SPA Newsletter

School of Physics & Astronomy Newsletter


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Letter from the Head

The School of Physics and Astronomy has faced some unprecedented challenges in the last eight months, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to transition to remote instruction in March and has also had a significant impact on our research activities. Our faculty, staff, and graduate students have risen to the task, however, and not only were we able to complete the spring semester successfully, but we began the fall with the benefit of innovations developed over the spring and summer. We have been able to offer all of our regular undergraduate and graduate classes, and, after adaptations for safety, research activities in the School have largely restarted. In a couple cases highlighted in this newsletter, resourceful faculty have initiated new efforts focused on either the pandemic itself or providing opportunities for students and the general public, who may have more time to participate in activities such as citizen science.

In spite of these challenges, the work of the School has gone on, and we have been lucky to do so with the benefit of four new faculty members: Michael Coughlin, Andrew Furmanski, Maxim Pospelov, and Nadja Strobbe, who are profiled in this issue along with Aleksey Cherman, who joined us a year previously. Michael is a member of the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, and Maxim has joined the William I. Fine Institute for Theoretical Physics. Nadja and Andrew are the newest members of our experimental high-energy physics group, and Alexey has joined our nuclear theory group. New programs are also underway, including the National Science Foundation Traineeship in multi-messenger astrophysics. As you will also read about in this issue, instruments such as the Parker Solar Probe have been completely unperturbed by the pandemic, and new data from it and other experiments are generating particular excitement in our Space Physics Group. I continue to be amazed by the research accomplishments of all of our faculty, staff, and students.

Three members of the faculty, Professors Yuichi Kubota and Larry Rudnick and Regents Professor Allen Goldman retired at the end of the academic year. We thank them for their collective 127 years of service to the School and University. Allen’s 55 years on the faculty also included 13 as Head of the School, and he mentored over 65 graduate students. Unfortunately, we also suffered the unexpected loss of Professor Misha Voloshin, who passed away in March. Misha, who held the Gloria Lubkin Chair in Theoretical Physics, was a pioneer in the theory of heavy quarks, and was widely admired by both theorists and experimentalists around the world. We will also miss Emeriti Hans Courant, Walter “Cork” Johnson, and Cecil J. “Jake” Waddington, who are also remembered in this issue.

This newsletter is, in effect, a double-issue, as the combination of the School’s leadership transition and the pandemic delayed publication. In the future, please look forward to a new format of shorter, quarterly updates that link directly to stories on the School’s new web page: Among other features, the web page includes Zoom links to the School’s colloquium and many of our seminars, in addition to updates on our research, teaching, and outreach activities. Please join us for any of our online events. Of course we are looking forward to the return of the face-to-face interactions that are so important to education and the advancement of physics and astronomy. I will be updating you in the months ahead as we meet the challenge of restoring normal activities. Your support in this effort is valued by all of us in the School.

Paul Crowell

In the meantime, please stay well, and I look forward to seeing members and friends of the School in person again as soon as conditions permit.

-Paul Crowell

Awards & Recognition


Welcome Zhen Liu

Assistant Professor Zhen Liu joined the school on December 28, 2020. He will be joining the High Energy Theory Group.

Associate Head, Professor Lucy Fortson named APS Fellow

Nominated by the Division of Astrophysics, Prof. Fortson is being awarded an American Physical Society Fellowship for, "For groundbreaking innovations to public engagement in astrophysics research, and for the fundamental advancement of understanding active galactic nuclei through leadership in high energy gamma ray astronomy." The APS Fellowship Program is designed to recognize members who have made significant advances or contributions to their discipline. This honor is a recognition by one's professional peers and no more than 0.05% of the society's members receive this recognition each year.

Professor Emeritus Robert Pepin awarded the 2020 Fred Whipple Award

Prof. Emeritus Robert Pepin is being awarded the American Geophysical Union's Fred Whipple Award. The Whipple Award is presented annually and recognizes significant contributions to the field of planetary science from a mid-career or senior scientist. The Whipple Award is presented at the Planetary Sciences section reception during the AGU Fall Meeting where the awardee also presents the Whipple Lecture.

Professor Cynthia Cattell named CSE Distinguished Professor

The College of Science and Engineering Distinguished Professorship honors exceptional faculty for their efforts in and contributions to teaching and scholarly research and for their genuine commitment to the College of Science and Engineering and its activities. College of Science and Engineering Distinguished Professors receive a one-time award of $15,000 to be used for professional development or research.

Please send class notes, comments and mailing list changes to: Jenny Allan at

Paul Crowell, Head | Jenny Allan, Editor

School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Minnesota, 116 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455