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:


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.

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Jarzynski Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Distinguished University Professor Chris Jarzynski has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Jarzynski is one of 120 new members and 26 international members elected in 2020, joining a select group of 2,403 scientists around the country—16 of whom hail from UMD's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences—recognized for their influential research and elected by their peers.

"I feel honored to have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and I am truly grateful for the support that I have received from colleagues, staff and students since I came to Maryland,” Jarzynski said.

Jarzynski is a statistical physicist and theoretical chemist who models the random motions of atoms and molecules using mathematics and statistics. Working at the boundary between chemistry and physics, Jarzynski studies how the laws of thermodynamics—originally developed to describe the operation of steam engines—apply to complex microscopic systems such as living cells and artificial nanoscale machines.

“Chris Jarzynski has effectively opened up a new field in statistical physics. Now, with precision, one can apply statistical mechanics not only to equilibrium states, but also to finite rate processes that carry a system from one state to another,” Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of IPST and National Academy of Sciences member Michael E. Fisher told Europhysics News in 2011. 

Jarzynski is well known for developing an equation to express the second law of thermodynamics for systems at the molecular scale. The equation is known as the Jarzynski equality. Published in the journal Physical Review Letters in 1997, the paper that introduced his equation has been cited in scientific literature more than 4,000 times.

When the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded for inventions in laser physics, the Nobel Committee cited testing the Jarzynski equality as an application of one of the winning inventions—optical tweezers. Optical tweezers use laser beams to manipulate extremely small objects such as biological molecules.

More recently, Jarzynski’s research has led to a new method for measuring “free energy”—the energy available to any system to perform useful work—in extremely small systems. This research is fundamental to new technologies and may lay the foundation for development of molecular- and quantum-scale machines.

A Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Jarzynski received a 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship, 2020 Simons Fellowship and the APS’ 2019 Lars Onsager Prize, which recognizes outstanding research in theoretical statistical physics. He was also awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in the Physical Sciences. He serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment and is an associate editor for the Journal of Statistical Physics.

Jarzynski earned his B.A. in physics from Princeton University and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. After a postdoctoral appointment at the Institute for Nuclear Theory in Seattle, he spent 10 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has been on the faculty of the University of Maryland since 2006.


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Grad Students' Theses Honored

Christopher Eckberg has received the Charles A. Caramello Distinguished Dissertation Award from the University of Maryland Graduate School.Eckberg CChris Eckberg

The Caramello Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes original work that makes an unusually significant contribution to the discipline. Eckberg’s thesis, Superconducting Enhancement in a Tunable Electronic Nematic System, was selected by a multi-disciplinary campus committee chaired by Professor Patricia Alexander from the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology.  The prize carries an honorarium of $1,000.

Eckberg worked with Johnpierre Paglione of the Quantum Materials Center. After his graduation from UMD, Eckberg joined the Kang Wang group in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UCLA.

young jeremy jqiJeremy Young

Jeremy Young was cited with an Honorable Mention in the competition for his thesis, Nonequilibrium Dynamics in Open Quantum Systems. Young worked with Alexey Gorshkov of the Joint Quantum Institute, and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the JQI.

Plotting the Future of Particle Physics Research

Three University of Maryland researchers have been elected co-conveners of topical groups that will help determine the future of particle physics research.  

The Snowmass Process is organized by the Division of Particles and Fields (DPF) of the American Physical Society. Snowmass facilitates discussion among high energy physicists for review by the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5), which will identify and prioritize the most valuable areas of particle physics study in the years to come. The last P5 report was issued in May, 2014.

Associate Professor Alberto Belloni was named co-convener for the electroweak precision physics and constraining physics subgroup of the energy frontier group.  Because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principal, precise measurements of the known particles and their properties can reveal the presence of heavy as-of-yet undiscovered particles.  Measurements of this type foretold both the discovery of the top quark and the Higgs boson. Belloni has held various leadership appointments at the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at CERN. He joined UMD in 2013.

Also in the energy frontier group, Zhen Liu was named co-convener for the more general explorations of Beyond the Standard Model physics. Such studies are key to understanding the discovery potential of proposed future particle colliders. Liu is a postdoctoral researcher at the Maryland Center for Fundamental Physics (MCFP). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 2015.

In the theory frontier group, Assistant Professor Zohreh Davoudi was elected co-convener of the lattice gauge theory discussion. Davoudi joined UMD in 2017 and has since received an Early Career Award from the Department of Energy, a Sloan Research Award and the Ken Wilson Award. She is also a member of MCFP.

Alumna Mirjam Cvetic (Ph.D., ’84) serves on the DPF Executive Committee and Snowmass 2021 Advisory Group. Haibo Yu (Ph.D., ‘07) is a co-convener in dark matter astronomy probes and Ira Rothstein (Ph.D., ’92) will work on effective field theory techniques.