In this edition of the Friday Newsletter, we enjoy the best parts of our snow and ice days and mark the lunar new year!
CHAIR’S WEEKLY MESSAGE
“Community and Crisis”
Nothing tests a community like crisis, and this week brought at least two. One crisis tested our ability to help out a friend in need, and the other tested our ability to deal with a wholesale shift in teaching practice. In both cases, I am proud of our Department.
I won’t get into details, but suffice it to say that when one of our faculty, staff, or students is in need the Department community has shown – again – that it jumps to their aid. This past week tested us in an unexpected way, and I was near tears at the outpouring of offers of assistance for our friend in distress. The good news is that the most immediate crisis is past, both for the individual and the Department. On the academic side of this issue, the Department has adapted to the situation; it will require a sustained effort for the rest of the term, but the path is fairly clear. I am also proud of our students for adapting to this unexpected and challenging situation and helping out the faculty and staff to find the best ways forward.
Of course, the second crisis has been plain for all to see: a winter storm descended on Texas, almost one year since the last one, and the campus was closed to non-critical in-person operations. I am proud especially of our laboratory course instructors and manager for handling the complex issue of a class that really demands in-person experiences. But of course, I am proud of everyone – faculty, staff, and students – who quickly pivoted back to virtual offices and classrooms in order to keep our academic and research mission moving forward. I know from my own introductory physics this morning how hard it is to get back into the virtual classroom, for both students and faculty. We’re making it work until the thaw this weekend.
Two crises in one week. It’s not fair, I suppose, but that’s the way it goes. What matters is how we respond to crisis, not that crisis is entirely prevented. I saw the best in people this week, most especially from those who set aside their own personal ambitions and concerns to come to the aid of others: students, colleagues, and friends. A work place is not really a family, but the best work places include the best aspects of acting like a family. That’s what happened again in our Department this week.
In this issue of the Friday Newsletter, we enjoy the best parts of our snow and ice days and mark the lunar new year!
Stephen Jacob Sekula
Chair, Department of Physics
No Speaker Series Event on February 7
There is no Department Speaker Series talk scheduled for February 7. Take advantage of the extra time in your schedules to relax, catch up on work, or other diametrically opposed activities!
REMINDER: Physics Department Casual Social Events On Hold
The Department Chair announced at the beginning of the term that the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will necessitate a pause in casual Department-sponsored social events. These are the Friday Department Lunch and the Wednesday “Hbar Coffee Bar.” Department leadership will watch the case counts on campus and review this pause starting in mid-February. Experts suggest the peak of the Omicron variant wave in the DFW region should peak in the next two weeks, but we can expect the decline in cases (while rapid, based on observational evidence from other nations) should take about a month or so.
Structured social events with a fixed guest list, like the monthly graduate student lunches, are permitted to continue so long as the faculty organizer requests a waiver from the Department Chair if they wish to have Department funds support the event. The event must have a controlled guest list to be approved.
The Department Speaker Series will continue, as it can be conducted in a hybrid format. Snacks will continue to be available in FOSC 16 before the speaker series event (they become available around 3:30pm on Mondays when there is an event). Guests are requested to grab a snack and take it up to FOSC 123, where talks are held, to provide for more social distancing opportunities than are possible in FOSC 16.
The SMU Nobel Prize Panel: 2021 STEM-Oriented Prizes
The Faculty Club again hosted the SMU Nobel Prize Panel. The event was started in 2015 by Prof. Robert Lawson, the Jerome M. Fullinwider Centennial Chair in Economic Freedom in the SMU Cox School of Business. He was inspired to initiate the event at SMU based on his experience at other Universities. He recognized a need at SMU to highlight the discoveries and ideas represented by the Nobel Prizes given annually.
The Faculty Club was involved starting in 2017, providing organizational structure, great publicity, a new venue, and food to support the event. Faculty in general have been key to the event since its inception: faculty organize it and speak as members of the panel. It’s a chance for speakers to not only highlight the prizes but connect them to work at SMU. The event typically happens in late November, after the prizes are announced and before the official award ceremonies. They are open to all with an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as well as creativity. Prof. Lawson passed on the mantle of organization in 2019 and since then the panel has been assembled variously by Prof. Brian Zoltowski in Chemistry and Prof. Stephen Sekula in Physics.
This year, the panel event was moved to January 2022 to avoid an overly booked period on the campus in the fall. If you missed it, no worries! The video below was made to share the excellent presentations from five SMU faculty on each of the four prizes, plus a special bonus event by a faculty member who was present at one of the Nobel award ceremonies this year!
What’d I Miss?
We all get too many emails from the University and College. Here are a few things you might have missed this week.
- Faculty: If you have not already done so, email the Chair and specify your teaching preferences based on the list of courses that are planned to be offered in AY2022-2023. This was circulated for the Monday, Jan. 31 Department Faculty Meeting. Draft assignments will start being made in the next several days and the course schedule will start to get entered on that same time scale. There will be time for revisions before the deadline of Feb. 18.
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!
The department staff continue to work on behalf of Academic Operations and Research Operations (Michele Hill). They can be contacted for assistance, or to make appointments for input and help, through the Department Main Office (FOSC 102).
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!
A Snow Day on the Campus
One of the joys of living on an incredibly beautiful campus is that when combined with an equally beautiful snow and ice day, photo magic can happen. Many students posted pictures of themselves outside in the snow yesterday, Our own Physics Minor, Lauren Horton, shared this one with us!
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.
Happy Lunar New Year from Jared Burleson in China!
Alumnus Jared Burleson (BS’21) tweeted out a Happy Lunar New Year from China this week. He is a Schwarzman Scholar pursuing a Masters degree in Public Policy at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This happy greeting from one of our alumni reminds all of us to wish all who celebrate the lunar calendar a great start to this new year!
In China, specifically, this is now the Year of the Tiger.
Jared also noted that he is enjoying his time in China learning about global affairs and public policy. He is currently working on his capstone project (the Masters thesis) with a focus on policies that support fundamental research, with emphasis on high-energy physics.
THE BACK PAGE
The Physics Teacher’s February Physics Challenge!
Society of Physics Students 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 (email@example.com) from an SMU Physics faculty member, staff member, or student (Ph.D. or Master’s candidate, SMU SPS member, Physics Major or Minor, or Biophysical Science Major) will be awarded a prize. You needn’t be a Physics major or minor to be a member of the SPS, and all students with an interest in physics are encouraged to join the SMU SPS. Prof. Scalise can help you with that!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to follow the journal’s guidelines for submissions (see below). The deadline is the last day of this month.