News & Events

Colloquium: From Flash Gordon to Laser Surgery

As a child, I was fascinated by television programs about Flash Gordon. His partner in conquering the universe was Dr. Alexis Zarkov, a physicist, who had invented, among other things, a death ray gun. In my senior year of high school, I had a fabulous physics teacher, Lewis E. Love, and I knew after one week that I wanted to be a physicist, not a medical doctor, which is the career my parents wanted me to pursue.

In the late 1970s I had the inspiration to acquire an excimer laser for the Laser Physics and Chemistry group at IBM. Using this laser, my colleagues and I discovered excimer laser surgery, capable of removing human and animal tissue with great precision, while leaving the underlying and adjacent tissue free of collateral damage. This discovery laid the foundation for the laser refractive surgical procedures of PRK and LASIK, which have been used to improve the visual acuity of >50 million people, including my son Keith, General Mark Milley, and Michelle Obama.

Today, I am working on validating my concept that the argon fluoride excimer laser can serve as a “smart scalpel,” capable of debriding necrotic lesions of the skin without damaging the underlying and adjacent viable tissue, leading to faster healing, reduced pain, reduced probability of infection, and minimal scarring.

I will describe these innovations and the path to their discovery.

To quote Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared mind!”

MIFA Public Lecture: Comets: The Rosetta Stone of the Solar System

Comets: The Rosetta Stone of the Solar System

Join the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics for our upcoming Public Lecture Series. Professor Robert Gehrz will be describing the origin of comets and their relationship to the formation and evolution of the solar system.

Find out more about the MIfA Public Lecture Series

Colloquium: Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute

Abstract:  Why do we stop growing, live for 100 years and sleep 8 hours a day? Why do all companies and people die whereas cities keep growing and the pace of life continues to accelerate. And how are these related to innovation, wealth creation social networks, urbanization and the long-term sustainability of the planet? These are among the questions that will be addressed in this lecture. Although life is probably the most complex and diverse phenomenon in the Universe, many of its fundamental characteristics scale with size in a surprisingly simple, universal fashion: metabolic rate, for example, scales systematically from cells to whales, while time-scales from lifespans to growth-rates, and sizes from genome lengths to tree heights, do likewise. Remarkably, cities, companies and universities exhibit similar systematic scaling: wages, profits, patents, crime, disease, and roads all scale approximately universally. The origin of these laws will be explained and a conceptual framework based on generic principles of the underlying networks that sustain life from circulatory systems to social networks will be presented. Their dynamics, which transcend history, geography and culture, have dramatic implications for growth and long-term global sustainability and collapse.

Physics Elevator Pitch Talk

This program is designed to prepare its attendees to briefly describe their research in a way that will capture the attention of other colleagues. This program is open to anyone who wishes to improve on how they advertise their research, or anyone who wants to help out. Participants will improve on how they market their research by practicing their elevator pitch, incorporating feedback, and listening to others to see what wording works best.

Women in Physics and Astronomy Lecture Series: Premi Chandra -- Rutgers University

Professor Premala (“Premi”) Chandra of Rutgers University in New Jersey is a theoretical physicist who has pursued her research in both academic and industrial settings. Premi does “blue sky” research on problems inspired by experimental puzzles observed in materials. In her more applied work, she has designed and patented a novel computer memory suitable for high-density information storage, and has also worked on layered nanostructures towards developing lead-free transducers. Premi is fascinated by rich phases of quantum matter that emerge from the confluence of quantum mechanics and complexity. In her talk “The Inner Universe of Quantum Materials” Premi will present quantum materials as tunable Universes whose behavior can be studied under extreme conditions with far-reaching technological and conceptual implications.


Colloquium: Kandice Tanner, National Cancer Institute


Abstract: In the event of metastatic disease, emergence of a lesion can occur at varying intervals from diagnosis and in some cases following successful treatment of the primary tumor.  Genetic factors that drive metastatic progression have been identified, such as those involved in cell adhesion, signaling, extravasation and metabolism. However, organ specific biophysical cues may be a potent contributor to the establishment of these secondary lesions.  We combine  a novel preclinical model of metastasis with that of optical tweezer based active microrheology to elucidate the role of  tissue biophysical properties of in the establishment of metastatic lesions in vivo.   Specifically, I will discuss our efforts to determine what physical cues influence disseminated tumor cells in different organ microenvironments using in vitro and in vivo preclinical models such as 3D culture systems and zebrafish.

 This colloquium will be remote-only via zoom: 

2022 A.O.C. Nier Lecture, "The NASA Psyche Mission: Journey to a Metal World"

The NASA Psyche Mission ( is a journey to a metal asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. What makes the asteroid Psyche unique is that it appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system.  The spacecraft will launch in August 2022 and rendezvous with asteroid Psyche in 2026.

Professor Lindy. Elkins-Tanton is the Pysche Mission Principal Investigator and one of the world’s foremost authorities on asteroids.  She will discuss what we know about Psyche, the many things we do not know, and the importance of asteroids to understanding the origins of planets.

Prior to taking on the Principal Investigator role of the Psyche Mission, Professor Elkins-Tanton was the Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU and before that, headed the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science.  She earned her B.S. and Ph.D. degrees at MIT, where she also served on the faculty.  She is a member of the National Academy of Science, and in 2020 won the Arthur L. Day prize from the National Academy.  Asteroid 8252 Elkins-Tanton is named in her honor.

Sponsored jointly by the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the School of Physics and Astronomy

*****Registration Required*****

Register Now

Colloquium: Evolving Networks in Matter and Mind

Evolving Networks in Matter and Mind

Abstract: Networks exist in both physical and conceptual spaces. Those networks can be treated as static and fixed, but in many cases evolve appreciably over a variety of time scales. In this talk, I will discuss the evolution of networks in matter and mind. I will separate my comments into three main sections. First, I will discuss principles by which to design mechanical networks that undergo precise, and pre-defined conformational changes (Kim et al. 2019 Nature Physics; Kim et al. 2022 Phys Rev X, In Press). Second, I will discuss connections between networks of matter and networks of mind, and relations among physical and conceptual spaces (Zurn & Bassett, forthcoming from MIT Press). Third, I will discuss an empirical study of evolving networks of mind, as manifest in how scientists cite the work of other scientists in the reference lists of their peer-reviewed papers (Teich et al. 2022 arXiv, and others), including relative imbalances in how we cite the work of gender, racial, and ethnic minorities. Collectively, the work will provide a conceptual framework for understanding evolving networks in matter and mind, with important implications for our understanding of our physical world and the processes of scientific inquiry.

Colloquium: Carol Scarlett, Florida A&M University

Abstract: It is well known that a light, pseudo-scalar particle called the Axion can solve several fundamental physics problems.  Proposed to explain the lack of a neutron EDM, such a weakly interacting particle has the right characteristics to explain formation of galaxies, by providing the needed mass in the form of Cold Dark Matter.  There has been a number of completed and proposed experiments to detect axionic particles taking approaches as varied as condense matter energy band gap to superconducting magnetic cavities.  This talk will review the theory behind axion particles, examples of early experimental searches and some new search techniques.  One question this talk will broach, is whether or not observations of nuclear behavior, a place where axionic matter is theorized to play a role in neutron spin, can provide appropriate experimental conditions to be used in axion searches.  
This colloquium will be remote only via zoom: 

Colloquium: Inner Solar Systems

Over the past couple decades, thousands of extra-solar planets have been discovered orbiting other stars. The exoplanets discovered to date exhibit a wide variety of orbital and compositional properties; most are dramatically different from the planets in our own Solar System. Our classical theories for the origins of planetary systems were crafted to account for the Solar System and fail to account for the diversity of planets now known. We are working to establish a new blueprint for the origin of planetary systems and identify the key parameters of planet formation and evolution that establish the distribution of planetary properties observed today. The new blueprint must account for the properties of planets in inner solar systems, regions of planetary systems closer to their star than Earth’s separation from the Sun and home to most exoplanets detected to data. I present work combining simulations and theory with data analysis and statistics of observed planets to test theories of the origins of inner solars, including hot Jupiters, warm Jupiters, and tightly-packed systems of super-Earths. Ultimately a comprehensive blueprint for planetary systems will allow us to better situate discovered planets in the context of their system’s formation and evolution, important factors in whether the planets may harbor life. 

School News

Supernova telescope image

Kelly leads first-of-its-kind measurement of the Universe’s expansion rate

Assistant Professor Patrick Kelly of the School of Physics and Astronomy led a team which used a first-of-its-kind technique to measure the expansion rate of the Universe, providing insight that
Fellowship and awards title

2023 Graduate Awards and Fellowships

There are 14 graduate award and fellowship recipients in the School for 2021.
Marron background with the words "scholarships and Awards

2023 Undergraduate Scholarship Recipients

There are 28 undergraduate recipients for 14 separate scholarships.
Boris Shklovskii

Shklovskii elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Professor Boris I. Shklovskii of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been elected as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for his excellence in original scientific
Lindsay Gelsener and the image of a solar flare.

Glesener receives College Research Award

Professor Lindsay Glesener of the School of Physics and Astronomy has received the 2023 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Research from the College of Science and Engineering at the University
Image from James Webb Space Telescope showing a galaxy cluster

Kelly part of group that discovers tiny galaxy with big star power using James Webb telescope

Using first-of-their-kind observations from the James Webb Space Telescope, a University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led team looked more than 13 billion years into the past to discover a unique,
Ali Sulaiman and the icy moons of Jupiter

Could Jupiter’s icy moons support life? Mission to Jupiter set to launch on April 13

Assistant Professor Ali Sulaiman of the School of Physics and Astronomy is part of the magnetometer instrument team that will study the icy moons of Jupiter. The European Space Agency’s flagship
Elias Puchner in his laboratory.

Puchner receives Biosensing grant

Professor Elias Puchner of the School of Physics and Astronomy received a 2023 grant from the University of Minnesota's International Institute for Biosensing (IIB). Puchner’s research group
Rafael Fernandes

Fernandes named Distinguished McKnight University Professor

Professor Rafael Fernandes of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been named a 2023 Distinguished McKnight University Professor. Fernandes is a condensed matter theorist and Director of
Image of X-ray observation of the sun

Student-planned NuSTAR observation reveals hidden light shows on the Sun

Students at the School played a key role in planning a NuSTAR solar observation which could help shed light on one of the Sun’s biggest mysteries. UMN physics grad students Marianne Peterson and Reed

School of Physics and Astronomy Seminar Calendar