CHAIR’S WEEKLY MESSAGE
Well … that was definitely not the year any of us wanted. That said, I have been buoyed by the strength, resilience, and perseverance demonstrated by each and every student, staff member, and faculty member at SMU. In our department, students learned physics in-person, virtually, or in a mix of the two. Faculty became webcast directors as well as teachers, “running the board” of their classroom to keep cameras and microphones going while also trying to deliver the curriculum to our students. None of us signed up for this … but we know the mission, and we get the job done.
What really distinguished this year was the creativity that was exhibited by everyone. Students pivoted to unreliable online environments, but under immense pressure they made diamond out of charcoal. I saw students in the SMU Honors Physics class this autumn grapple with the scientific method over 14 weeks, culminating in two excellent team-based presentations assessing the claims that the Earth is hollow, or that masks are dangerous to human health. (HINT: neither claim stands up to even basic reviews of even modest-quality evidence, let alone the best-quality evidence) I saw graduate students pursue their research despite the restrictions on travel and the deadening (or, at minimum, dampening) of activities at experimental sites. Progress is definitely slower than what it was a year ago, and some of that is far beyond our control, but in spite of that students rose to the challenge and maintained human health while advancing the boundaries of human knowledge. The seminar presentations we saw on Nov. 30 from two of our graduate students are good examples of expanding knowledge in the face of immense challenges.
Faculty similarly made the best of a bad situation. Papers were published, grant money was attracted, awards were earned, students were educated and trained, committees met to do their hard work, and PhDs were granted. To my knowledge, not a single one of our faculty succumbed to the most direct health threat of COVID-19, a testament to the safety procedures in place as well as to the fortitude of the faculty despite social isolation and separation. I know we are all struggling with the mental health consequences of this separation. But I hope these problems are ultimately more solvable than what might have happened if any of us had become gravely ill due to SARS-CoV-2, or if we had not become ill ourselves but spread it to others more vulnerable to infection.
Of course, the pandemic is not over yet. The worst is unfolding right now. Strength and vigilance are required. Little will change in the spring term, as mass vaccination won’t be possible until late spring or early summer. We must dig down deep for one more big reserve of strength. I want to support people as best as I can, as Department Chair, if they need help finding that strength.
In this issue of the newsletter, we do have some amazing things to celebrate – echoes of the hard work and perseverance of students, staff, and faculty. Our Society of Physics Students chapter was just nationally recognized as “Outstanding,” and the Fast Machine Learning Workshop that concluded recently at SMU was a huge success, despite having to be all-virtual. I was also gratified that some of our recent alumni were able to join us for the Winter Colloquium last Monday. The department is grateful not only for all their accomplishments but their sustained interest in joining with us to celebrate science.
This is the last newsletter of the semester and this calendar year. I wish all of you as good a series of holidays as is possible in this time. I hope you remain healthy and safe. Be good to each other, and be as well as you can. I look forward to seeing you all again in the new year.
Stephen Jacob Sekula
Chair, Department of Physics
SMU Society of Physics Students “Outstanding” (top 10%) Nationwide
The SMU chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) has won an Outstanding Chapter Award from the SPS National Office. This is the first time the chapter has been recognized at the highest level of excellence as a top-tier student-led physical sciences organization, a designation given to fewer than 10 percent of all SPS chapters at colleges and universities in the United States and internationally (more than 800 chapters are in operation). Last year, our chapter was noted as “Distinguished” by the national organization.
The Society of Physics Students (SPS) is a professional association designed for students and membership is open to anyone interested in physics and related fields. SPS operates within the American Institute of Physics (AIP), an umbrella organization for professional physical science societies.
The SPS chapter at SMU is advised by Prof. Randy Scalise and is led by student officers. The 2020-2021 officers are:
- Jared Burleson (President)
- Taylor Wallace (Vice President)
- Katherine Scalise (Secretary)
- Noah Pearson (Treasurer)
- Abigail Hays (Outreach Coordinator)
SPS chapters are evaluated on their level of interaction with the campus community, the professional physics community, the public, and with SPS national programs. The Outstanding Chapter Award recognizes high levels of outreach as well as unique approaches to fulfilling the mission of SPS to “help students transform themselves into contributing members of the professional community.”
Congratulations to Prof. Scalise and the student officers for creating a vibrant and sustainable chapter of the SPS at SMU. This is especially notable in this pandemic year, when gathering in person has been impossible but where virtual events were done creatively and routinely.
Fast Machine Learning Workshop a Great Success!
The Fast Machine Learning for Science hosted by SMU from November 30 – December 3 was a great success, even in the face of challenges from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Over the three days of talks from various disciplines, the workshop drew up to 282 individual daily attendees. The fourth day consisted of two hands-on tutorial sessions with the HLS4ML package and had nearly 100 people in attendance. Prof. Allison Deiana would especially like to thank the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute for their support, as well as the local organizing committee and scientific committee. Of course, the workshop was a real success because of the the participants, especially the excellent speakers and tutorial leaders, many of whom also engaged in post-talk discussion via a dedicated Slack workspace. It is notable that one of these speakers is Andrew Reis (SMU’22), an undergraduate Hamilton scholar here at SMU (Check out his talk online!)
Allison Deiana (Southern Methodist University)
Rohin Narayan (Southern Methodist University)
Thomas Coan (Southern Methodist University)
Elizabeth Fielding (Southern Methodist University)
Javier Duarte (UCSD)
Phil Harris (MIT)
Burt Holzman (Fermilab)
Scott Hauck (U. Washington)
Shih-Chieh Hsu (U. Washington)
Sergo Jindariani (Fermilab)
Mia Liu (Purdue University)
Allison Deiana (Southern Methodist University)
Mark Neubauer (U. Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
Maurizio Pierini (CERN)
Nhan Tran (Fermilab)
Miss a Colloquium or Seminar? Don’t Panic … They’re Recorded!
The winter break is a great time to catch up on things you missed or learn something you didn’t know. You can explore supermassive black holes, the new Electron-Ion Collider planned for construction in the U.S., new ideas about dark matter, or the basic research needs for future scientific instrumentation in HEP … all from your screen! Enjoy our archive of the Fall Speaker Series Talks below.
Most Recent Talk: “Feeding the Monster” by Prof. Krista Lynne Smith (SMU)
Winter Break and Mail
Over the two-week break the SMU Mail Center will be open from 10-noon (with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) to retrieve mail and packages. Mail will not be delivered to the main physics office, FOSC 102. If you are receiving packages that are extremely large, that cannot be surrendered to the post office, or if time is of the essence then you will need to make alternative delivery arrangements.
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of your activities in research, the classroom, and beyond are very welcome!
Reminders for Faculty
Undergraduate Research Assistantships / Hamilton Scholars
- Fall 2020 URA/Hamilton payroll forms terminate on December 18.
- Spring 2021 URA/Hamiltons begin January 16.
- If URA students wish to work between Dec 19 – Jan 15, you must receive special permission. Contact Lacey to talk about this.
- Non-Hamilton URA students will no longer report their time to Lacey. Time reporting will go through the Engaged Learning office.
- Engaged Learning will handle the payroll forms for Non-Hamilton URAs.
- Hamilton Scholars will continue to report hours to Lacey.
- Lacey will continue to complete all Hamilton payroll ePAFs.
- Many have asked about entering grades of “incomplete.” Here is the Registrar’s page for End of Term Grading: https://www.smu.edu/EnrollmentServices/registrar/FacultyStaff/Access/GradingInstructions/EndofTerm
- Remember: Graduate and Undergraduate course instructors must post final grades within 72 hours (3 Days) of the ending hour of the final exam.
- GRADE CHANGES – These have been discussed in emails from Lacey Breaux to the faculty (look for “Grade Change Procedure” emails).
Some announcements that bear repeating:
- New grant tools for Principle Investigators: “Post-award grant PI dashboard – The Sponsored Projects Dashboard is now available for principal investigators (PIs) through my.SMU. This dashboard, created by the Office of Research and Office of Information Technology provides PIs with a real-time financial picture of their sponsored projects. PI Training, via webinar, took place on November 10, 2020. Additional instructions and a recording of the training are available on the Sponsored Projects Dashboard Wiki.” (Provost Loboa’s Weekly Update, Nov. 13, 2020)
- The Dean’s Research Council proposal deadline is extended into mid-January to allow more time for people to develop and submit proposals. Proposals require a letter of support from the Chair, so inform the Chair early if you intend to submit. Know the eligibility criteria before you begin work on a proposal, to avoid wasted time: https://www.smu.edu/Dedman/Research/Deans-Research-Council
- From the President: “As President Turner announced … we will start our spring 2021 semester a week later than originally planned, on January 25, and continuing straight forward without a spring break through the conclusion of exams on May 12. Good Friday will remain a University holiday. Jan Term classes will be also be available beginning January 7, 2021.”
Staff In-Office Schedule for Week of December 14
The in-office staff schedule for the week of December 14 is as follows:
- Monday: Michele
- Tuesday: Lacey
- Wednesday: Lacey
- Thursday: Michele
- Friday: Lacey
Of course, both are always available on Microsoft Teams, by Email, or by phone.
The Main Physics Office is closed for business for two weeks for the period of December 21 – January 1, and will reopen on January 4, 2021.
Full staff in-office calendar for December:
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of students in research, the classroom, internships or fellowships, awards, etc. are very welcome!
If you are an alum of the doctoral, masters, majors or minor programs in Physics at SMU, or have worked in our program as a post-doctoral researcher, and wish to share news with the community, please send your story to the Physics Department and we’ll work with you to get it included in a future edition.
SMU Alumni Participate in the Winter Colloquium
Several SMU alumni joined us for the Winter Colloquium on December 7, 2020. This final speaker series event of the fall term, and this calendar year, was a wonderful chance to reunite and reconnect in an intellectual setting. We express our gratitude to Dr. Biao Wang (PhD’17), Dr. Matt Stein (PhD’18), Daniel Gum (BS’16), Christina McConville (BA’18), and Sean Doyle (BS’19), for their participation and especially their engagement with Prof. Smith during the meet-and-greet that followed the main event!
For any alumni or friends that wish to be informed of upcoming events, you can join our new Physics Community mailing list (mailings occurs about once per week during the regular semesters) for special news and invitations to departmental events. Contact the Department Chair for information on how to get connected!
THE BACK PAGE
REMINDER: December Physics Challenge!
SPS Faculty Advisor and our department’s informal “Puzzle Master,” Prof. Randy Scalise, invites you to try to solve this month’s physics challenge from The Physics Teacher. The first correct solution he receives (firstname.lastname@example.org) from a student member of our Society of Physics Students will be awarded a prize. The winner will get to select from the following four books,
- Gleick, J. “Chaos: Making a New Science“.
- Crease, R. P. and Mann, Charles C. “The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics“.
- Thorne, K. “Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy“.
- Greene, B. “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality“.
Solutions must be complete enough to understand your strategy, reasoning, and methods; providing answers with no explanations are not acceptable. Dr. Scalise urges submitters who believe they have the correct answer to, of course, also submit their solution to The Physics Teacher using the email address email@example.com. Make sure to follow the journal’s guidelines for submissions (see below). The deadline is the last day of this month.