Department Head's Corner
Amit Chakrabarti
 

Dean Zollman is in Germany on sabbatical leave and I am working as the interim head for the 2006-2007 academic year.  This gives me a unique opportunity to write to our friends and alumni about our past year’s accomplishments and our vision for the future.  At the same time I take this opportunity to thank our strongly supportive friends and alumni who continue to support our efforts in many ways --- financially, spreading the word about our programs, and recommending that students consider K-State Physics for their education.  

Highlights of Our Achievements

Research Funding

Our research funding from extramural funds continues to increase and is presently at a level of about $7.8 million.  The lion’s share of the funding for the department comes from sources different from state appropriations.  This becomes clear if one compares our standing among peer institutions in terms of (a) Federal funding only and (b) all funding sources. For example, we stand 3rd in the Big 12 behind Texas and Colorado in Federal funding while we drop to fifth in the Big 12 (also behind Texas A&M and Nebraska) in terms of total funding. A clear message is that other similar institutions (such as Nebraska and Texas A&M) have invested and are continuing to invest significant state/university funds in physics.

 

New Teaching Initiatives -- Studio Optics

Professor Chris Sorensen is leading a group of five faculty to apply the interactive Studio concept to the first semester of our Optics curriculum at the junior/senior level.  This appears to be the first attempt to use interactive studio concepts at this upper level. A series of such interactive optics courses would take students from the traditional optics of mirrors and lenses to working with research level high power lasers.  By the time they complete the sequence students are in a position to work in fields such as communications and development of medical applications or continue research in graduate school.  An NSF grant with Sorensen as PI and generous gifts from Bill and Joan Porter have provided funds for developing the optics courses and remodel the optics studio space, respectively.

 

Faculty and Student Awards

Our students and faculty continue to bring accolades to themselves and to our department. 

 

Undergraduate physics major Eli Parke has won the prestigious Goldwater scholarship for 2006-2007. I am happy to report that in the last fifteen years, six other physics majors (Beverly Loseke, Brett Esry, Craig Caylor, Jonathan Winkler, Aaron Wech, and Jonathan Whitmer) and one physics minor (David Thompson) have won the Goldwater scholarship.

 

Graduate student Howard Camp has won an ETD award for his exemplary electronic PhD thesis.

 

Professor Lew Cocke is the 2006 recipient of the American Physical Society’s Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic or Surface Physics.  The award recognizes Lew’s “sustained record of novel experimental developments and new insights into interactions of ion and photon beams with atoms and molecules.”  While this award is awarded by the APS, scientists from all parts of the world are eligible.  The Davisson-Germer Prize is the highest international award given specifically for work in atomic physics (see article in last year’s newsletter when this award was first announced).

 

Congratulations to Professor Brett Esry and Adjunct Professor Theo Zouros, who have just been elected as Fellows of the American Physical Society.

 

Professor Chris Sorensen has won the Schenk Teaching award for excellence in teaching physics majors.

 

Students Graduating

Recent graduates with a BS degree in physics are Ben Gramkow, Mindy Gratny, Eli Jaggard, Jon Kalodimos,  Mat Leonard, Jacob Thomas, and Philip Zemler. Most of them are continuing their education in graduate school.

 

Recent PhD recipients are Edgar Corpuz, Lili Cui, Altaf Karim, Faisal Mehmood, Neeraj Nepal, and Mudessar Shah.  They are split between holding post-doctoral research positions and teaching positions.

 

Congratulations to all of them!

 

New Members of the Department

Russ Reynolds is now the new machine shop supervisor.  He has significant experience as a machinist and thus is immediately contributing to developing and building instruments for both teaching and research.  Recently Russ helped restore a 67 year old telescope.

 

Lisa Zecha is our new main office secretary.  Lisa is doing a terrific job.

 

The new research staff includes nine post-doctoral research associates and five visiting scholars. 

 

We now have seven new freshman physics majors and 20 new graduate students -- the largest graduate student class that any of us can remember.  As usual the incoming graduate students come to KSU with very diverse backgrounds.  Seven of the students completed undergraduate work in the US while the remaining are from Asia and Europe.  This year, five of the new graduate students are women. 

 

Plans for New Faculty Hire

The department has chosen two majors areas of focus for immediate hire -- experimental Atomic-Molecular-Optical (AMO) ultrafast laser science and experimental nano-bio science.  In AMO physics, our goal is to hire a leading experimentalist in ultrafast laser-atom interactions.  We hope that this new hire will help the J. R. Macdonald Laboratory (JRML) in the Physics department to achieve its goal of becoming a leading center in ultrafast AMO physics.

 

The upper administration at Kansas State is very supportive of this hire and has offered to help us with generous start up funds. Recently, JRML had its three-year review by the sponsoring US Department of Energy.  The idea of such a hire was unanimously and enthusiastically applauded by both the review panel and the attending representatives of the sponsoring Department of Energy.

 

The department plans to hire an experimental physicist whose research interest overlaps with both nanoscience and bioscience.  Such a scientist might engage in current exciting areas of research at the interface between nano- and biosciences such as the construction of smart and active nanoparticles, nanostructures, and nanodevices.  Potential applications include building a new world of adaptive materials that mimic Nature’s ability to control its environment and in various aspects of bio-security and cancer research.  The possible physics hire in nano/bio science has a lot of potential in building bridges between physics and many bio-related departments (such as Biology, Biochemistry, Veterinary Medicine, Terry Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research, etc).  This hire will be timely given that the department has successfully done the groundwork with our nanoscience projects (for example, NSF is funding a Nanoscience Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) grant with Chris Sorensen in Physics as the principal investigator; see this news release  on this NIRT award: http://www.mediarelations.k-state.edu/Web/News/NewsReleases/nsfgrant91406.html) and now we believe that the time is ripe for us to move into the interface between nanoscience and bioscience.  We expect that research in these areas will benefit from the expected higher level of state bioscience funding opportunities

 

We Need Your Help

As you can see from this summary of the year’s activities, we continue to focus on our teaching and research missions.  Our faculty and students are doing very well.  Our success has always depended on your help.  State financial support for higher education continues to drop in Kansas and throughout the country.  KSU, as with most other state universities, has no choice but to significantly increase tuition.  At the same time the number of physics students seems to be growing.  Thus, we need to provide more scholarships and increase the scholarship amounts.  We can do so only with your continued support.  All of our faculty and students are very grateful for all of the generous support that our alumni have given in the past.  We hope that you will continue to think of us and support us in the future.