SPA Newsletter- Spring 2023

School of Physics & Astronomy Newsletter
May 3, 2023


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Letter from the Head


Dear Friends of the School of Physics and Astronomy,

Greetings from campus! We welcomed a new faculty member in January. Dr. Tracy Chmiel has joined us from the University of Chicago as a teaching assistant professor. Tracy will be responsible for advanced laboratory instruction, which has always been a strength of our program.

The Methods of Experimental Physics Course remains a cornerstone of our undergraduate curriculum, and we have been lucky to have had over 35 years of service to the class from Kurt Wick, who has constantly been updating the class to keep pace with technological developments as well as changing expectations of faculty and future employers. Some of my most enjoyable experiences teaching in the School have been semesters spent working with Kurt, who will be retiring this summer. We hope that he will stay in touch when he is not off the grid on one of his canoeing adventures.

Unfortunately, we lost Robert Pepin, Professor Emeritus of Physics, on Jan. 6, 2023. You can read more about Bob’s career in the obituary linked below. He was internationally known for his use of mass spectroscopy to characterize lunar samples and meteorites. On campus, he was the longtime director of the Institute of Technology (now the College of Science and Engineering) Honors Program, through which he impacted thousands of students. I also had the pleasure of teaching with Bob, who had a genuine gift for connecting with students, particularly when they were struggling with physics. We will miss him greatly.

Our faculty continue to be recognized for their many accomplishments. Professor Shklovskii was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Associate Professor Lindsay Glesener received the Taylor Award for Distinguished Research, Professor Rafael Fernandes was recently named a McKnight Distinguished University Professor, Assistant Professor Pat Kelly has received the College’s Guillermo Borja award in recognition of distinguished research accomplishment by a candidate for tenure, and Assistant Professor Nadja Strobbe was named a 2023 Distinguished Researcher at Fermilab. You can read more about the School’s research activities in some of the stories below.

Please accept the best wishes of the faculty, students, and staff of the School, and we look forward to hosting you when you are on campus for a visit.


Paul Crowell




Head, School of Physics and Astronomy

School News

Professor Boris Shklovskii elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Man wearing sweater and glasses in front of orange background

Professor Boris I. Shklovskii has been elected as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for his excellence in original scientific research. Shklovskii, the A.S. Fine Chair of Theoretical Physics, is one of only 120 researchers nationwide to be elected to the Academy this year.

Read more here.

Glesener receives collegiate research award

Lindsey Glesener

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 of Minnesota. Established in 1982, the award recognizes younger faculty members who have shown outstanding ability in research. Glesener is the eighth member of the School's faculty to receive the honor. The award is accompanied by a cash prize for professional development and recipients are honored at a special reception.

Read more here

Fernandes Named Distinguished Mcknight Professor

Rafael Fernandes

Professor Rafael Fernandes has been named a 2023 Distinguished McKnight University Professor. Fernandes is a condensed matter theorist and director of undergraduate studies for the School of Physics and Astronomy. He is cited for his research in quantum materials.

Pospelov named APS Fellow

Maxim Pospelov

Professor Maxim Pospelov of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been named a 2022 fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). Pospelov is cited for outstanding contributions to astroparticle physics. The addition of Pospelov to this group, brings the total number of APS Fellows in the current faculty of the School of Physics and Astronomy to 43.


Kelly receives collegiate research award

man wearing blue shirt in front of pillar

Assistant Professor Patrick Kelly has received the Guillermo E. Borja Award from the College of Science and Engineering.  The Award recognizes exceptional research and scholarly accomplishments by a candidate for tenure during the probationary period. Faculty are considered for the award at the time they are being evaluated for the granting of permanent tenure at the rank of associate professor.

Pribiag group creates first few-mode Josephson Junction

Vlad Pribiag group

Professor Vlad Pribiag from the School of Physics and Astronomy led a group effort that has experimentally realized a long-theorized few-mode multi-terminal Josephson junction. The devices were devised as a possible platform to investigate so-called higher dimensional quantum states and quantum states that are protected by their topology.

Read more here

Student Planned NuSTAR reveals hidden light show

An solar mage from the NuSTAR observation instrument

UMN physics grad students Marianne Peterson and Reed Masek, as well as recent physics Ph.D. recipient Jessie Duncan, under the guidance of Associate Professor Lindsay Glesener, of the School of Physics and Astronomy, all worked on a successful proposal to NASA to use the NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array)—typically used to view bodies outside the solar system such as massive black holes and collapsed stars—to observe the Sun.

Wang group demonstrates precise manipulation of electron waves in novel graphene microcavity

Ke Wang, Xi Zhang and Wei Ren

Professor Ke Wang and his students Wei Ren and Xi Zhang have built novel devices that improve the ability of physicists and engineers to manipulate the flow of electrons at the nano-scale. The reearch provides a new platform for studying novel components for quantum electronic devices.

Strobbe receives grant to study machine learning

Nadja Strobbe

Assistant Professor Nadja Strobbe will receive $232,000 as part of a $4.3 million grant awarded by the Department of Energy to improve machine learning in high energy physics. This project will study the robustness of machine learning algorithms used for event reconstruction in high energy physics by using the CMS High Granularity Calorimeter as a case study.

In Memoriam: Robert O. Pepin, 1933-2023

Robert O. Pepin

Professor Emeritus Robert Pepin of the School of Physics and Astronomy passed away on January 6th at the age of 89. Pepin joined the School as a Research Associate in 1965 and then joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor in 1966. He was a Professor of Physics from 1975 until his retirement in 2008.  Pepin’s research focused on mass spectrometry. He was a leader in using the isotopes of rare gasses to probe the geology of our solar system, including meteorites, lunar rocks returned during the Apollo missions (in which he played a leading role), and interplanetary dust returned from missions in the early 2000's. He was the director of the Lunar Science Institute from 1974-1975. Pepin was recognized with a host of awards, most recently the Fred Whipple Award from the American Geophysical Union in 2020. After retirement he continued to work as a consultant to NASA on the MARS rover missions as well as other projects.

Read full obituary here


Alumni News

Marie Lopez del Puerto (Physics Ph.D., '08) currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, was a recent recipient of the American Physical Society Excellence in Physics Education Award.

Read more about Lopez del Puerto's award >>

Sauviz Alaei (Physics B.S. '22) was named a 2022 Leroy Apker Award Finalist by the American Physical Society. Alaei was one of six finalists selected to present their research for the Apker Award Selection Committee.

Read more about Alaei's award >>