Jesse Anderson Retires Following 34-Year Career in the Department

As he finished his career in the Army with a posting at the old Walter Reed Hospital in Northwest Washington, Jesse James Anderson decided to enroll at the nearby University of Maryland in College Park in 1983. Ever industrious, he took two jobs: one as a carpenter in residential services, and another at the Stamp Student Union information desk. One day, in a Stamp elevator, a friend dared him to talk to a female student sharing the lift.  “And I did,” says Anderson, recalling the day he met his wife Danna.  “It worked out well for us.”

Danna Anderson studied in College Park for two years before transferring to the University of Maryland, Baltimore, to pursue her degree in medical technology. The couple moved to Charm City, where they have resided ever since. When she completed her practicum at Johns Hopkins University, Danna was immediately offered a staff position, and now supervises the Core Lab at JHU Hospital.

Despite the distance, Jesse Anderson chose to stick with UMD. He spotted and applied for a job in the physics machine shop, and was hired as a storekeeper under manager Frank Desrosier.  “I was studying electrical engineering and learning applied math, which made the shop stuff fun,” he said. “I was very interested in scientific methods and materials, and I learned a lot about metals.”  Over the course of a decade managing the Physics Material Store, he switched his studies to industrial technology, learning machining, drafting and lathe work, all of which he found intriguing and refreshing after his seven years in the Army, which were spent in somewhat monotonous finance and accounting work.Steve Rolston and Jesse Anderson at the 2018 staff awards.Steve Rolston and Jesse Anderson at the 2018 staff awards.

But military service had imparted meticulous record keeping habits that caught the attention of the physics purchasing manager, Camille Vogts. “I think she liked my paperwork,” chuckled Anderson. Vogts was often invited to vendor expos, which she regularly asked Anderson to attend. He recalls these outings as highlights of his UMD years, as they featured up-and-coming, whiz-bang technological developments in machining and laboratory devices. “Those shows were amazing to see,” Anderson recalls.

When an opening arose in the physics receiving office, personnel director Lorraine DeSalvo urged Anderson to apply. “I watched when he first arrived as the storekeeper in the shop,” said DeSalvo. “You just know when you see that sparkle in someone, that willingness and even eagerness to take on some new responsibilities.”

During his stint in receiving, Jesse and Danna enjoyed a four-week vacation, traveling to California to see Jesse’s brother. Upon his return, he found that business director Dean Kitchen had decided to expand his duties. “Dean said, ‘Well, if you’re good with receiving, you can likely handle purchasing, too,’” Anderson recalled.  And after the sudden death of purchasing manager Bob Dahms in 2013, Anderson’s purview expanded further.

From that time until his retirement in December 2021, Anderson faced a relentless workload that included the dizzying logistics of the 2014 move into the Physical Sciences Complex and the resultant need to coordinate purchasing, shipping and receiving for loading docks in separate buildings, ensuring a very busy life. And then, in March 2020, the campus abruptly ceased operations for all save a few staffers. Staying home was not an option for Anderson. During the COVID-19 shutdown, he continued to come to campus daily in support of the department.

“COVID was a lot,” Anderson said. “Managing the loading docks, sending up the mailed paychecks, dealing with the picked-up-in-person paychecks. Just a lot to manage.” Al Godinez, who staffed the Toll Building loading dock for many years, retired in December 2020. “Al urged me to consider retiring, too, but that would have been hard on the department,” Anderson said. And so he persevered for another year, until more normal operations were underway and a replacement could be hired.

For his efforts during the shutdown, Anderson received the first Lorraine DeSalvo Chair's Endowed Award for Outstanding Service, presented virtually by physics chair Steve Rolston in December, 2020.

“Jesse is amazing,” DeSalvo said. “He was always there, and has always gone above and beyond. I was so happy that he received the first DeSalvo Award.”  Anderson is the only physics employee to receive the department’s “outstanding service” staff award three times.

Reflecting upon his career, he reports no regrets, but a sense of appreciation. “It’s something to realize that the people you work with are the tops in their fields. It blows you away what people are doing,” Anderson said. “I enjoyed being familiar with the experiments, seeing the ingenuity involved. When you know the intent, helping with the supplying and the setting up and the installation is a thrill.”

Retirement is still a new sensation. Anderson finds the absence of a morning onslaught of anxious emails odd.  But he savored not having to face an icy I-95 when snow fell this winter. He enjoys seeing more of his daughter Jessica, who will soon finish her graduate degree in clinical psychology and already works as a social worker, doing home visits to assess children and to assist their parents. He is starting to digitize his vinyl record collection, and will soon enjoy a vacation with Danna to New Orleans. Also planned are trips to see family in Georgia, California and New York.Jesse Anderson and student employee Angela Madden at the 2005 staff awards.Jesse Anderson and student employee Angela Madden at the 2005 staff awards.

Throughout his 34 years in the department, Anderson was deeply appreciated for his even keel and reassuring demeanor. “We miss Jesse, because he was always such a tremendous person and colleague,” said Rolston. “I can’t recall ever seeing him frazzled or irritated in the least. But he richly deserves an excellent retirement. He did whatever was needed in the department, from filling dewars on the Toll loading dock to hand-delivering important mail. We can’t thank him enough.”

At a staff luncheon in December, Anderson’s colleagues recognized him with a Department of Physics purchase order for a happy and healthy retirement. Anderson expressed his gratitude and drew a laugh when noting, “I’ve spent more time with you than I have with anyone else in my life.” Anderson affirmed that he truly regards the physics department as family, meaning that at UMD he gained two: One begun in a momentous elevator ride, and one established through 34 years of camaraderie.   

Don’t Be Afraid of the Fog

As a young boy growing up in Iran, Masoud Loghmani (B.S. ’96, physics) loved to spend summer nights under the stars, imagining the possibilities.

“I remember back then there was a lot of buzz about humans landing on the moon and the Apollo flights were all over the news,” Loghmani said. “Every night in the summer we would go out and we would watch the moon and the stars and I would ask my parents, ‘Are the astronauts up there? Are they up there traveling?’ I was maybe four, five years old and it was just amazing for me.”

All these years later, some things haven’t changed.Masoud Loghmani  at Mt. FujiMasoud Loghmani at Mt. Fuji

“Curiosity about how the whole world works has been with me since childhood,” Loghmani explained. “When people ask me to describe myself, I tell them I’m eternally curious.”

Over the last 20-plus years—thanks to boundless curiosity and a unique talent for problem- solving—Loghmani has built a worldwide reputation as a visionary and innovator, developing next-generation tech products through his startups and as a product development leader at Google, YouTube and now TikTok, where he leads brand advertising solutions as director of product management.

And physics lies at the heart of everything he does.

“A lot of people ask me what physics has to do with what I do,” Loghmani explained. “Physics is broadly about learning how to solve problems with a degree of precision necessary for the problem at hand. And when you are solving a technology problem or solving a product problem for your customers, these are things you need to know.”

The complexities of physics captured Loghmani’s interest early on.

“In middle school, I didn’t want to do physics for a while, I wanted to be a surgeon,” Loghmani said. “But then when I was about 11 years old, I read a book I got from my uncle, and I still remember the book was ‘One Two Three . . . Infinity,’” Loghmani said. “It was about all different aspects of physics and the math behind physics and that just got me hooked. That’s when I decided to study physics.”

Loghmani focused on physics and math in high school and then left Iran for the U.S., thanks to a professor he knew at the State University of New York who helped him get a student visa to study physics and electrical engineering there. A self-taught programmer, Loghmani soon found himself balancing his college classes with a programming job at Digital Technics, a tech startup that built switches for telecommunications. 

“When you’re making phone calls, there’s a switch behind the scenes that’s making the connections, giving you all the services, and they were making that switch,” Loghmani said. “I had already been playing a lot with telecommunications switches, trying to figure out how they work, and that helped me secure the job in the company.”

When Digital Technics moved to the D.C. area, Loghmani moved, too. Still working full time, he transferred to the University of Maryland and zeroed in on physics.

“Coming to College Park, I had access to a whole different caliber of classmates and professors,” he recalled. “I was spending a lot of hallway hours with professors after classes and at one point one of them encouraged me to take an independent study course with him. He actually designed a course just for us to spend time on fractals and chaos in nonlinear systems and I really enjoyed that.”

Soon after Loghmani graduated with his B.S. in physics, he launched his first startup, LogicTree, from a Gateway 2000 computer in his bedroom. The company’s first product was a speech recognition system that could access information and share it over the phone. One of the first customers was Metro, the D.C. area’s transportation system. 

“We had built an automated system for them that would talk to callers and give them the information they needed,” Loghmani explained. “Before that, Washington Metro used actual people—an agent would look up your question and say, ‘Oh, you want to go from the National Mall to College Park, here’s which Metro to take, here’s the bus to take,’ and the agent would give you the itinerary over the phone. So we built a system that would give callers all that information automatically.”

In the years that followed, LogicTree sold speech-enabled systems for transit and traffic solutions to transportation agencies all over the country and eventually expanded its speech recognition products into the directory assistance/Yellow Pages technology business, serving customers like AT&T and Verizon. Loghmani had found his calling.

“I realized I enjoyed finding problems, solving them and building companies around them,” he said.

But he also learned there are no guarantees in the world of startups.

“Around 2007, I started a company,, with a new idea to automate event planning, which is a very complex problem. That completely flopped,” Loghmani said. 

By 2010, realizing he wanted to learn more about product development and marketing, Loghmani enrolled in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and earned an MBA in marketing and finance two years later. He then relocated to California’s Silicon Valley where he joined the tech-consulting company Accenture and cofounded a group aimed at identifying promising startups and creating partnerships to support innovation. 

Meanwhile, he was preparing to launch a new product of his own.

“It was basically speech recognition built into a coin-sized wearable device that you could talk to and ask for information and then it would give you information back on a screen nearby,” Loghmani explained. “You could ask questions and it would connect to Google and do the search. The idea was like ‘Star Trek,’ you could tap and talk.”

As Loghmani started fundraising to launch the product, he found out about the work that tech giants were doing in the same space (Google, Amazon, Apple). So, after some exploration he ended up joining Google. Over the next six years, Loghmani developed a variety of next-generation products including a context-driven system that dramatically changed the way YouTube, part of Google, targeted online ads, initiating more choices for advertisers and less privacy intrusion for users. 

“I reinvented how we understand context on YouTube and let advertisers choose where their ad shows, providing advertising revenue that’s not privacy intrusive, it’s contextual,” Loghmani explained. “You see ads based on the content you are watching there, not because of your browsing behavior, and what you have done somewhere else on the web. We started that product literally from zero with one engineer and grew it to hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue in a very short time.”

Starting from zero to create something big is what Loghmani does best.

“I love challenges,” Loghmani said, “and I love to build things from zero to one. You start from scratch and make it happen.”

Even as Loghmani is taking tech innovation to new heights, he still dreams of pursuing a different passion. Someday, he hopes to immerse himself in the study of physics once again.

“I really like what I’m doing and I still read physics books in my spare time, but I would love to go back and study physics, just for the pleasure of understanding how nature works,” he reflected. “It may be a distant dream now, but I would love to do that someday.”

But he’s not likely to have time for that anytime soon. In 2021, Loghmani took on his latest challenge, joining the new video service TikTok, where he leads brand advertising solutions with a team of product managers in China and the U.S. It was a unique, history-making opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“TikTok is like Google 10 years ago,” he said. “It has exploded on the scene and that speed of innovation is exciting. TikTok is demonstrating that innovation in the consumer digital space is not a monopoly of American companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon. TikTok demonstrated that a Chinese company can also become globally accepted by consumers and I believe that breaking the barriers makes the world a better place.”

For Loghmani, the magic of innovation and product development in technology never gets old. More than 20 years into a successful career, he’s just getting started—still imagining the possibilities, enjoying the journey and finding inspiration in the challenges along the way. 

“I think there is satisfaction in finding a hard problem that you don’t know the answer to but you know it can be solved and attracting smart people to work with you to find a solution,” Loghmani explained. “It’s like a mountaintop. You see the mountaintop but the rest of it is covered in fog. You don’t know how you’re going to get there, but if you keep climbing, then one day you’re at the top. I like to imagine the big mountaintop and tell people, ‘Don’t be afraid of the fog, we’ll find our way.’”

 Written by Leslie Miller

S. James Gates, Jr. Endows New Summer Research Award

College Park Professor of Physics Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr. joined the University of Maryland faculty in 1984, and as he rose to prominence in the fields of supersymmetry and supergravity—even being awarded the National Medal of Science in 2011—he never lost focus on his mission of educating the next generation of scientists.

Sylvester James Gates, Sr. and Charlie Anglin GatesSylvester James Gates, Sr. and Charlie Anglin Gates

Over 20 years ago, Jim launched the Summer Student Theoretical Physics Research Session (SSTPRS), which offers a summer long experience for students interested in conducting mathematical/theoretical physics research. Approximately 250 students have participated in the program since its inception, exploring areas of theoretical physics and publishing refereed journal articles on their research findings. SSTPRS also has allowed him to teach for fifty-one consecutive years. 

Now, Jim has created a new opportunity for undergraduates to conduct research by establishing the Sylvester James Gates, Sr. and Charlie Anglin Gates Endowed Summer Research Award. The award will support undergraduate students in physics or mathematics to pursue research during the summer break. 

Delilah Gates, Dianna Abney, Jim and Sylvester GatesDelilah Gates, Dianna Abney, Jim and Sylvester Gates

“I hope that the award, like the Summer Student Theoretical Physics Research Session, will help students gain acceptance to graduate school and enhance diversity in physics and mathematics, which is integral to advancing scientific discovery and innovation,” he said.

Jim named the award to honor the memory of his parents. When Charlie died of breast cancer at age 42, Gates, Sr. raised his four young children while serving full time in the U.S. Army. After more than 27 years of service, he retired as a sergeant major—the highest non-commissioned military officer rank. Gates, Sr. was one of the first African Americans to earn this position of authority. He went on to have two more careers in public education and as a union organizer. 

“I credit my father for emphasizing the importance of education and sparking my interest in science at a very young age,” he said.

Jim and his wife, Dianna Abney, sparked that same interest in their own children, twins Delilah Gates (B.S. ’15, physics and mathematics) and Sylvester Gates III (B.S. ’15, biological sciences). Both pursued undergraduate research while at UMD, and Delilah has since earned her Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University and is currently an associate research scholar at Princeton. Sylvester is currently a biological sciences Ph.D. student at UMD.

Jim, Dianna, Delilah and Sylvester see the scholarship as a way to encourage young people to do theoretical research, honor Jim’s parents, and to encourage other African American families to give to UMD.

Reaching for the Stars (and the Exoplanets)

NASA astrophysicist Christopher Stark (Ph.D. ’10, physics) is on a mission to broaden our horizons in space

Christopher Stark (Ph.D. ’10, physics) grew up in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, a small midwestern town known in part for one of its most famous natives, James Van Allen, a physicist who was very influential in the development of space science in the United States and even graced the cover of Time magazine in 1959. 

“Van Allen discovered the Van Allen radiation belts around Earth and I feel like this was sort of common knowledge in Mt. Pleasant,” Stark explained. “I went to James Van Allen Elementary School and my parents happened to live in Van Allen’s childhood home at one point.”

You might think all that stellar influence would spark a childhood passion for astronomy or maybe even physics. It didn’t.Chris Stark Chris Stark

“In spite of those coincidences, I didn’t grow up wanting to be an astronomer,” Stark said. “I didn’t stargaze at night, I wasn’t big into science fiction and space travel, none of that.”

But Stark eventually decided to become an astrophysicist, inspired by a college lecture that quite literally changed his life.

“The lecture was about exoplanets,” he recalled. “I remember thinking it was unbelievable that we have the ability to detect planets around stars outside our solar system. It was like a lightbulb went off! I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

Since then, Stark has spent nearly two decades unraveling the mysteries of distant planetary systems and developing tools to study them. In 2020, after years of exoplanet research and mission design, Stark became deputy integration test and commissioning project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)—the biggest, most powerful telescope ever launched into space.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Stark said. “Webb was designed to look in the infrared at the faintest galaxies that one would possibly imagine—galaxies so distant that you’re essentially looking back in time to the first stars and the first galaxies that were formed. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Falling in love with physics

For Stark, growing up in a small town in Iowa was worlds away from a career studying extrasolar planets and planning missions in space. As a kid, he had plenty of energy and liked to build things, encouraged by his industrious parents.

“My dad was a carpenter by trade for quite a while, and I can’t remember a time when he and my mom weren’t working on a project,” Stark explained. “It’s difficult to recall being around the house and not helping them with something, like re-roofing their house or laying a limestone retaining wall.”

In 1999 when Stark enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa, physics and astronomy were the furthest things from his mind. He was taking economics and marketing courses, looking ahead to a career in business. At the suggestion of his brother, who was also majoring in business, Stark signed up for a course called “The Physics of Everyday Life” to fulfill the physical sciences requirement for his degree. He never imagined what would happen next.

“The class was all about the physics behind everyday things like frisbees, CD players and cellphones. I was enthralled, and I just fell in love with physics,” he recalled. “I was learning about the world in a way that I never experienced before.”

Stark immediately changed his major to physics and never looked back. His very first undergraduate physics class—and later, that memorable lecture on exoplanets—set Stark’s course toward the stars. In fall 2004, he began his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Maryland.

“What really appealed to me was that Maryland’s physics department was so flexible with what their students researched, like biophysics and chaos theory and astronomy, which is what I ended up doing,” he said.

For Stark, UMD’s proximity to major research centers in the D.C. area, including NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was ideal. 

“I could literally drive 10 minutes to NASA and chat with people there at lunch to see if they had a research project that they would want me to work on,” Stark recalled. “I found my first opportunity to research exoplanets at NASA by doing just that.”

Gamma rays and debris disks

After his first summer at NASA working on the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Stark started working with Mark Kuchner, an expert on debris disks, the hazy dust clouds generated by asteroids and comets around other stars. At Kuchner’s suggestion, Stark applied for—and received—a NASA fellowship that funded three years of his Ph.D. research. For Stark, graduate school provided a world of opportunities, not just in research but in academics as well. 

“There’s some level of knowledge from the traditional academics that you’re taught in grad school that sticks with you for the rest of your career,” he explained. “I don’t know that a day goes by that some aspect of orbital mechanics or quantum mechanics doesn’t enter into my thoughts.” 

After earning his Ph.D. in 2010, Stark moved on to a postdoctoral position at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and spent three more years studying debris disks around distant stars. Three years later, he returned to NASA Goddard as a postdoc working with Aki Roberge, a research astrophysicist in the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Lab.

“I had been a theorist and an observational astronomer and when I started working with her, I said, ‘I’ve been working in this field for seven or eight years now I really want to get into mission design work,’” Stark explained. “And she said, ‘Have I got a project for you!’”

At the time, Roberge was studying a future telescope concept that would detect and image exoplanets. To determine what kind of telescope and other instruments would be needed, she had to develop a tool that could predict how many exoplanets the mission might discover. 

“We talked through how we would develop this tool and it turned out that everything I needed to do that project, I had the pieces already,” Stark recalled. “Forty-eight hours later, after reading through published papers and a lot of coding, I came back to her with a functioning skeletal structure of how this would work, and I think it hit both of us that we were onto something big.”

On a mission: the James Webb Space Telescope and Beyond

Together, Stark, Roberge and their colleagues developed a mission optimization tool that’s still being used by NASA today and Stark moved full steam into mission design. By 2015, he’d been hired as an associate scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, where he helped guide the design of future space telescopes and worked on the JWST, a huge NASA project that was still years away from launch.

“I was part of the team that prepared to align the mirrors of JWST after launch,” he explained. “Those golden hexagons, they all have to be aligned to within a fraction of a micron to work like one large mirror. The alignment is an amazing process, to be able to move around and shape a mirror segment more than a meter in size with such precision.”

Stark returned to NASA in 2020, taking on a new role as deputy integration test and commissioning project scientist for JWST, which launched in December 2021 and is now orbiting the sun on its journey of discovery.

“On a day-to-day basis, we’re tracking the performance of the telescope and instruments, and making sure that all the information we need is available to understand how the decisions we make impact science as we go,” Stark explained. “Working on this mission is thrilling, it’s stressful. More than anything, it’s humbling. It takes thousands of talented people to put something like this together.”

Stark is all about putting things together, and not just space missions. After years of doing construction projects with his parents as a kid, he still has a passion for building things at home in his spare time. No project is too big or too complicated.

“At this point, it’s an obsession. Anything that I can build is fair game. Honestly, that may be why I ended up in the position I’m in at NASA,” he mused. “I think there’s an aspect of designing future space missions that helps satisfy my need to build.”

From Stark’s Ph.D. studies to his current work on the Webb, every research project and every NASA mission have brought him closer to the dream he’s had since his very first day at UMD.

“My goal is to help launch a mission that has the chance of finding another planet that looks like Earth, and maybe even has biosignature gases that could be indicative of simple life,” Stark explained.

Stark believes that mission will soon be a reality. And he can’t wait to be part of it.

“We have so many exciting missions coming up that get at fundamental questions that humans have been asking themselves for millennia. We’re going to fundamentally transform our understanding of our place in the universe,” he said. “The next few decades of astronomy is really going to knock your socks off.”

Written by Leslie Miller