Author: Nathanael Black

Faculty Position Available

Image of Michigan Tech campus from above
Michigan Technological University
Est. 1885

The Department of Physics at Michigan Technological University seeks a candidate to fill a faculty position as a tenure-track Assistant Professor starting in August of 2023. Applicants with the required education, experience, knowledge, skills, abilities, and accomplishments commensurate with a higher rank will also be considered for an appointment at the rank of associate or full professor. Detailed information about this position and the application process can be found at https://www.employment.mtu.edu/.

Current astrophysics research at Michigan Tech includes gamma-ray and cosmic-ray astrophysics, astroparticle physics, cosmology, large-scale structure, galaxy evolution, dark matter, and machine-learning applications in astrophysics. Michigan Tech physics faculty are actively involved in the cosmic-ray and gamma-ray experiments Auger and HAWC as well as in research & development for the SWGO project.

Michigan Tech attracts world-class faculty and staff who enrich the educational experience of smart, motivated, and adventurous students. Applicants who are committed to promoting a sense of belonging and contributing to an equitable and inclusive learning environment for all are strongly encouraged to apply (mtu.edu/diversity-inclusion/).

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.

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.

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/

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.

Yoke Khin Yap Selected for Deans’ Teaching Showcase

Yoke Khin Yap
University Professor Yoke Khin Yap

College of Sciences and Arts Dean David Hemmer has selected Yoke Khin Yap, a Michigan Tech distinguished professor of physics, as the fifth Deans’ Teaching Showcase member.

Yap will be recognized at an end-of-term event with other showcase members, and is also a candidate for the CTL Instructional Award Series.

Yap is enthusiastic about teaching and research and treats the two as inseparable. His performance is exceptional in both: He is a recipient of Michigan Tech’s Research Award and has made research contributions of widely recognized significance in the field of nanotechnology.

Simultaneously, he has been an excellent instructor in the classroom and led the Department of Physics in making research opportunities available for a wide cross-section of students. For example, he has reached out to high school students via annual workshops in nanotechnology, which started with an introductory seminar (with animated videos), followed by hands-on sessions in which students constructed carbon nanostructures using the ball-and-stick models.

Yap has been a major driving force in improving the undergraduate and graduate physics curriculum. He initiated a redesign of the undergraduate optics laboratory encouraging cooperative learning between students. Later, he led efforts in designing and teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in nanotechnology, which combine lectures, invited seminars and laboratory demonstrations/tours.

Physics chair Ravi Pandey provided special commendation for Yap’s supplemental instructions to his students. “Dr. Yap took the time to plan and carry out his classes in a way that led students to an understanding of state-of-the-art laboratory techniques to characterize materials at the nanoscale,” says Pandey. “Recently, he has integrated the course into the online mode, using his recorded video lectures.”

Currently, Yap teaches Introductory Physics (PH2200) with 380-plus students. He uses a combination of traditional and contemporary pedagogies to provide a learning opportunity to first-year students. His tools include clickers, online homework and tutorials, extensive online student resources and, most popularly, pedagogically effective demonstrations.

Faculty must be extremely organized, personable, highly motivated and energetic to carry students through introductory physics courses. “Clearly,” Pandey emphasizes, “Dr. Yap brings these attributes through his initiative and commitment, making him a scholar-teacher faculty at Michigan Tech who believes in the unity of teaching and research, mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students, and critical thought.”

Dean Hemmer concurs. “Our large introductory science courses are critical for retention and student success,“ he says. “It is wonderful to see one of Michigan Tech’s top scholars play such a critical role in ensuring the quality of our introductory physics course, and it is great for students to be exposed early in their studies to one of our very best researchers!”

Lab Associate Doug Wilken Passes Away

Doug Wilken
Dr. Doug Wilken

Doug Wilken, instructor and laboratory associate in the Department of Physics, passed away Jan. 28 in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Wilken taught laboratory courses in optics, electronics and modern physics. He also provided all of the demonstration support for a variety of physics classes, managing a group of undergraduate students for assistance (his Demo Crew).

Wilken received an M.S. in physics in 1988 and a Ph.D. in physics in 1993, working in Professor Bryan Suits’ laboratory at Michigan Tech. His thesis was on a nuclear magnetic resonance study of surface oxides on aluminum metal particles. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Florida, he joined the corporate world for 20 years, working in Minneapolis. He returned to Michigan Tech in 2016.

Wilken was a gifted musician, playing piano and sharing his beautiful singing voice on many occasions, including at church and family gatherings. He loved to read and carry on discussions across a myriad of topics. His personal library of books spanned countless technical volumes, history, political science, biography and science fiction and fantasy novels — to name just a few of his favorite subjects.

One of Wilken’s true passions was sharing his knowledge of experimental physics with students. In this endeavor, he practiced continual self-examination and improvement, finding better ways of getting across main ideas and techniques that students would be able to utilize no matter where they found themselves later on in scientific and engineering disciplines.

His greatest passion, however, was spending time with all of his family — and in recent years, he especially enjoyed being “Grandpa” for his granddaughter for as much time as he could.

Doug will be deeply missed in the department. A memorial service is planned in Foley, Minnesota. Service dates and times are pending.

Read Wilken’s obituary.