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Physics Faculty

Our Physics Faculty

 Dr. Sally Hicks

Dr. Sally HicksDr. Sally Hicks has devoted her career to studying neutron-nucleus interactions through neutron scattering and neutron-induced reactions. She and her students collaborate primarily with scientists from the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Kentucky. Her teams investigate collective and few-particle excitations of stable nuclei and neutron reaction probabilities. Currently, Dr. Hicks studies neutron interactions with materials that are important for energy production using nuclear fission. These include: Iron, Carbon, Silicon, and Sodium, which are important for transporting heat from the reactor core, structural materials, or shielding. These studies are important as the Department of Energy works to develop next generation nuclear reactors and for our basic understanding of neutron-nucleus interactions. Dr. Hicks currently serves as the Interim Dean of Constantin College and recently completed her term as Chair of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society.

Dr. Jacob Moldenhauer

Jacob MoldenhauerDr. Jacob Moldenhauer studies cosmic acceleration of the universe's expansion. As the universe expands, other galaxies accelerate away from us. Physicists do not yet know the cause of this accelerated expansion. It could be due to an unknown repulsive energy, such as dark energy, or perhaps an incorrect formulation of the current theory of gravity. As a theoretical cosmologist, Dr. Moldenhauer uses data gathered from telescopes in space and around the world to test models of gravity. He uses supercluster computers and several programs to make testing more efficient.

AJPAt the 2019 Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics in Portsmouth, England, Dr. Moldenhauer presented a 30 minute talk on his work on CosmoEJS, an interactive cosmology simulation that allows users to fit cosmological models to actual data sets using Easy Java Simulations ( This work was recently highlighted with the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics. In the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics by the American Journal of Physics (AJP), Dr. Moldenhauer’s original CosmoEJS article in AJP is given as one of three Top Articles in Cosmology, along with those of the Nobel Laureate for content related to the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics.

In addition to his cosmology research, Dr. Moldenhauer has interdisciplinary projects with the UD Biology Department. They have successfully developed a novel physical model of the human head and brain for studying concussive and sub-concussive level collisions. There is also new work with Dr. Stenesen on developing methods to detect the electrical signal in the eye of a fruit fly and image structures using the AFM, see the work by Mary Fox and Sarah Evans earlier in this Newsletter.

Dr. Will Flanagan

Will FlanaganDr. Will Flanagan received his undergraduate education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Lured from astronomy research by the fascinating connection between cosmology and particle physics, he began doing Large Hadron Collider (LHC) phenomenology at Texas A&M through a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) internship. He then returned to Colorado to begin research with the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector as the LHC became operational.

Upon graduation, he moved to Texas A&M to complete a Ph.D., looking for supersymmetric dark matter particles produced through weak boson fusion. He moved to the dynamic field of neutrino physics during postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin. During this time, he found a love for tinkering with particle detectors and mentoring undergraduate research.

Dr. Flanagan was recently awarded a $450,000 contract from the Air Force for his work in developing the world’s smallest neutron detector, in partnership with Cerium Labs. Cerium Labs has developed the world’s smallest neutron detector through patented modification to a flash memory chip. This chip will revolutionize searches for nuclear materials with small unmanned aerial systems, handheld survey meters, and clandestine methods by presenting a leap forward in miniaturization and affordability. This disruptive technology is a fundamentally different method of neutron detection and has advantages over current technologies including ease of imbedding into almost any system, ability to function without power, and rapid mass-production. Results from current prototypes confirm high sensitivity to neutron radiation without false positives from other types of radiation (gamma rays and muons). The current phase of funding will support R&D to change the boron content and thickness within the chip as well as improved methods for readout, which will increase the sensitivity and usability over current prototypes.

Dr. Richard Olenick

Dr. Richard OlenickDr. Richard Olenick studies two related but disparate astrophysical areas: cataclysmic variable stars (CVs) and exoplanets. To understand accretion disk dynamics in CV systems, he observes preludes to super-outbursts and transitions within and outside of super-outbursts, a study that necessitates the capabilities of NASA's Kepler K2 mission. Kepler light curves have shown the necessary detail for identifying disk transitions from the retrograde to the prograde direction. As a Kepler K2 Guest Observer, Dr. Olenick works with scientists in Florida and Moscow to examine the evolution of disk structures. He also works with Mr. Arthur Sweeney of the Physics Department in searching for new exoplanets. Now using remote observatories set up by Mr. Sweeney, Dr. Olenick’s work focuses on gathering wide-field images of the same area in the sky over weeks and analyzing the images to extract light curves, looking for faint transit signals.

Dr. Levente Borvák

Dr. Levente BorvakDr. Levente Borvák recently joined the UD physics depart as an Affiliate Assistant Professor of Physics. He continues his research collaboration with colleagues from Charles University (Prague) and Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest) working toward the classification of gamma ray bursts (GRBs). His research particularly focuses on GRBs with measured redshifts. At the XXXth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Unionof gamma-ray bursts, which addresses the curious observation of more distant bursts appearing in Vienna, Austria, he presented about the analogy of the K-correction in the topic brighter than closer ones. In May of 2019, he presented his research at the 16th INTEGRAL/BART Workshop in the Czech Republic and in June at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Lyon, France. Currently, he continues his international collaborations in the field of GRBs and has been working on developing the physics department’s instrumentation course to include more 3D design and 3D printing elements along with the metal machining components. He is also building a new survey course for the Fall 2020 semester to focus on Medical Physics. 

Mr. Arthur Sweeney

Mr. Arthur SweeneyMr. Arthur Sweeney continues to provide the experimental expertise for the department’s research astronomy program using remote telescopes and to develop upper level laboratories for the department. Mr. Sweeney assists with the upgrades to the Haggarty Observatory at UD, contributes to the detection of the very weak electrical signals from fruit flies, and helps create labs for the color blue course.