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The Friendly Physics Guide(s) Launch!

I am very pleased to announce that the first in new a series of books – The Friendly Physics Guide(s) to … – is now available! The books will, at first, be based on special topics lectures that I have delivered over several years as part of my introductory physics and sophomore-level physics courses. The first one, “The Friendly Physics Guide to Nuclear and Particle Physics in Medicine,” is now available only as an e-book on Amazon.

The plan for the whole series is to release two volumes per topic. The first volume, “A Bite of Newton’s Apple,” is for all readers. Lovers of science, even those without formal college-level training in physics, will benefit from volume one. Volume two, “The Core of Newton’s Apple,” is intended for college students who desire more training in introductory-level physics immersed in the subject material of the book.

In the case of the first two volumes, the subject is nuclear medicine. By looking through the lens of the PET Scan, a non-invasive imaging technique, we explore a broad range of physics subjects that connect to deep truths about the cosmos. All of this is framed in service of human health.

I welcome you to check out the new series. More books are forthcoming. Stay tuned and read on!

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Congratulations, 2022 Graduates!

I am thrilled to congratulate the seven Biophysical Science and Physics degree recipients, who graduated in May 2022! This year our department saw the second class in the new Biophysical Science program graduate, with two students completing this challenging program. In addition, five Physics majors (including multiple students earning degrees in more than one program) successfully completed their degrees.

We were very happy to be able to celebrate the achievements of these students at a private department event on Friday evening, May 13, as well as at the official Math/Physics/Statistics joint ceremony on Saturday, May 14.

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Celebrating Outstanding Students

April was a wonderful month for celebrating outstanding students. First, there was the Hyer Society dinner. Since last year’s event was virtual only, inductees from 2021 and 2022 were invited to participate in this in-person event. I was pleased to be able to dine with excellent former students and/or teaching assistants of mine: Ryan Guess, Elena Henderson, and Elena’s sister, Jessie Henderson.

Later in the month was the annual Hamilton Scholar event to honor the 2021-2022 Hamilton Research Scholars and thank those who support this outstanding program. I was pleased to be able to celebrate Stephanie Gilchrist, a scholar who worked with me on aspects of the ATHENA detector proposal for the Electron-Ion Collider.

I am very fortunate to be able to work with such excellent students at SMU.

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A New Review of “Reality in the Shadows” Appears in “Planetarian”

Planetarian, the journal of the International Planetarium Society (IPS), published this month a new review of “Reality in the Shadows (or) What the Heck’s the Higgs?” The journal is available to members of the society, and it looks like past issues may become available in their archives after the current quarter passes.

The review was overall very positive and began by making an analogy of the strategy of the book to that of the film “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames. The review notes that our book definitely powers through a lot of discoveries and some of the people involved in them, but it also highlights the fact that we specifically noted people who are not household names. Indeed, something I am personally proud of is that the contributions of people like Goldstone, Noether, and even Maldacena, feature in the book along side those overly familiar names like Hawking, Einstein, and Curie.

If you get a chance, check out the review! Hopefully, the current issue will become generally accessible to everyone soon … but why not sign up for a membership for the IPS if you have a special love for the planetarium experience?

And, of course, you should grab a copy of “Reality in the Shadows” if you haven’t already! It’s available in paperback ($26.95) or Kindle edition ($9.99) from Amazon.

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Big Cosmos, Little Universes, and Highland Park High School’s Science and Technology Festival

How much does a physicist make?

What made the early universe clumpy?

Are you an atheist?

I was delighted by these, and many other, questions asked by students over three periods during and after my presentation, “Big Cosmos, Little Universes,” at the Highland Park High School Science and Technology Festival (SciFest).

Photo by Alex Wagner

My presentation connected the vastness of the cosmos to the small things that played big roles near the beginning of time. I tried to take the audience on a tour of the cosmos from the Earth to the visible universe, using the speed of light as a means to communicate the seeming insurmountable breadth of our universe. Then I showed them how the early universe – hot, small, and dense – can be recreated in miniature using particle accelerators to make sense of those first moments of the universe.

Students asked great questions, and several of those who were in my last period presentation stayed after to talk more, ask additional questions, and engage in deeper discussions about mentorship, the stresses of being a student, and the structure of the universe.

I am eternally grateful to the parents who organize the HPHS SciFest for their consideration, hospitality, and collegiality. The school is so kind to host this event and the students are so fantastic. I hope to be invited back again in the future to participate in this event.

(All photos in this post are by Alex Wagner)

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“Big Cosmos and Little Universes” hosted by the Yale Club of Dallas at St. Mark’s School

I am extremely grateful to the Yale Club of Dallas for hosting me for a lecture at St. Mark’s School. The event attracted about 30-40 participants and offered a chance to tour the cosmos from its grandest scales to its smallest. I was very pleased to be able to share the work we do at SMU using particle colliders (like the LHC and, soon, the EIC) to unlock the laws of the universe and identify the building blocks of reality.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the audience, who interacted during the lecture and asked fantastic questions afterward. As an alumnus of Yale University, I am pleased to be able to share some of my journey into physics and highlight the new generation of scientists, thinkers, problem-solvers, and leaders we are training at SMU.

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Honored to become a HOPE Distinguished Professor

I am honored to have been nominated a fifth time for the Honoring Our Professors’ Excellence (HOPE) award. This award is managed through SMU’s Residence Life & Student Housing (RLSH), motivated by the belief that it is important to highlight those professors who have gone above and beyond their traditional roles. Awards are generated by student nominations, and I was humbled to be nominated by a former student and former and current teaching assistant.

The awards are conferred at the annual HOPE Banquet, which was held this year on the evening of Feb. 15. It was doubly humbling to be placed at the table not only with my nominator, but also the Provost of SMU and the Dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The food and the conversation were great, and the ceremony was lovely, including video presentations by two of the 16 nominators for my faculty colleague who was bestowed the honor of “HOPE Professor of the Year”!

I was conferred the title of “Distinguished HOPE Professor” this year, along with several of my colleagues (including Prof. David Son, who is partly responsible for inspiring my “flipped classroom” teaching model based on his own experiences). This happens when a faculty member has been nominated 5 or more times. In 2016, I was honored to have been selected as the then HOPE Professor of the Year, and I am grateful to RLSH and the SMU student body for continuing to recognize faculty for being more than what they are tasked to be.

As part of the award, RLSH provides a beautiful copy of the nominator’s letter. Let’s just say I read it alone and away from a chance of interruption to avoid somebody catching me crying. All I will say is this: I certainly love interacting with students, talking to them about physics and about how to develop critical and creative thinking, and encouraging them to go one step further each time … even if they are never fully happy with how far they have walked in physics. I am pleased that my love for teaching and research and mentoring comes through to the point that students take time out of their crazy schedules to nominate me for something like the HOPE award. To be recognized by even one person means a LOT, and helps me to remember to keep it up knowing that someone is getting the benefit.

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Astronomy without Light: A Talk with the Highland Park High School Astrophysics and Astronomy Clubs

I was very excited to be invited to speak at a joint meeting of the Astrophysics and Astronomy clubs of Highland Park High School. The students were extremely welcoming and filled with outstanding questions about how to see the universe without using light. I look forward to more interactions with members of the HPHS clubs!

My talk was entitled “Subatomic Messengers from the Cosmos: A Golden Age of Astronomy Without Light.”

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PHYS 1303: Go Boldly

I am very pleased to be once again teaching PHYS 1303, “Introductory Mechanics,” during the Spring 2022 term. Here is a teaser of the theme for the course!

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SCI-4301: Astro-eXtraordinary Course Launches for Spring 2022

An entirely new course, available to all students at SMU who’ve taken calculus and any of the introductory course sequences in Chemistry, Earth Science, or Physics, will launch in Spring 2022. “Astro-eXtraordinary: The Universe Beyond Earth” is modeled on programs offered by leading institutes and schools, such as the Aspen Center for Physics or the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. The idea is to immerse students in the broad study of the cosmos through the lenses of disciplines, highlighting cross-disciplinary areas and opportunities. The class brings together an extraordinary team of instructors, each of whom will teach for about 1-2 weeks and cover material salient to their research while introducing students to the motivation and impact of their broader area of study.

The course offers a dedicated Honors Section as well as a normal enrollment section, and it has been selected by the Departments of Chemistry and Physics to count as an elective course in their degree plans. Students are encouraged to enroll quickly as there are a limited number of seats available for this one-of-a-kind course. Check us out in the Syllabus Library and enroll in My.SMU today!