Dedman College students receive prestigious national fellowships and awards

Congratulations to the Dedman College students awarded prestigious national fellowships and awards during the 2014-15 academic year, including Fulbright Grants and a fellowship to the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. These students include:

Fulbright Scholar:

Whitney Goodwin
Michaela Wallerstedt
Kandi Doming

Institute for Responsible Citizenship Scholar:

Garrett Fisher

Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress Presidential Fellow:

Tracy Nelson

National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Nicole Hartman



1st proton collisions at the world’s largest science experiment expected to start the first or second week of June

Originally Posted: April 28, 2015

“No significant signs of new physics with the present data yet but it takes only one significant deviation in the data to change everything.” — Albert De Roeck, CERN
First collisions of protons at the world’s largest science experiment are expected to start the first or second week of June, according to a senior research scientist with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

“It will be about another six weeks to commission the machine, and many things can still happen on the way,” said physicist Albert De Roeck, a staff member at CERN and a professor at the University of Antwerp, Belgium and UC Davis, California. De Roeck is a leading scientist on CMS, one of the Large Hadron Collider’s key experiments.

The LHC in early April was restarted for its second three-year run after a two-year pause to upgrade the machine to operate at higher energies. At higher energy, physicists worldwide expect to see new discoveries about the laws that govern our natural universe. READ MORE

Physics Department hosts more than 300 of the world’s leading experts on particle physics

Originally Posted: April 24, 2014

Global physics talks at SMU star the tiny proton: a key to unlocking cosmic mysteries & cancer’s enemy

Why does physics matter? World’s scientists convene for ‘State of the Proton’

Starting Monday, the SMU Physics Department hosts more than 300 of the world’s leading experts on particle physics. The scientists will hold nuts and bolts sessions on questions that drive the world’s leading-edge physics experiments.

The “2015 International Workshop on Deep-Inelastic Scattering and Related Subjects,” is held annually in a world-class city, and this year is hosted by SMU at the Hughes Trigg Student Center.

Workshop sessions start Monday, April 27, and run through Friday, May 1, with physicists rolling up their sleeves to hash out equations, debate and refine algorithms, discuss and develop methodologies, explore spin physics and heavy flavors, and analyze and critique software and hardware developments to ensure the accuracy of the world’s frontline particle experiments.

SMU physicists and others at the workshop include members of the international collaboration that in 2012 made worldwide headlines for observing the Higgs Boson. The Higgs is science’s newest fundamental particle. Its presence was observed after high-energy collisions in the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, which straddles France and Switzerland. READ MORE

More on the Department of Physics

Brian Stump, Earth Sciences, key speaker at the 18th Honors Convocation

Outstanding achievement honored at SMU’s 2014-15 Awards Extravaganza, Honors Convocation.

Dedman College faculty, staff and students were recognized with teaching awards, service honors and the University’s highest commendation, the “M” Award, at the 2015 Awards Extravaganza Monday, April 13.

> Read the list of award winners from Honors Convocation 2015

On the same day, the University honored its best students at the 18th Honors Convocation. The address was delivered by Brian Stump, Claude C. Albritton Jr. Chair in Geological Sciences in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

An expert in seismic wave propagation and earthquake source theory, Stump has become well known in North Texas for his continuing research on the increasing occurrences of small earthquakes that have shaken the area since 2008. In November 2014, he was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for distinguished contributions to his field, particularly in the area of seismic monitoring in support of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. READ MORE

Congratulations to Dedman College faculty, staff and students who were recognized at the 2015 Awards Extravaganza on Monday, April 13.

Receiving the “M” Award, SMU’s most prestigious honor. Recipients include:

• Jill DeTemple, associate professor of religious studies
• Elizabeth Wheaton, senior lecturer in economics

The Willis M. Tate Award honors an outstanding faculty member who has been involved in student life. Recipients include:

• Jodi Cooley, associate professor of physics
• Stephen Sekula, assistant professor of physics
• Willard Spiegelman, Dwaine E. Hughes Jr. Distinguished Chair in English
• Brian Zoltowski, assistant professor of chemistry

Receiving the Extra Mile Awards, presented by Students for New Learning for graciousness and sensitivity to students with learning differences:

• Ian Harris, associate professor of statistical science

Read the full list of award winners.

Physicists tune Large Hadron Collider to find ‘sweet spot’ in high-energy proton smasher

Posted: April 15, 2015

Start up of the world’s largest science experiment is underway—with protons traveling in opposite directions at almost the speed of light in the deep underground tunnel called the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva.

As protons collide, physicists will peer into the resulting particle showers for new discoveries about the universe, said Ryszard Stroynowski, a collaborator on one of the collider’s key experiments and a professor in the Department of Physics at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

“The hoopla and enthusiastic articles generated by discovery of the Higgs boson two years ago left an impression among many people that we have succeeded, we are done, we understand everything,” said Stroynowski, who is the senior member of SMU’s Large Hadron Collider team. “The reality is far from this. The only thing that we have found is that Higgs exist and therefore the Higgs mechanism of generating the mass of fundamental particles is possible.”

Read more:

Jodi Cooley, Physics, Understanding Dark Matter

Science Friday®

Originally Posted: March 31, 2015

Associate Physics Professor Jodi Cooley, an award-winning scientist who studies the nature of dark matter, was interviewed March 27, 2015, on Public Radio International’s Science Friday® by host Ira Flatow. LISTEN

Also on the segment — titled “Understanding the Dark Side of Physics” — were Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, a theoretical physicist at the University of Texas at Austin, and Dan Hooper, an associate scientist in the Theoretical Astrophysics Group at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. READ MORE

Fermilab Symmetry: From the Standard Model to space

A group of scientists who started at particle physics experiments move their careers to the final frontier.

Symmetry Magazine, the monthly publication of the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, featured SMU physics alum Ryan Rios in an article about physicists working at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Rios was a graduate student in the SMU Department of Physics and as part of a team led by SMU Physics Professor Ryszard Stroynowski spent from 2007 to 2012 as a member of the ATLAS experiment at Switzerland-based CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the largest high-energy physics experiment in the world. Rios and the SMU team were part of the successful search for the Higgs boson fundamental particle.

Rios is now a senior research engineer for Lockheed Martin at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. READ MORE

More than 1,000 participants expected at Beal Bank Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair

DALLAS (SMU) – More than 1,000 junior high and high school students are expected to participate in the 2015 Beal Bank Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair on Saturday, Feb. 21, in Fair Park.

Co-sponsored by SMU, participants — who have won their school or district science fairs — will compete for more than 500 awards.

“Many of the students who participate will become scientists, ” says Simon Dalley, Fair president and physics professor at SMU. “Encouraging their interest is crucial for the development of technology and science in the United States.”

SMU faculty members coordinate the fair, recruit judges and help select the grand prize winners. SMU also hosts a March banquet honoring the top 150 fair winners, their parents and science teachers.

The Fair is affiliated with the International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science competition. Students in grades 6-12 at public and private schools within the boundaries of TEA Region 10, who placed in their school science fairs, are eligible to participate in the DRSEF.

Projects that place 1st – 4th in Science Category at DRSEF will be invited to enter the Texas State Science & Engineering Fair. The top approximately 10% of Junior Division projects at DRSEF will receive invitations to the Broadcom Masters. Senior Division grand prize winners and runners-up at DRSEF are eligible for the International Science & Engineering Fair, with attendance sponsored by Beal Bank.



What’s Causing Texas Earthquakes?


Posted: JANUARY 14, 2015

By Anna Kuchment, Randy Lee Loftis, James Osborne and Avi Selk

Swarms of small quakes rippled up from unknown faults beneath the soil. They rustled Cleburne, Azle and Irving. Fifteen recent earthquakes around the old Texas Stadium in Irving site included the strongest yet in Dallas County, and their waves shook downtown office towers.

But after six years and more than 130 quakes, scientists are just beginning to map the fissures beneath Texas,. figure out why they woke up and predict what they might do next.

No one knows for sure whether the quakes are signs of a geological realignment, the aftermath of gas drilling or something else entirely.

What lies under Irving? That may be the biggest mystery facing the team of scientists investigating the latest earthquake swarm to hit North Texas.

“There are no known faults near the earthquake site,” said Beatrice Magnani, one of nine Southern Methodist University researchers studying the quakes.

That means about three dozen quakes that have rocked Irving since April are coming from a previously undiscovered fissure, deep underground.

“In this area of the world, researchers don’t know a lot about these faults, because the faults don’t come to the surface,” said Heather DeShon, a seismologist with the university.

Science can tell us only so much. Geological earthquake records are spotty before 1970, though they show no evidence of anything like the current spate in North Texas history.

And it may be impossible to predict how long the current rash of quakes will last. The Azle area got 27 quakes over three months. Cleburne was hit by two clusters, in 2009 and 2012.

But without knowing the size of the fault under Irving, scientists have no way to tell whether it might one day produce a devastating quake _ something thousands of times more powerful than the 3.6-magnitude earthquake that struck last week. (Scientists say the majority of earthquake swarms do not culminate in large, damaging events.)

To that end, the SMU team is trying to pinpoint each new quake and use the earthquakes’ locations to map the Irving fault’s size and depth.

The team is also trying to figure out which of several nearby fault systems Irving’s fissure belongs to. To the west, a system of small, deep faults has been linked to previous quakes in Azle, Cleburne and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. In the east, the large Balcones and Ouachita fault systems wind south to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors and locates earthquakes across the world, places most of Irving’s quakes near the former Texas Stadium site. With sparse equipment near the quakes, the agency’s estimates can be off by miles. So last week, the SMU team added nearly two dozen seismometers _ quake detectors _ in and around Irving.

The team has also asked the Texas Railroad Commission and energy companies to help them gather information.

“Since the oil and gas industry are actively drilling into those rocks, they tend to know more than we do about subsurface fault structure,” DeShon said.

But the team has another purpose in investigating nearby gas wells and wastewater wells: to see whether underground pressure changes related to those wells are significant enough to cause quakes.

Almost as soon as earthquakes began rattling North Texas, fingers pointed at the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom that has overtaken the state this past decade.

The Texas Railroad Commission’s newly appointed seismologist, Craig Pearson, quickly dismissed any connection to oil and gas drilling. But the SMU team isn’t so sure.

“Obviously, we’re in the Fort Worth basin. We have to look into production activities and also wastewater injection activities,” DeShon said.

For decades, research has linked earthquake activity to underground injection wells, used by oil and gas companies to dispose of the large volumes of brackish water that are a byproduct of oil and gas drilling.

An injection well can reach more than 10,000 feet deep, pumping tens of millions of gallons of untreated water a year into underground rock formations and sometimes the faults that cause earthquakes.

That rush of liquid can stress the faults, setting off a chain reaction that can make buildings shake.

Since 2008, the SMU team has linked the Cleburne and airport quakes to injection-well activity.

But with Irving’s quakes, there’s some skepticism about whether injection wells are to blame.

Two injection wells lie under the airport, up to 10 miles from the center of the latest quakes. While one study in Oklahoma found that injection wells could cause quakes as far as 21 miles away, most studies link earthquakes to injection wells no more than six miles away.

“You can never say never, but it doesn’t seem like a smoking gun,” said Cliff Frohlich, a University of Texas at Austin seismologist and one of the foremost experts on Texas earthquakes.

But that is not the only line of inquiry directed at the oil and gas industry.

Recent research has linked earthquakes to fracking itself _ a process where water and chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to create small fissures in rock that release oil and gas.

Sscientists at Miami University in Ohio published a paper tying natural gas wells there to a quake in a previously unknown underground fault that registered magnitude 3.0.

In North Texas, the closest wells are about two miles northwest of the epicenter of the Irving earthquakes. They are operated by Fort Worth-based Trinity East Energy.

There are nine more within about seven miles of the quakes, according to data from the Texas Railroad Commission.

According to Trinity East President Steve Fort, the two closest wells were last fracked about five years ago.

That would make them an unlikely cause, said Steve Horton, a seismologist at the University of Memphis.

But with many questions and little in the way of explanation, scientists are digging through those and other drilling records and studying fault maps looking for a connection.

They expect solving the riddle to take months _ and they’re only just getting started.

“It’s like cancer,” Frohlich said. “You can never really prove someone got lung cancer because they smoked. All you can do is look at the statistics and say you’re more likely to get cancer if you smoke.”

“In 1902, there was a big earthquake in Austin,” he said. “You know that wasn’t fracking. But if it happened at D/FW airport tomorrow, you’d wonder if it was.”

Besides drilling activity and natural shifts in the bedrock, at least one other theory intrigues some researchers: Could the long Texas drought have sucked enough water from the ground to destabilize the fault?

A gallon of water weighs a bit over 8 pounds _ whether it’s in a jug or in the ground.

Multiply that by thousands of square miles, years of scorching heat, and millions of thirsty residents. A drought can reduce the force of gravity over a fault zone _ potentially causing the Earth’s crust to bounce up and trigger earthquakes.

In theory, anyway. And local data appear to pour cold water on that theory.

Much of the state has been in a drought for years, yet only a few places have had earthquakes.

What’s more, drought or no drought, groundwater pumping in urban North Texas is minuscule _ seemingly not nearly enough to tip the balance toward earthquakes.

The water that comes out of public taps in Dallas-Fort Worth is from reservoirs and rivers, which aren’t believed to affect earthquakes.

Local monitoring of groundwater levels is spotty. A state database showed no readings from Irving wells for years. Another well about seven miles southeast of Irving has seen a general decrease in water levels since 2006, but nothing dramatic.

And studies show that people would need to use at least three times as much water from the aquifers below Irving before depletion would become a threat, let alone cause a gravity-induced earthquake.

One final clue: Two NASA satellites called GRACE circle the Earth, taking gravity readings. They show intense groundwater reduction in parts of North Texas in the last few years.

But the deficit is not uniform across the region.

“We have not seen anything in the GRACE records that would relate to the quakes reported in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Byron D. Tapley, director of the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas and the satellite’s chief investigator, said in an email.

Until scientists can explain the quakes, the people living with them can only guess.

(Dallas Morning News staff writer Daniel Lathrop contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 The Dallas Morning News

Mustang Minute: Irving Earthquakes Media Briefing

YouTube Preview Image

SMU’s seismology team held a news briefing on Jan. 6, 2015, to explain what was known and what information is being sought about a series of recent earthquakes in Irving, Texas. The team announced Jan. 7 that it will deploy 22 more seismographs in the Irving area over the next few days to better understand the series of earthquakes that United States Geological Survey (USGS) data indicates are occurring on or near the site of the old Texas Stadium. The team is led by Brian Stump, the Albritton Chair of Geological Sciences at SMU, and Heather DeShon, Associate Professor of Geophysics. Learn more at