Past News

The Department of Physics at Western Michigan University is proud of the accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff.


Dr. Khushi Bhatt received the George E. Bradley Award

Bhatt was recognized for her exceptional overall performance with particular emphasis on excellence in research. She successfully defended her Ph.D. dissertation on June 26, 2022. Her name will be added to a plaque displayed in the George E. Bradley Physics Commons.

She studied how the heaviest known p-nuclei (Hg-196) is synthesized in explosive stellar environments, by creating some of the same stellar nuclear reactions in the lab. The p-nuclei (proton-rich nuclei) are rarest of all stable nuclei known in this universe.

During her studies, Bhatt also received a Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship and two Graduate Student Research awards.

Alec Tilton awarded the 2022 Presidential Scholar in Physics

Tilton graduated in April with a major in physics and mathematics. He also received the department’s Charles J. Wilcox Award for his outstanding scholarly work in physics.

Dr. Valentina Tobos awarded 2021 Alumni Achievement Award

Tobos (MA ’97, Ph.D. ’01) is the Natural Sciences Acting Director, Center of Teaching and Learning, and Associate Professor at Lawrence Technological University. She has been teaching both introductory and advanced physics classes at Lawrence Technological University since the fall of 2001. She received Lawrence’s Mary E. And Richard E. Marburger Faculty Member of the Year Award in 2006. Other honors include membership in Sigma Pi Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi, as well as membership in the American Association of University Women, and the American Association of Physics Teachers, among others. She likes to say that, "Every challenge in learning will exercise your brain."

Western Michigan University selected as a 2022 site for the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

APS Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) are three-day regional conferences for undergraduate physics majors. The 2022 conference will be a virtual meeting through APS from January 21 to January 23.

The goal of APS CUWiP is to help undergraduate women continue in physics by providing them with the opportunity to experience a professional conference, information about graduate school and professions in physics, and access to other women in physics of all ages with whom they can share experiences, advice, and ideas.

Matthew Cook receives the George E. Bradley Award

Cook was recognized for his exceptional overall performance with particular emphasis on excellence in research. He successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation on May 14, 2021. His name will be added to a plaque displayed in the George E. Bradley Physics Commons.

Cook’s research was in the field of experimental condensed matter physics. His work focused on growing high quality single crystals, which showed unusual properties such as superconductivity and extreme resistance changes in a magnetic field. After growing the materials, he characterized their structure using x-ray scattering and scanning electron microscopy. The properties of the materials were determined by studies of the specific heat, electrical resistivity, and magnetization. Materials studied may have applications in quantum computing or converting heat into electricity. He also mentored 10 undergraduates and high school students carrying out research in the lab.

Khushi Bhatt receives the Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship

Bhatt is a recipient of the Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship for 2021-22. These highly competitive fellowships are awarded annually to doctoral students engaged in dissertation research in any field. She is studying how the heaviest known p-nuclei (Hg-196) is synthesized in explosive stellar environments, by creating some of the same stellar nuclear reactions in the lab. The p-nuclei (proton-rich nuclei) are rarest of all stable nuclei known in this universe. She also received a Graduate Student Research award in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021.

Ireland Armintrout is the 2021 Presidential Scholar in Physics

Armintrout will be graduating in June with a major in physics. After graduation, she plans on getting a teaching certificate. While at Western, she worked as a Learning Assistant in many of our physics courses. Armintrout also received the department’s Charles J. Wilcox Award for her outstanding scholarly work in physics.

Dr. Michael Famiano receives Dean’s Appreciation Award

On April 23, 2021 the College of Arts and Sciences recognized 12 individuals for their exemplary dedication and contributions to our students, the college and Western Michigan University. Famiano, professor in the Department of Physics, was honored with the Dean’s Appreciation Award for his outstanding work last year, from the onset of the global pandemic into August, when he organized "WMU4Students" to help students, especially international students, deal with unexpected basic needs. He coordinated many volunteers to arrange supplies of free groceries and other necessities, transportation, and assistance with rent payments, also helping them connect with a wider network of local agencies and groups.

Dr. Michael Famiano offers support for students through WMU4Students group

Since late March, a contingent of WMU faculty, staff, alumni, parents and community members has banded together to collect and deliver food and household products to students still living on or near campus. The group is led by Famiano and has grown to almost 40 people. Donations are arranged through an online form, and donors are directed to leave groceries on their front porch for a contactless pickup. Monetary donations are used by the group’s shoppers and in many cases delivered straight to Famiano’s front porch. A form has also been created for those interested in joining the volunteer effort. You can read more about the work of WMU4Students via WMU News.

Shiva Agarwal awarded 1st place in 2021 Virtual 3-MT® Competition

Each year the Graduate Student Association invites graduate students from all disciplines to present their research ideas, theses and dissertations as part of the Virtual Three-Minute Thesis competition.

This year’s winner was our graduate student Shiva Agarwal with his presentation Your Protein is Not Right,  He then went on to compete and represent the university at the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools competition where he was selected as one of the eight finalists out of 46 presentations.

Khushi Bhatt placed 4th with her presentation The Mystery of Rarest Stable Nuclei,

Dr. Ayman Said awarded 2020 Alumni Achievement Award

Said (MS ’00, Ph.D. ’04) is a physicist at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois. Said has been involved in the construction and commissioning of the high and medium energy resolution spectrometers at the inelastic X-ray scattering sector of the APS, and is now the lead beamline scientist for the high-resolution spectrometer. An expert in high resolution inelastic X-ray scattering, he has designed, tested and constructed many of the optics which are used in APS beamlines. Said is the author or co-author of over 100 scientific papers. Most of his work involves studying the effects of material properties on phonons within them. His results have helped explain unusual properties of materials, including superconductivity, topological states, negative thermal expansion and protein dynamics.

Dr. Elena Litvinova awarded Emerging Scholar Award

Litvinova, associate professor of physics, joined WMU in 2013. She is a leading figure in the field of theoretical nuclear physics. The Emerging Scholar Award will be presented to Litvinova at WMU's Fall Convocation on September 20, 2019. Launched in 2006, the Emerging Scholar Award program acknowledges the accomplishments of Western Michigan University faculty members who are among the rising stars in U.S. higher education.

Saturday Morning Science lecture series launched by Dr. Michael Famiano

Famiano has spearheaded the new lecture series, which began on September 14, 2019. The talks are open to the public, free of charge and take place once a month through April 2020. Various Western Michigan University faculty members will speak on a variety of topics that will be geared towards all ages.

2019 West Michigan Nanoscience and Quantum Technology Conference

On Wednesday, July 17, 2019, several graduate students from the Department of Physics presented at the 2019 West Michigan Nanoscience and Quantum Technology Conference. Graduate students Maryam Vaghefi Esfidani, Rasanjali Jayathissa and Matthew Cook gave talks, while Masoud Shabani Nezhad Navrood, Shahid Iqbal and Nurlathifah Sardji presented posters. Shahid Iqbal won first prize in the poster competition. The conference took place at Grand Valley State University.

Allan Kern receives Staff Excellence Award

In March the College of Arts and Sciences recognized 12 individuals for their exemplary contributions to our students, the college and Western Michigan University as a whole. Kern, accelerator specialist in the Department of Physics, was honored with the Staff Excellence Award. This award recognizes his great work and outstanding contributions over the past year.

Katrina Koehler wins the George E. Bradley Award

Koehler was recognized for exceptional overall performance with particular emphasis on excellence in research. She successfully defended her Ph.D. dissertation on April 5, 2019 and will continue her work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Her name will be added to a plaque displayed in the George E. Bradley Physics Commons.

Charles J. Taylor is the Presidential Scholar in Physics

Taylor, a member of WMU's Lee Honors College, graduated in April and majored in physics and applied mathematics. He plans to continue his education and aspires to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as an astronaut. Taylor worked with Drs. Tanis and Burns on his research while at WMU. His work with Dr. Tanis was the basis for his honors college thesis titled "Radiative Double Electron Capture by Ions in Collisions with Gas Targets." Taylor worked with Dr. Burns on a project involving doped lead chalcogenides, a model system for studying exotic states such as exotic superconductivity. For this research, he received WMU's Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Award.

Department of Physics Award Ceremony

On April 18, 2019, the Department of Physics honored undergraduate and graduate students during our awards ceremony. Several different scholarships and awards were given out. More information about the awards can be found on our websiteStudents were selected based on their outstanding work during the 2018-19 academic year. Congratulations to all the winners.

Dr. Michael Famiano, representing WMU in Japan

Through his Fulbright Award, Famiano is spending January through June (2019) in Japan with the National Astronomical Observatory's Department of Theoretical Astronomy. Famiano's research project is to evaluate the effects of relativistic electron-positron plasmas on astronomical observables and also includes outreach activities with students as well as the public in both Japan and the United States.

For more information, you can visit WMU News to read the entire article.

Physics major named University Innovation Fellow

Andy Sylvain Hobelsberger is one of four Western Michigan University students selected as a 2018 University Innovation Fellow. The program is run by Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and is designed to empower students to become agents of change on their own campuses and ensure their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to compete and make an impact on the economy of the future.

Summer 2018 newsletter

Our department's annual newsletter is now available. Please take a moment to visit our newsletter page and catch up on all our recent news and events. You can also find our previous newsletters archived on this page. We hope you enjoy. If you have any information that you would like included in our next newsletter, please contact us.

WMU physicist authors new book

A new book by Dr. Arthur McGurn, Nanophotonics, has been published as part of the Springer Series in Optical Sciences. It gives a readable introduction to the important, rapidly developing field of nanophotonics. This is McGurn's second book and he has already started on his third. His new book will consider a general topic of nanoscience, which is not just limited to electrodynamic phenomena. McGurn’s first book, Nonlinear Optics of Photonic Crystals and Meta-Materials, is listed as one of the ten best references in nonlinear optics on the Sanfoundry blog.

Dr. Thomas Gorczyca awarded WMU Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award

Gorczyca is a first-rate theoretical atomic physicist specializing in the area of photon and electron initiated collisions. His impressive publication record lists more than 110 peer-reviewed articles, as well as more than 30 invited talks. To support his research, he has had continuous funding for more than 15 years, largely from NASA, as the principal investigator. Notably, Gorczyca was elected to Fellowship in the American Physical Society last year, a recognition awarded to less than 1 percent of the active members. You can read more about Gorczyca and his many achievements in WMU News.

Dr. Ali Sami Alnaser awarded 2017 Alumni Achievement Award

Alnaser (Ph.D. '02) is a professor and head of the physics department at American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Alnaser's research interests are centered around the use of ultra-strong lasers in photographing and manipulating experimentally the structure of matter on extremely short time scale.

He has published more than 60 peer reviewed articles, 70 conference papers and received the Distinguished Arab Scholar Award from the State of Kuwait in 2011.

Dr. Elena Litvinova awarded NSF CAREER award

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Litvinova $474,998 for her project entitled "CAREER: From Fundamental Interactions to Emergent Phenomena: Geometrical Aspects of Nuclear Dynamics”. The project will address important issues of the nuclear structure theory and include innovative outreach activities at the interface of science and visual arts. Litvinova's award started September 1, 2017.

More information, including the award abstract, can be found on the NSF website.

Pile of MoneyDepartment grants, one new and one renewal

Dr. John Tanis received word that his NSF grant, titled “Radiative Double Electron Capture (RDEC) of Ions with Quasi-free Electrons”, was renewed and will be funded at the level of $120,000 for another three years.

Dr. Michael Famiano and Dr. Zbigniew Chajecki have been awarded an NSF grant worth $420,000 to study how heavy elements were formed and provides further constraints on the characteristics of dense nuclear matter.
Students gathering near front of classroom

Department of Physics Award Ceremony

In April 2017, the Department of Physics honored undergraduate and graduate students during their awards ceremony. Students were selected based on their outstanding work during the 2016-17 academic year. Congratulations to all the winners.
Group of presidential scholars

Spencer J. Henning is the Presidential Scholar in Physics

Henning is a graduate of the Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center, Kalamazoo Central High School and a recent graduate of Western Michigan University where he majored in physics and minored in astronomy and mathematics. Henning is a Kalamazoo Promise Scholar who came to WMU on a Medallion Scholarship. He has conducted research in WMU's particle accelerator laboratory and worked on astrophysics data analysis with faculty members.
Science olympiad students in a lab at WMU

Science Olympiad draws 400 hundred students to WMU

In February, over 400 middle and high school students competed in the Region 10 Science Olympiad at WMU. Many faculty, staff and students from the department volunteered to help with this event. Students blew away the department in demonstrating their skills and knowledge in the Wind Power event, and enlightened us with tests and demonstrations in Optics. Many teams geared up to show off their Rube Goldberg machines in Mission Possible. Special thanks to the WMU Physics Club for volunteering for this event.
Dr. Marc Humphrey

Physicist melds scientific, humanitarian drive at UN's 'nuclear watchdog'

Since earning his B.S. in physics and applied mathematics from WMU and his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard University, Dr. Marc Humphrey has applied his training in unconventional ways. A recent article featured on WMU News delves into how Humphrey uses his training in physics while working at the International Atomic Energy Agency's Department of Safeguards. Humphrey’s story was also featured in the WMU Magazine.

Dr. Koretsky with Portage Northern middle school students

Engaging young minds

The Department of Physics was thrilled to welcome about 200 eighth graders from Portage Northern Middle School on November 21, 2016. The students got to experience the best of Western's STEM-based programs during a field trip on campus. (Image left: students with College of Arts and Sciences dean, Dr. Carla Koretsky, in front of the Tandem Van de Graaff Accelerator.)


NASA logoProfessors awarded 3-year NASA grant

Dr. Thomas W. Gorczyca and Dr. Manuel Bautista have been awarded a 3 year NASA grant worth $503,151. Dr. Gorczyca, professor of theoretical atomic physics, and Dr. Bautista, associate professor of astrophysics, will work to develop the atomic, molecular, and solid-state database needed for modeling X-ray spectra of the cool phase of the intersteller medium for application to recent and future X-ray astronomy instruments.

Their theoretical atomic physics research will focus on helping to answer the following important questions in astrophysics: Where are oxygen, silicon, and iron found in the universe? What are their abundances and physical and chemical forms? These answers are found through analysis of X-ray observations using astrophysical plasma spectral models. The strategic goal of their research is to discover the origin, structure, evolution, and destiny of the universe, and search for Earth-like planets.

Dr. Lisa PauliusPhysics professor receives University Distinguished Teaching Award

Dr. Lisa Paulius is a 2016 recipient of the University Distinguished Teaching Award. The honor is bestowed on faculty members who are exceptional educators and mentors and demonstrate outstanding dedication to their work.

Of the dozens of students nominating her, nearly all reported that Paulius' teaching innovations and methods, combined with her passion for physics and teaching, were instrumental in their classroom success. They also consistently praised her for providing steadfast patience and support.

A former student who is now an engineer with IBM recounted how as a freshman, she was awed by Paulius and unsure whether she would stick with physics as a career choice. Because of Paulius, the student went on to obtain a master's degree in applied optics and wrote that, "one of the best things that Western provided me with was a mentor whose friendship, support and encouragement has followed me for long after I graduated."

Dr. Charles HendersonPhysicist appointed to national group

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Charles Henderson, WMU professor of physics education research holding a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the Mallinson Institute for Science Education, has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He was nominated by the Topical Group on Physics Education Research for “pioneering research into use of research-based instructional strategies in physics, as well as leadership and service to the physics education research community, and serving as an ambassador to science, technology, engineering and math education broadly.” Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one's professional peers for exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise.

Stacks of MoneyPhysics is top-paid science major

Projected to earn an average starting salary of $65, 250, physics majors are expected to be the top-paid Class of 2016 math and sciences graduates at the bachelor’s degree level, according to results of National Association of Colleges and Employers’ winter 2016 Salary Survey.

Newsletter imageNewsletters

Read additional news stories in our department newsletters.

President Dunn and Ian BrownPresidential Scholar named

Ian Brown (shown at left with President Dunn) is this year's Presidential Scholar in the Department of Physics, and the recipient of the Charles J. Wilcox award for outstanding graduating physics major. He is headed toward doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, home to the Leonard E. Parker Center for Gravitation, Cosmology, and Astrophysics. Brown’s plans include studying Einstein's theory of general relativity and the gravitational waves it predicts.

WMU signPhysics graduate student is Frostic doctoral fellow

Doctoral student Jagjit Kaur has been awarded a prestigious Gwen Frostic Doctoral Fellowship by the WMU Graduate College for her exceptional contributions to research in atomic physics. Her work in theoretical atomic physics investigating the dielectronic recombination of elements in astrophysical and fusion-related plasmas is being overseen by Tom Gorczyca, Ph.D.

Benjamin GaudioStaff excellence noted

Network Administrator Benjamin Gaudio has won a WMU College of Arts and Sciences 2016 Staff Excellence award for his work in assisting faculty and their research groups with computer, network and electronic systems in the Department of Physics. Gaudio has also made the Accelerator Laboratory computers function more efficiently and helped faculty and students with upgrades in data acquisition hardware and software.

Elena LitvinovaNew book releases physicist’s research

WMU nuclear physicist Dr. Elena Litvinova has contributed to a new book published by World Scientific. “Nuclear shell structure and response with quasiparticle-vibration coupling,” research conducted in collaboration with Professor Peter Ring, appears as part of Relativistic Density Functional for Nuclear Structure, International Review of Nuclear Physics, Vol. 10. The book gives a comprehensive review on the present status and future perspectives of the Relativistic Density Functional theories on the way to a highly predictive description of the structure of atomic nuclei. The chapter by Litvinova and Ring is about extensions beyond the traditional mean-field and random phase approximations in the relativistic framework and their successful applications to the modern aspects of nuclear structure.

Girl at Science OlympiadReaching out to science olympians

Students from Portage Central High School get ready to compete in “It’s About Time,” a physics event in the regional Science Olympiad, which was hosted at WMU in February. Department of Physics faculty and students volunteered to run several middle and high school events to challenge young scientists who came to campus in hopes of advancing to the state level of the tournament. Hundreds of students from 21 schools participated. Science Olympiad is an international nonprofit organization devoted to science education.

Physics Teacher Education logoWMU joins 5+ Club for success in physics teacher preparation

WMU has joined only 29 institutions in the country that have graduated five or more physics teachers in a given year. For the 2014-15 academic year, WMU was one of only four universities to receive this honor. The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) developed the 5+ Club to recognize institutions for their contributions toward addressing a severe national shortage of high school physics teachers.

Thomas GorczycaProfessor recognized for exceptional research

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Thomas Gorczyca, WMU professor of atomic and molecular physics, has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He was nominated by the organization's Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics for "advancing our fundamental understanding in the photoionization, spectra and opacities of atomic ions in astrophysical plasmas." Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one's professional peers for exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise.

Arthur McGurnWMU physicist authors new graduate text

A new book by Dr. Arthur McGurn, Nonlinear Optics of Photonic Crystals and Meta-Materials has been released by Institute of Physics Publishing. It introduces graduate students in physics and engineering to nano-photonics, including topics relating to crystals, meta-materials, and their nonlinear optical properties.

Paul PancellaNew "Idiot's Guides" authored by WMU physicist

Dr. Paul Pancella has released two physics books as part of the popular "Idiots Guide" series. In collaboration with Drs. Marc Humphrey and Nora Berrah, Pancella wrote “Idiot’s Guides: Quantum Physics” released early last year. A second volume, “Idiot’s Guides: Physics,” written with Humphrey, was released in July. The books make physics easy to understand for students and other science enthusiasts.

Additional student success news