Zic, Poniatowski Named Outstanding Undergraduate Researchers

Physics majors Mark Zic and Nicholas Poniatowski are among those selected as UMD Undergraduate Researchers of the Year for 2020.

Zic, who was nominated by Johnpierre Paglione, has also received an NSF Graduate Fellowship and a Barry Goldwater Scholarship. He will attend Stanford University in the fall.

Poniatowski, nominated by Rick Greene, has also received an NSF Graduate Fellowship, a Barry Goldwater Scholarship and a Merrill Presidential Scholarship. He will attend Harvard University in the fall.

Each cited UMD Undergraduate Researcher will receive a $1,000 reward.

Recalling CUWiP 2020

In January, the University of Maryland Department of Physics and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for the second time sponsored a Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). CUWiP is a three-day regional conference for undergraduate physics majors, bringing students from several universities together for networking, career advice and discussion of research opportunities. The conferences were launched by the American Physical Society in 2006.

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.

“We believe that efforts to encourage interest and camaraderie can be extremely helpful,” said UMD Physics Director of Education Donna Hammer, who with NIST's Katharine Blodgett Gebbie and Angela Hight Walker organized a very successful CUWiP in 2014. That gathering inspired them to establish the Conference for Undergraduate Underrepresented Minorities in Physics (CU2MiP) in 2016.

Anna Grafov, a UMD Physics undergraduate student and a member of the 2020 Local Organizing Committee, gave the following account:grafovAnna Grafov

On a cold January morning, the 2020 UMD-NIST Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics officially began as attendees filed into the Cambria Hotel to check-in. The lobby quickly filled with young physicists from across the country - from locals who came from just down the road, to a group of students from Chattanooga, who braved an 11 hour drive to Maryland.

As the registration dwindled down, the chatter in the lobby increased as students reunited with old friends and introduced themselves to new colleagues, and prepared for the day ahead - namely, traveling to NIST.

            Three charter buses filled with attendees made their way there. After a lunch networking with current female NIST physicists and hearing from NIST director, Dr. Walter G. Copan, the CUWiP participants attended a plenary talk by NIST Boulder Prof. Ana Maria Rey, and were introduced to the APS STEP UP program. The students then had the opportunity to tour several of NIST’s world class laboratories, including the reactor. The day concluded with a banquet and a plenary talk by NIST and UMD professor and Nobel Laureate Dr. Bill Phillips, and a chance to network with the renowned scientists. Everyone settled in for a restful night at the Cambria Hotel, aided by advanced blackout curtains and a high-tech Bluetooth mirror.

            Bright and early the next morning, attendees were able to check out some of the University of Maryland’s beautiful (albeit construction-filled) campus as they made their way over to the Edward St. John Learning & Teaching Center. After the introduction and group photo (in which nearly 200 attendees fit on one staircase!), the students attended several panels led by physicists ranging from undergrads and graduate students to renowned professors such as former Chief Scientist for BP and director of ARPA-E, Prof. Ellen Williams. The panels covered topics such as the Intersection of Technology and Policy, Life as a Graduate Student, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, Diverse Careers in Physics, and Navigating a Career in STEM as a Member of the LGBTQ+ Community. Women at the conference were thrilled to be able to connect with other physicists who have been through similar experiences - students said that they benefited from “just hearing shared experiences from other women,” and that this gave them “a better sense of community.” The attendees had a chance to continue their discussions over lunch, and also had the opportunity to check out the networking fair, which included booths for local universities and organizations such as APS and OSA.copan tweet

            After lunch, the UMD-NIST CUWiP attendees connected virtually with the 17 other CUWiP sites concurrently being held across the country. National Keynote Speaker Dr. Andrea Liu delivered an exciting talk and answered questions posed by students over Twitter. One student said that seeing all of the other sites made her finally able to “conceptualize the number of women physics majors,” and the opportunities to meet other students stood out as a highlight throughout the entire conference. The attendees then had a short break at the hotel, during which they were able to participate in the hotel door decorating contest, and produced some outstanding physics-themed designs. The group then headed to the UMD Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center for the poster session. The session was packed with over 30 outstanding posters on topics ranging from outreach to advanced research in universities and industry.

The next event was the Quantum Cafe, led by UMD Physics Department Chair Prof. Steve Rolston and several members of the UMD Joint Quantum Institute. Through an exciting presentation, the event demonstrated the importance and implications of quantum mechanics in the modern world. An awards session followed, in which both the best posters and honorable mentions were acknowledged. We then heard a moving speech by Morgan Chamberlain, a physics student from Linfield College, who was commissioned to design the logo for the 2020 UMD-NIST CUWiP. Morgan’s art was featured on the CUWiP totes every attendee received, and even speakers and guests were dazzled by the design. A delicious dinner was served, and the night concluded with an inspiring talk by Prof. Ellen Williams on energy and technology and the implications for climate change.

The final day kicked off with more awards to acknowledge all of the amazing CUWiP participants, including outstanding door decorations and interesting tweets. The attendees then split up into workshops, which covered the topics of Communication and Negotiations Skills, Thriving and Building Inclusion in STEM, Building and Presenting Physics Demonstrations, Applying to Graduate School, and Networking and Job Searching Using LinkedIn. Students completed the workshops feeling more prepared to take on their future careers as physicists. “I had been doubting if physics was the right path for me, but after attending CUWiP, I cannot see myself doing anything else.” These words by one student were echoed in the expressions of many other attendees, who reported that they felt more excited and prepared to continue with careers in physics.

After the workshops, attendees were able to visit some of UMD’s exceptional laboratories and research groups. Not only were they able to see exceptional facilities, but the tours also offered the opportunities to hear about graduate school first-hand from current graduate researchers and speak with professors whose research they may pursue when applying to graduate school. The conference concluded with a final lunch. As the meeting ended, these young female physicists took their time to leave, saying goodbyes, taking pictures, exchanging numbers. This is the lasting impact of attending a CUWiP - joining a community of successful female physicists who support and empower one another. As one attendee so perfectly summarized, “CUWiP made me proud to be a Woman in Physics.”


Amber McCreary, a postdoctoral researcher at NIST who assisted in organizing this year’s conference, was also active in planning a Penn State CUWiP while a student. In NIST’s Taking Measure/Just a Standard Blog, she described some of her experiences as a woman in physics and gave a detailed account of January’s UMD-NIST CUWiP. Read Amber’s perspective here: https://www.nist.gov/blogs/taking-measure/conference-undergraduate-women-physics-leveling-playing-field

Robert Lee Park, 1931 - 2020

Bob Park, a Professor Emeritus who was an author and outspoken advocate for science and rational thought, died on April 29, 2020. He was 89.

Park was born in Kansas City, Missouri and intended to pursue a career in law. When the Korean War intervened, his service as an electronics officer in the Air Force ignited a passion for physics. He enrolled in the University of Texas in 1956 and earned a BS in Physics in 1958 with High Honors. He stayed in Austin for a master’s degree and then accepted an Edgar Lewis Marston Fellowship at Brown University. He earned his Ph.D.  in physics in 1964.

He worked during the next decade for Sandia Laboratories before joining UMD in 1974. He served as Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1978-1982.   In 1983, he opened a Washington office for the American Physical Society, and divided his time between the University and the APS until 2003. He retired in 2008, but continued writing an online column, What’s New, in which he deplored fallacies, particularly those allowed to affect public policy.

He wrote two books, Voodoo Science: the Road from Foolishness to Fraud and Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science and features in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. Park received the 1998 Joseph A. Burton Award of the American Physical Society for informing the public about physics and the 2008 Philip J. Klass Award of the National Capital Area Skeptics for promoting critical thinking. He often criticized the manned space program as risky and expensive, and repeatedly warned of overpopulation of this planet.

He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the American Vacuum Society.  

Park was nearing age 70 when, while jogging on a calm Sunday, he was nearly crushed when an oak tree toppled. As described in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

A pair of priests who happened upon him lying unconscious under the tree administered last rites, he later found out.

….a strange coincidence….took place the day he returned to the scene of his accident a year later.

"The story gets even more unbelievable," he said. He went to the exact place where he was struck, he said, and as he passed the broken-off trunk of the tree that nearly killed him, he passed two elderly men walking. "You know that tree fell on a guy last year," one of them said.

When Park said he was that man, one of the two began to tear up. It turned out they were the priests who found Park pinned under the tree and gave him last rites. They decided to throw him a champagne party to celebrate his survival.

Park is survived by his wife Gerry and sons Robert Jr. and Daniel.  The family asks that any memorial donations be directed to the Department of Physics: https://giving.umd.edu/giving/fund.php?name=physics-department-operating-fund


Vladimir Manucharyan Receives Second Google Faculty Research Award

Associate Professor Vladimir Manucharyan has received a Google Faculty Research Award. It is the second consecutive year that Manucharyan, who is also a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, and a member of the Quantum Materials Center, has earned the honor.

This year’s award will continue to support research by Manucharyan and his team into quantum computing hardware based on superconducting circuits. They are pursuing the development of special quantum bits—called fluxonium qubits—for use in a new generation of computers.

The Google Faculty Research Awards support research in diverse areas, such as health, human-computer interaction and quantum computing, with an unrestricted financial gift. According to Google’s announcement, the proposals are judged for merit and innovation as well as a connection to Google’s products, services and overall research philosophy. They selected only 150 of the 917 proposed projects to receive funding.

The technology being developed by Manucharyan’s team is not only of interest to companies like Google that are working to develop the next generation of quantum computing hardware; it also offers a chance to explore new physics. Successfully creating devices from many qubits may open the door to simulations that will elucidate quantum phenomena in systems like complex molecules, magnets and impurities in materials.

Story by Bailey Bedford: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Original story: https://jqi.umd.edu/news/manucharyan-receives-second-consecutive-google-faculty-research-award