navy operations. Differences in sensor data types and forms presents a challenge for complete and accurate use of these data. The Universal Sensor Description Schema (USDS) project seeks to design, evaluate, and deploy a unified, extensible metalanguage for supporting legacy and future sensor data across multiple programming languages and environments. Michigan Tech is collaborating with Applied Research in Acoustics LLC to develop a robust programming environment for development of data-intensive applications.

Anthony came up with the idea for the project while interning at ARiA (a small research-and-development firm serving the Navy, government and industry). It’s been the basis for his senior thesis in physics. Anthony says “This project in particular has helped me learn alot about how programming languages work and are made. It also helped me learn a new functional programming language called “Racket”. Finally, it introduced me to some awesome people in the MTU computer science department including my partner Elijah Cobb and my advisor, Dr. Charles Wallace.”

Eye-opening describes the experience for Anthony.  He says, “I would say that I was surprised by the intricacy of how programming languages are built and function. I would also say that it was unexpected how useful recursion can be for solving problems in computing.” Recursion reduces time complexity, adds clarity and reduces the time needed to write and debug code.

Anthony graduates in a few short weeks. HIs attention will turn to the Navy, where he will be a submarine officer. Eventually he hopes to go into graduate school.

Sunny forecast for Physics Pi Cloud Chamber

Michigan Tech Pi Cloud Chamber
Michigan Tech Pi Cloud Chamber

$4 million in NSF funding makes the Physics Pi Cloud Chamber and extensive supporting instrumentation available to the atmospheric sciences community for investigations of atmospheric processes including aerosols and clouds. The award will also support a 10-week experiential learning program for visiting students through a Pi Chamber laboratory fellowship program and broaden student participation in the physical sciences. Funding will also go towards the design of a larger cloud chamber.

What is the Pi Chamber?

The Pi Chamber at Michigan Technological University simulates cloud conditions within the range of pressures and temperatures occurring in the lower part of the atmosphere (the troposphere). It has a proven record of enabling productive and insightful research in aerosol-cloud interactions, ice nucleation, mixed-phase cloud properties, cloud optical properties, and moist Rayleigh-Bénard convection in the atmospheric sciences.

Design of a larger cloud chamber in the works. 

Current cloud chambers do not allow for collisions between cloud drops as would occur in natural clouds. That’s why the NSF is funding an Aerosol-Cloud-Drizzle Convection Chamber too. NSF support of this project facilitates a cohort of researchers to conduct preliminary design work on a large cloud chamber capable of producing droplets up to the size of drizzle, which is a key transition point for fully understanding the development of precipitation. The proposed chamber would dramatically expand the US and international research community’s ability to conduct laboratory studies of clouds.

Read more about the Pi Chamber.