Department Head's Corner
Dean Zollman

The past year was a pretty good one for the KSU Department of Physics.  Of course, we continued to struggle with the State’s economic situation.  However, the difficulties with the budget were somewhat offset by the successes of our faculty and students. 

Our student enrollment stays rather steady.  We have about 40 undergraduate physics majors and 60 graduate students.  Last Spring 6 of our students received a Bachelors degree while one finished his B.S. in December.  Four of the seven students enrolled in graduate school while the other three are now employed.  Of the graduate students, one received a M.S. degree while nine received Ph.Ds. during the calendar year.  Most of our Ph.D. students are now serving as postdoctoral research associates or postdoctoral fellows in either national laboratories or other research universities.  At both the undergraduate and graduate level our students are doing well and are being placed in good schools or good entry level positions. 

Two of our majors, Aaron Wech and Jonathan Whitmer, received Goldwater scholarships in 2003.  A separate article in this newsletter describes Aaron’s and Jonathan’s accomplishments.  (See http://www.act.org/goldwater/)  As President Wefald likes to point out, Kansas State continues to receive a disproportionate number of these prestigious scholarships.  In fact, physics department students also receive a disproportionate number.  In the past 15 years, eight of our majors have received Goldwater Scholarships.  That number represents 17% of the total number of Goldwaters received by KSU students.  Yet, all science, mathematics and engineering students are eligible.  So, with far less than 1% of the total eligible students, the physics department students garner a much greater percentage of the Goldwater’.

Of course, one of the reasons for Physics students doing well in Goldwater’s is that they tend to be quite good students.  However, we think that we as a faculty can also take some credit because we get all of our undergraduates involved in research very early in their careers.  Thus, when they are completing the application for prestigious national scholarships such as the Goldwater, they are in a very good position to discuss some significant research in physics.  These research activities play an important role in the selection process.

We have also done quite well with the most prestigious KSU scholarship for incoming freshmen, the Kassebaum scholarship.  This scholarship has only been in existence for about six years and two physics majors, Kara Gray and Eli Parke, have been recipients.  Again, about 4% of the Kassebaum’s have gone to Physics majors while the fraction of incoming freshman who declare their majors as physics is less than of 1%. 

Kara Gray Eli Parke

About two years ago we started a Physics minor option with the idea that we could attract some of the good engineering students to enroll in a few of our upper-level undergraduate courses and add a physics minor to their engineering major.  Its working better than we had ever expected.  We now have about 25 declared physics minors and the number seems to be growing somewhat rapidly.  For the first time in my memory we actually turned students away from Physics 3, a course that used to be called Modern Physics. 

We have also been working with the College of Business Administration to set up a program for students who have a strong interest in science and would like to enter the technical business world after graduation.  We have developed two options, one is a physics major with a business minor; the other, a 5 year program which results in a B.S. in Physics and an M.B.A.  We will begin recruiting our first students for these programs in the coming summer. 

The other major teaching related event of the year was the awarding of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching to Larry Weaver.  Many of you helped in that process by sending notes about your experiences and learning from Larry while you were students here.  Some of these notes discussed specific classes that you had taken from Larry but a significant number began with “I never had a course from Larry but…” and then went on to talk about how discussions with Larry had helped you understand a variety of different topics.  When the associate dean who is in charge of the selection process announced to the department heads that Larry was to receive this award he said, “I don’t know why we didn’t do this many years ago.”  I’m sure all of us felt the same way.

Research funding during the past year has held rather steady.  The KSU Research Office lists our funding for 2003 at $7.3 million dollars.  The full report for KSU is available at http://www.ksu.edu/research/awards/fy2003/awards03.pdf.  Right at the end of the year we received notification that the Macdonald Lab’s grant with the Department of Energy would continue to be funded at a little over $2 million per year for the next three years.  Most of the research efforts in the department are described in other articles in this newsletter, so I won’t go into detail here.  I will say however that critical contemporary topics such as novel materials, nanoscale science, high power - short-pulse lasers and dark energy are all areas of importance in our research efforts. 

Changes in personnel continue to be an ongoing part of our department.  Two departures and two retirements occurred during 2003.  Regina Demina, an assistant professor with the High Energy Physics group, left KSU to accept a faculty position at the University of Rochestser.  Tom Gray who was Associate Director of the Macdonald Laboratory and a Professor, retired after over 20 years at KSU.  Some of you will remember that Tom was the critical player in the upgrade of the Macdonald Laboratory which occurred in the 1980s.  His guidance and careful supervision helped assure the quality and timeliness of that upgrade.  Photographs from Tom’s retirement party can be found on our website at:  http://www.phys.ksu.edu/submenu/events/gray.html

Our support staff also underwent some changes during the past year.  Dave Hill who had over 34 years of experience in our Machine Shop also retired during the past year.  Essentially everyone on our faculty who used the machine shop has had some experience when Dave Hill took our idea for something that we needed and made it better than we could have possibly imagined.  Ron Jackson who had been heading our Machine Shop for the past seven years moved to Colorado when his wife received a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship in veterinary medicine.  Pictures from Ron’s going away and Dave’s retirement can also be found on our website at http://web.phys.ksu.edu/Retirements/index.htm.

Fortunately, it was not all outgoing during 2003.  Dr. Kristan Corwin joined the faculty as an assistant professor in August.  Dr. Corwin received her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado where her mentor was Carl Wieman, 2000 Nobel Laureate.  She then completed a postdoc in Paris and returned to Boulder where she had a research position with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Kristan is now building a laboratory so that we can expand our research efforts in laser interaction with matter.  She started with an empty space in August and is well on her way to building a research program here. 

A second atomic, molecular and optical physicist was also hired during 2003.  Igor Litvinyuk needed to finish a research project in Canada and delayed joining our faculty until the beginning of 2004.  So at this time he is just getting started and we’ll have more to say about him next year. 

Joining the staff are two new members of our machine Shop, Michael James as supervisor and Derek Moon.  Both come to us with significant experience in instrument making and are now learning about the idiosyncrasies of working at a university and with physics researchers. 

Michael James Derek Moon

We had a number of outstanding visitors during 2003.  The most notable were Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman who shared the Nobel Prize in 2001 with Wolfgang Ketterle for their discovery of Bose-Einstein condensates.  Dr. Cornell visited in February, giving a public lecture and a physics colloquium.  Dr. Wieman was here in November.  He presented a physics colloquium and was the banquet speaker for the Arkansas-Oklahoma-Kansas section of the American Association of Physics Teachers joint meeting with the Nebraska section. 

For the second year the department invited one of its distinguished alumni to present the Ernest Fox Nichols lecture.  Dr. John Crawford, who received his PhD under Dean Dragsdorf in 1962 and recently retired as the Executive Vice President of Sandia Laboratories, was the lecturer this year.  His talk provided our students and faculty with a nice overview of the types of work that a physicist can do with a national laboratory such as Sandia and with a good look at the career path which begins with research responsibility and builds to major administrative duties. 

Two alumni events occurred during this year.  The students of Dean Dragsdorf gathered here in May to pay tribute to his career as a mentor.  Most of Dean’s former students were able to attend.  Photos of the event are available at http://perg.phys.ksu.edu/alumni/dragdorf.htm.  We also had our first off-campus gathering of alumni at the home of Bill and Joan Porter in Portola Valley, California.  Many of our alumni who now live in the Bay Area joined us for an afternoon in the California sunshine.  See http://perg.phys.ksu.edu/alumni/bay_area_2003.htm

I’ll conclude with just a short note on the budget.  As I mentioned earlier, the department’s research funding is remaining strong because our faculty are receiving a large number of competitive federal research grants.  Each year, the University provides our department with a budget of about $3 million and we respond by bringing in over twice that in research grants.  In the past few years the state appropriation for higher education has not kept up with the operating costs.  Thus, the University has been forced to make significant increases in tuition.  With each increase the University sets aside a fraction to increase the financial aid so that students will continue to have access to KSU.  However, each increase can mean that some student will no longer be able to afford a University education.  Thus, we will continue to need your help in the form of donations for scholarships to help us assure that all good physics students, independent of financial need, can have access to what we consider a very good education. 

In November Frank and Elizabeth Burke completed an endowment donation which establishes the Ernest K. Chapin Professorship in Physics.  Ernest Chapin was a faculty member who retired in the 1960s and was Mrs. Burke’s father.  The Chapin Professorship is part of the State’s Faculty of Excellence Program in which the chaired professor receives some funds from the endowment and some from the State of Kansas.  We anticipate that the first appointment of a Chapin Professor will occur in about one year.

As we begin 2004 I continue to be optimistic about the Department and particularly the quality of students that we graduate.  With your help and support we will continue to do our best to meet our education and research goals.