The Chirps Heard Round the World

Two black holes, locked together in close orbit for eons, abruptly ended their dance in spectacular fashion about 1.3 billion years ago. In two-tenths of a second, the pair of objects—about 29 and 36 times the mass of our sun—drew closer together, accelerated and merged to form a single black hole. The cataclysm instantly obliterated three suns' worth of mass and transformed it into gravitational energy, which radiated outward in waves traveling at the speed of light, warping the fabric of space and time along the way.  Read more

Photos from the Gravitational Waves event on November 1, 2016.



During the first weekend of October, the University of Maryland Department of Physics and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held the inaugural Conference for Undergraduate Underrepresented Minorities in Physics (CU2MiP), bringing students from several universities to this campus for networking, career advice and discussion of research opportunities. In 2014, UMD Department's Director of Education, Donna Hammer and NIST's Katharine Blodgett Gebbie and Angela Hight-Walker organized a very successful Mid-Atlantic Conference of Undergraduate Women in Physics, which inspired their vision to establish CU2MiP.

CU2 student image

Attracting students to science, technology and mathematics (STEM) has emerged as one of the nation's leading educational priorities. Historically, physics has had one of the lowest levels of women and racial and ethnic minorities among all STEM fields. Research by the American Institute of Physics has shown that women and minorities are consistently underrepresented among those receiving physics bachelor's degrees, compared to their portions of college enrollments. And only about four percent of PhDs awarded in this country go to underrepresented minority students, i.e., African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.

On Friday, Oct. 7, the CU2MiP opened at NIST with a welcoming address by Nobel Laureate and UMD Distinguished University Professor Bill Phillips. Phillips gave an inspiring and engaging talk on having fun while pursuing a career in physics, but also spoke with sadness of Gebbie, the retired Director of NIST's Physical Measurement Lab who had greatly looked forward to meeting the students of CU2MiP. Dr. Gebbie died August 17 at the age of 84.

After a full afternoon of NIST lab tours, the conference attendees enjoyed dinner and talks by UMD Distinguished University Professor Jordan Goodman, NIST Director Dr. Willie E. May and UMBC Professor of Physics Anthony Johnson. Saturday's activities included a welcome by alumna Delilah Gates, '15, now a graduate student at Harvard,and a talk by mathematician and UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, which received a standing ovation. Interactions with representatives from the AIP, APS and OSA, NASA, NSBP, NSHP, and workshops on graduate school, research opportunities and career paths ensued. A poster session preceded dinner, and Regents Professor Jim Gates gave the evening address. The UMD chapter of the Society of Physics Students then sponsored a physics trivia night.

Sunday's agenda included a talk by Dr. Tabbetha Dobbins of Rowan University, a community building session and an address by department Chair Steve Rolston. Several UMD physicists participated in "Exploring Careers in Physics," which highlighted the many ways that the analytical skills, knowledge and technical expertise that accompany physics degrees can be put to use in academia, government and industry. UMD undergraduates Paula Rodriquez and Myles Poole offered closing remarks.

Participant enthusiasm seemed very high, according to Hammer. "We were extremely happy with the energy the students brought, and with the rapport that developed over the weekend," she said. "Our speakers and panelists were all so encouraging and helpful to this next generation of scientists." Hammer stated, "The extremely positive responses we received fromCU2MiP have already have us excitedly working on planning for next year."

A survey of the CU2MiP students returned highly-favorable reviews and comments:

What struck me most were the speakers. They were truly inspiring and motivating.

It was more insightful than I had expected. The guest speakers all shared information that was unknown to me and offered motivation to continue in my physics studies.

I am leaving with new friends, great connections and an overall newfound love and appreciation for physics and the sciences.

Please accept my condolences on the passing of Dr. Gebbie. She is still having a positive influence on science through persons like you who carry on her philosophies through these kids of activities.

I enjoyed meeting so many people who have experienced being a minority STEM student and were willing to share their unique insight into navigating the academic world and beyond.

Honestly I have never had more fun doing anything in my entire life.

More information on CU2MiP can be found here:

New CU2MiP coming up in October 2017.  Details coming soon!

L'Oréal-UNESCO award goes to former JQI student researcher

Karina J. Garcia announcementCredit: Foundation L'Oréal

Karina Jiménez-García, a former visiting graduate student who worked with JQI Fellow Ian Spielman, was one of 30 young women scientists to receive a 2016 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship. She was selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants and received the award for her ongoing research on the quantum behavior of ultra-cold atoms.

"This is a recognition that I owe to all those that have guided and inspired me and those who have supported me throughout my professional career, especially my family," says Jiménez-García, who is currently a postdoctoral researchers at the Kastler Brossel Laboratory at the Collège de France in Paris. She plans to use the funds from the fellowship to build a handful of physics demonstrations that will appeal to young students and to fund travel to conferences in Mexico, where she hopes to start her own research group in the future.

The award, which launched in 2007, has given fellowships to more than 140 women in France who are either studying toward a Ph.D. in the life or physical sciences or working as postdoctoral researchers. The criteria for selection include a proven academic track record and the ability to inspire the next generation of scientists. For the first time since the fellowship launched, L'Oréal organized a public event, held on October 12, that included lectures and interviews with this year's winners.

While at JQI, Jiménez-García worked on creating synthetic electric and magnetic fields for ultra-cold clouds of atoms. In a series of papers, she and a team of experimental colleagues showed that lasers could coax atoms without an electric charge into behaving like charged particles in magnetic and electric fields. The work is still a fertile area of research for Spielman and could enrich the toolkit for atomic physicists interested in simulating other quantum systems with clouds of atoms.

Ian Appelbaum Named 2016 APS Fellow

Ian Appelbaum, Professor of Physics, has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) "for advancing the study of spin-polarized electron transport in semiconductors, especially the fundamental processes revealed by coherent and time-resolved spin transport over macroscopic distances in silicon and germanium."

Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition of "exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise" by one's professional peers. The total number of newly elected Fellows in any one year cannot exceed one-half of one percent of Society memberships.

More information on Professor Appelbaum and his research can be found on his website.


Harry Dahl Holmgren, 1928-2016

Professor Emeritus Harry D. Holmgren, who retired from the University of Maryland Department of Physics in 1993, died on September 29, 2016. He was 88.

Prof. Holmgren received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Minnesota. Following completion of his doctorate in 1954, he was appointed as a physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory, where he worked before joining this Department as an Associate Professor in 1961. In 1965, he was promoted to full Professor and was appointed Director of the UMD Cyclotron Laboratory, a post he held for 13 years. That facility was described in a Washington Post feature article in 1977, citing "man's ageless struggle to unlock the secrets of the universe".

Prof. Holmgren was President of the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA) from 1980-87, the crucial period in which that consortium of 31 campuses successfully sought federal funding for the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) in the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab). During his presidency, he forced the organization to look beyond the accelerator envisioned by the University of Virginia physics group, which was based on old technology. Instead, he persuaded Hermann Grunder from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to join the CEBAF group as director, leading to the innovative design of the accelerator. Prof. Holmgren also pushed SURA to consider other possible areas of research; this led to SURAnet, a high-speed communications web among 18 East Coast campuses funded by the NSF and directed by UMD computer scientist Glenn Ricart. Many of today's internet protocols were developed by SURAnet.

Prof. Holmgren was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and was honored during his career with an AEC Pre-doctoral Fellowship, the E. O. Hulbert Award of the NRL, the Arthur A. Fleming Award for an Outstanding Young Scientist in Government, a NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship and Honorary Membership of the Maryland Academy of Science. He was appointed a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the University of Paris at Orsay and was a member of Sigma Xi and Phi Beta Kappa.