The year of 2019 was very productive for the University of Dallas Physics Department, especially in the areas of student research and funding for research and outreach projects. If you recall the 2018 Physics Newsletter, the department has been focused on undergraduate research projects both inside and outside of the classroom. Students have the option to complete an external research experience for undergraduates (REU) or an internal research experience at UD in nuclear physics, high energy particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology and biophysics supported by the Donald A. Cowan Physics Institute. All of the UD faculty continue to develop their research with UD students.
The department is currently recognized as a Department of Distinction (2018-2020) by the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on Education for its commitment to undergraduate research experiences and passion for innovative education practices. Throughout the rest of this newsletter, we share with you the research projects students and faculty have been working on over the past year and the new additions to existing courses to further the students’ education through hands-on techniques with advanced equipment and developing new instruments and sensors.
Dr. Jacob Moldenhauer will continue as chair of the department and Dr. Sally Hicks will begin a year-long sabbatical beginning in June 2020 after completing a two-and-a-half-year term as Interim Dean of Constantin College. I am sure it does not surprise any of you who know her that she did an incredible job balancing academics (she still taught at least one course each semester), advancing research (DOE grant for nuclear physics research with UD students and other proposals), and countless administration duties while serving the University. Dr. Levente Borvak is now serving as a full time Affiliate Assistant Professor to help the department in her absence. We have enjoyed the first year with our new President, Dr. Thomas Hibbs, and we look forward to the naming of the next Dean of Constantin College and learning how the physics department and the new Dean can work together. Finally, we know that this newsletter comes at a time of much transition and uncertainty in all of our lives. This newsletter was originally scheduled (as usual) to be distributed at the beginning of March. However, this March did not seem like the right time for a newsletter focused on 2019, when we were learning that the Spring 2020 semester was about to have some very drastic changes. As many of you know, the University closed its campus to students after spring break and all classes transitioned to completely online or remote learning in less than two weeks. This was an amazing accomplishment for the faculty and staff at UD. As you can imagine, this transition was especially challenging for the sciences because of the labs which require equipment and lab space. In physics, while we could have used simulations and data analysis to replace all of the labs, our department feels very strongly that the students really need to experience the labs in as much of a hands-on method as possible.
All of the physics labs still met for live synchronous sessions at regular times and all sessions were recorded for review by students who could not attend. Each lab professor worked through the labs with the students, and also demonstrated or performed the labs in sync with the students.
The department felt strongly that this was a time to spend some of our reserve funds to purchase supplies for students to perform labs remotely at home, rather than just doing simulations (some of these are highlighted later in this newsletter). We also purchased lab kits for use during the summer physics courses. Normally, these would be planned for either the students to purchase or lab fees to cover, but the late change to online delivery prevented passing any new expenses on to the students after registration. Online learning may sound less expensive, but there are hidden costs of training, software, hardware, firmware, and we cannot reuse a lot of the lab kit equipment.
We are so grateful to all of you who have contributed to our department in the past, so that we could afford to make these opportunities possible and continue to teach physics and its labs in the ways that we feel serve our students best. We received much appreciation from the students for our tireless efforts. I am especially thankful to our adjunct faculty, Dr. David Catlett and Zachary Santonil for developing their own online labs to complete their courses (adjuncts are not required to develop teaching materials for their courses or labs).
As many of you have heard, the UD Irving and Rome campuses will be open for students in the Fall, and we look forward to seeing the students on campus, in the classrooms and labs again. We know that we will need to be careful with this transition but that because of the UD spirit and community, we will succeed.
We hope you enjoy catching up on the happenings of the Physics department at the University of Dallas. If you would like to let us know what you are up to, then please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our door is always open, and we would love to have you stop by and visit us sometime.