Dean ZollmanDepartment Head's Corner

Dean Zollman


This academic year will be my last as the Head of the KSU Department of Physics.  In early June I will return to teaching and research after serving as Head since 2001.  Amit Chakrabarti will become the next Department Head.  You may recall that Amit served as interim Head during my sabbatical year, so the Department will be in capable and experienced hands.

Once again this year our students have done well.  Shane Scott became the tenth physics major to receive a Goldwater Scholarship.  I always enjoy pointing out that our students receive a disproportionate number of these highly coveted national awards.  All science, math and engineering students are eligible for this nomination.  At K-State physics students make up less than 1% of those eligible.  Yet, frequently 25-50% of the nominees are physics majors or minors.  Even better, 10 of K-State’s 66 recipients have been physics majors.

We also had a graduate student receive a major award.  Kevin Knabe who received his PhD under Kristan Corwin was awarded a National Research Council post doctoral fellowship.  Kevin is now conducting research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, CO.  Part of Dyan McBride’s PhD research also received national attention.  Her apparatus for teaching accommodation in the lens of the human eye was awarded first prize the 2010 Apparatus competition of the American Association of Physics Teachers.  Sean McBride who is a PhD student working with Bruce Law was one of 40 graduate students nationwide to be selected to receive a fellowship to attend the first Faraday Discussion Graduate Research Seminar.

The faculty have also done well and are receiving recognition for their teaching and research.  Chii-Dong Lin was selected for a state-wide research award – the Olin Petefish Award in Basic Science which is presented annually by the University of Kansas under the Higuchi Endowment.  All Kansans who conduct research in the basic sciences are eligible for this award.  Since 2000 the Award has been presented to KSU physicists 5 times.  The College of Arts & Sciences recognized Kristan Corwin’s teaching with a William Stamey award.  Sanjay Rebello received a Distinguished Service Citation from the American Association of Physics Teachers.  Brett DePaola was selected by the US Department of State to be a Jefferson Fellow.  Brett is now working in Washington and providing scientific advice to the State Department staff.  Thus, our faculty continue to excel and continue to be recognized at the local state and national levels for their efforts. 

One of our support staff Lindsay Thompson, the Physics accountant, received a Classified Employee of the Year award.  All of us know that someone who can keep the books straight for faculty who don’t want to be bother with “that stuff” is indeed a critical member of our support.

On sad notes three of our emeritus faculty, Dean Bark, Brock Dale and Dean Dragsdorf, passed away during the past year.  All of them had joined our faculty in the late 1940s or 1950s.  They spent almost all of their professional careers at K-State.  While they had not been active in Departmental affairs for many years, each would visit from time-to-time and give me and others advice that could only come from many years of experience.  More about each of them can be found elsewhere in this newsletter. 

We were able to add one new faculty member this year.  Carlos Trallero joined the faculty in August after a post-doc at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada.   Carlos received his BS and MS degrees in Cuba.  He then completed a PhD at SUNY-Stony Brook.  He conducts research in atomic, molecular and optical physics as part of the J. R. Macdonald Laboratory.

We had a couple of departures in the latter part of 2010.  Zenghu Chang accepted an appointment as University Distinguished Professor at the University of Central Florida.  Lisa McNeil, our receptionist, moved to the warmer climate of San Diego.  Lisa’s replacement, Cassie Hall, joined us just at the end of 2010.

As we reported last year the leadership of K-State has undergone major changes.  President Kirk Schulz is in his second year while Provost April Mason has just completed her first year.  We anticipate selection of a new Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences during the next few months.

A goal which President Schulz has set for KSU is to become a top 50 public institution by 2025.  At present the general rankings of this type place K-State about mid-80 for public research universities.  President Schulz has selected a small group of universities which he considers ones that we can emulate as well as a set of criteria to use when making comparisons.  (Details are available at One of the criteria is research funding. So after a meeting with administrators on this topic I decided to see how our Department compares with the Physics Departments in the comparison universities.  Using NSF numbers on funding in physics I created the graph below.

KSU Physics Graph

The graph shows the number of physics faculty plotted against the Federal research dollars received by each university for the universities which KSU is comparing itself to.  The line is a simple regression created by Excel.  As you can see, the line is a reasonably good fit for all but the institutions with the top three number of faculty.  K-State is the one Physics Department which is farthest above the straight line fit.

This year the National Research Council (NRC) released a study of science and engineering departments.  The NRC took a very long time to analyze the data, which were collected in 2006.  They decided (correctly in my view) that academic departments are too complex to assign a single ranking number.  Thus, unlike previous studies no Physics Department can claim, “We are number 1.”  However as a result the analysis is quite complex and requires considerable reading and (for me re-reading) of the procedures and methods.  Basically on a large number of criteria each Department is assigned a range of ranking which were determined by running multiple numerical models.  At this time I have not yet analyzed the data completely.  However, the KSU Office of Planning and Analysis has provided a set of graphs with comparison to our all universities, our Regent-assigned peers, and other land grant institutions.  Our ranges of ranking are quite good in comparison to all three groups.

For each of the years that I have been Department Head I have been able to write similar reports to this one.  Throughout the past 10 years our students, staff, and faculty have received many major awards as well as new research grants.  Many Department Heads at this and other universities need to “manufacture” good things to say about their students, staff and faculty.  I don’t need to do that.  We have an excellent community of people who work together for the good of the Department and the University. 

As with most of the country Kansas is continuing to experience financial problems.  The Federal stimulus funds provided some needed improvements to the University’s infrastructure.  However, the campus as a whole is still suffering from flat State budgets.  So far, the University has been very supportive of our Department.  We were one of the few departments who were allowed to hire new faculty last year and we will be hiring two new Assistant Professors this year – one in physics education research and one soft matter theorist.

Our alumni and friends continue to play a major role in the successes of our students. Your support of undergraduate scholarships and research forms the foundation for the funds that we can provide to students.  With the difficult economic times ahead, we plan to maintain our scholarship program as close to our past levels as possible.  Because of your continued generosity we should be able to maintain our student support.  Once again, thank you.