SPA Newsletter

School of Physics & Astronomy Newsletter
August 26, 2022


Current Issue | Awards & Recognition | Archive

Letter from the Head


Dear Friends of the School of Physics and Astronomy,

As the School starts a new academic year, it is a pleasure to welcome our incoming class of graduate students as well as a new faculty member, Assistant Professor Ali Sulaiman. Ali is a space physicist specializing in the magnetospheres of the outer planets and their interaction with the solar wind. He joins us from the University of Iowa, where he was a postdoctoral researcher. In the space physics group, Ali’s arrival is accompanied by the retirement of College of Science and Engineering Distinguished Professor Cynthia “Cindy” Cattell. Cindy will be continuing her research in space plasma physics, in which she has been a leader in her field and a mentor to many. Professors Cheng-Cher “C.-C.” Huang and Eric Ganz are also retiring this year. C.-C., who has been on the faculty for over 40 years, is well-known for his studies of the thermodynamics of thin layers of liquid crystals. Eric made a mid-career transition from scanning tunneling microscopy to computational studies of the electronic structure of molecules used in applications such as energy storage. Please join me in thanking all three of our retirees for their many years of contributions to the School.  You can find out more about Cindy’s career below, and we will share more about C.-C. and Eric in future issues of this newsletter

This past April we were able to host our first Van Vleck Lecture in three years, given by Professor William Unruh of the University of British Columbia, who shared with us his work on the limits to gravitational wave detection posed by quantum mechanics. Professor Unruh’s visit also provided an opportunity to thank his good friend Professor Emeritus Roger Stuewer and his wife Helga for the gift of their library on the history of physics to the School. You can read more about Roger and his career in one of the articles below. Unfortunately, Roger, who was the founder of the program in the History of Science and Technology (now Science, Technology, and Medicine) at the University of Minnesota, passed away on July 28th. A full obituary can be found here.

It is a pleasure to share news of the recent accomplishments of our students and faculty. You can read below about the recipients of this year’s undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, who were honored at the last School colloquium of the spring semester.  You can also read about the recent accomplishments of our graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty.

Finally, please join us for the 15th Annual Irving and Edith Misel Lecture by Professor Carlos Frenk of the University of Durham, UK.  He will speak on “How our universe was made:  All from nothing” on September 21st at 7:00 PM in the Memorial Hall of the McNamara Alumni Center.  If you are not able to make it, the lecture will be streamed live.  For more information, see  The Misel lecture series is sponsored by the William I. Fine Theoretical Physics Institute.


Paul Crowell




Head, School of Physics and Astronomy

School News

Ringleader: New faculty member is expert in planetary physics

Ali Sulaiman

This fall, the School will welcome Ali Sulaiman to the space physics group.

Sulaiman’s research concerns the physics of the outer planets, particularly their magnetospheres - the vast bubble in their near-space environments carved out by their magnetic fields. He uses spacecraft data to study how the giant planets are intimately coupled to their moons and rings, and how their powerful auroras are generated. Specifically, he specializes in the theory and observation of plasma waves. These are ubiquitous in space and manifest as small-scale fluctuations in electric and magnetic fields that can be measured by instrumentation.They play a major role in heating and accelerating charged particles that are ultimately responsible for the aurora and radiation belts.

Read more here.

Cattell looks back on career

Cindy Cattell

College of Science and Engineering Distinguished Professor Cynthia Cattell will retire from teaching  at the School  this year after 28 years on the faculty. Cattell is a space plasma physicist whose work has focused on understanding the physics of the conversion of energy stored in magnetic fields to particle kinetic energy, and how charged particles in the naturally occurring plasmas in our solar system are accelerated and generate waves.

Gift establishes Roger and Helga Stuewer Library

blonde man wearing suit and tie looking very serious

Professor Emeritus Roger Stuewer, historian of physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy and founder of the University’s Program in History of Science and Technology, and his wife Helga, have donated their large and valuable collection of books and papers to the School.

Pribiag leads team that receives $1.4M Keck Foundation grant to study possible breakthrough in quantum computing

Vlad Pribiag

A team led by Associate Professor Vlad Pribiag of the School of Physics and Astronomy has received a $1.4 million award from the W. M. Keck Foundation to study a new process that combines quantum physics and biochemistry. If successful, the research could lead to a major breakthrough in the quantum computing field.


Chatterjee receives Young Researcher Prize

Rajdeep Chatterjee

Rajdeep Mohan Chatterjee received the 2022 Young Researcher Prize from the Compact Muon Solenoid  (CMS) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland.

New grant will expand FTPI programs

Advances in Strongly Correlated Electronic Systems Workshop, 2019

The William I Fine Theoretical Physics Institute (FTPI) has received a Simons Grant of over half a million dollars to help bolster the Institute's mission of being one of the regional centers for theoretical physics. The Simons Foundation Target Grant was awarded to help FTPI expand their outreach through research and collaboration at workshops, schools and targeted events. 

Scarlata named Distinguished McKnight Professor

Claudia Scarlata

Claudia Scarlata was named as a 2022 Distinguished McKnight Professor. She was recognized for her significant contributions to the study of the sources responsible for the last major transformation of the Universe, only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, and to our understanding of the processes that regulate the growth of galaxies over cosmic time.  

Kelly named McKnight Land-Grant Professor

Patrick Kelly

Assistant Professor Patrick Kelly, has been awarded a 2022 McKnight Land-Grant Professorship, which recognizes outstanding accomplishments and promise among the the University's assistant professors.

Freedberg receives student leadership award

Jenna Freedberg

Jenna Freedberg, graduate student in the School of Physics and Astronomy, received a 2022 President's Student Leadership and Service Award. The award recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of outstanding student leaders at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Freedberg was cited for her work in the School as coordinator of the Women in Physics and Astronomy Program; and for founding and running the School's Women in Astronomy and Physics Lecture Series (WAPhLS).


Alumni Giving

Shannon Weiher

As we begin the fall semester there is always excitement for the academic year ahead. Annual public lectures, breaking news of the latest research, and student success stories are all things we look forward to sharing with our alumni and friends of the School. These events and endeavors are possible thanks to your interest and philanthropic support.   

There are a variety of ways you can support faculty and students. Annual gifts, multi-year commitments and estate plans all enhance the School’s teaching and research.  For example, charitable gift annuity rates increased as of July 1, 2022, and annuities offer a great way to give back while providing you with annual income. More information can be found here:

I welcome your questions regarding philanthropic support of the School of Physics and Astronomy at (612) 624-5543, Thank you. 

Shannon Weiher
External Relations

Why we give: Annie Warren

Annie Warren

Annie is originally from Apple Valley, Minnesota.. She is a second year student in the physics undergraduate program and recent recipient of the Craig R. Holt Scholarship, intended to support learning outside of the classroom by sponsoring student research in the field. She has spent the summer working with Professor Alexander McLeod, and his group. “I'm lucky enough to be a part of a new project centered around the growth, study, and eventually the fabrication of devices using some very interesting materials. Specifically TMDs, standing for transition metal dichalcogenides, and particularly molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) and tungsten disulfide (WS2). I'm working in the cleanroom here in the Minnesota Nanocenter, where we're able to do the CVD growth necessary to grow these monolayers- rather than relying on the physical exfoliation of a larger crystal.”  Annie says she became interested in this specific area because of her father. “He is a big reason I'm studying physics in the first place! He has always encouraged and nurtured my interest in science. His career specifically involves work with semiconductors and superconducting materials, so I have some familiarity with the subject through him, and I find it to be a fascinating avenue of research."