The Extraordinary Adventures of Lifelong Terp Jordan Goodman

Last summer, shortly after arriving at the cosmic ray observatory he oversees in Mexico, Jordan Goodman stepped outside to check on some equipment. No sooner had he seen the snow-covered peaks of Pico de Orizaba towering in the distance than he forgot the task at hand. Goodman knew from experience that his blood oxygen level was low, and his brain wasn’t working at full capacity, so he abruptly went back inside to write down what he was supposed to do. 

“You feel fine, but you’re really not functioning right,” said Goodman (B.S. ’73, M.S. ’75, Ph.D. ’78, physics), a Distinguished University Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland who conceived of and oversaw the building of the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory (HAWC).

Nestled in the shadow of North America’s third highest mountain, HAWC is an array of 300 50,000-gallon water tanks located 13,450 feet above sea level. When working at that extreme altitude, scientists must give their bodies time to adjust.Jordan Goodman at the South PoleJordan Goodman at the South Pole

“From the first trip to Mexico scouting out locations for HAWC in 2006, we learned pretty quickly not to make important decisions in the first few days,” Goodman recalled. 

Among the other important travel tips he has picked up over the years: While working in a Japanese mine, remember to exchange your steel-toed boots for slippers before entering an office; and don’t ignore the recommendation to bring hand lotion to Antarctica—it really is the driest place on Earth. 

“I have definitely been to some interesting and exotic places,” Goodman said. “I tell my students being a professor is like living the life of Indiana Jones. I’ve been to all seven continents for research and conferences, including places most people never get to go.” 

Goodman is one of the founders of the field of particle astrophysics. His work plays an important role in the emerging field known as multi-messenger astronomy, which seeks to understand the universe by probing signals from light, cosmic rays and gravity waves. 

The Quest for Signals from Space

For the past five decades, Goodman has been on a quest to detect cosmic rays bombarding Earth from space and trace them to their source. Cosmic rays are believed to originate from galactic bodies such as stars and supernovae. Cosmic rays consist of charged particles traveling through space at nearly the speed of light and gamma rays, which are extremely high-energy photons. When these particles reach Earth and collide with air molecules in the atmosphere, they create a cascade of secondary particles—electrons, positrons and sometimes protons that multiply and spread out until they hit the ground. 

By studying the composition, shape and arrival direction of this shower of secondary particles, scientists infer information about the primary particles that produced them and their origin.

The highest energy cosmic rays are relatively rare, and the secondary particle showers can cover wide swaths of land. As a result, the detectors scientists use to study them span acres. In addition, cosmic ray detectors work better in some of the most inconvenient places, like high in the mountains where air shower particles can be observed more clearly.

Undeterred by the challenges of building enormous detectors in remote locations, Goodman has led a number of ambitious experiments. He built the first high-energy cosmic ray detector experiment at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1986. From that experiment, he learned that submerging the detectors in water—using above-ground, backyard pools—dramatically increased their sensitivity. That led him to embark on a 10-year project to transform a football-field sized pond in New Mexico into the Milagro gamma ray detector. It was the first wide-field gamma ray detector that was sensitive enough to not only detect cosmic rays, but to trace them to their source. 

Not long after Milagro started producing data, Goodman turned his attention to building the next-generation water detector, HAWC. An order of magnitude more sensitive than Milagro, HAWC has revealed more than a dozen new sources of cosmic rays.

In addition to searching for cosmic rays, Goodman also helped develop a neutrino detector in Japan called the Super-Kamiokande (Super-K). Buried in a mine 3,300 feet below ground, Super-K showed, for the first time, that neutrinos oscillate between three different masses. The principal investigator for Super-K won the Nobel Prize in 2015 for that work, and Goodman was among the researchers awarded the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for Super-K discoveries. 

Goodman also worked on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a cubic-kilometer detector buried beneath the South Pole. IceCube has detected extraterrestrial neutrinos and likely identified the first point source of high-energy neutrinos. 

A Terp for Life

Goodman’s research has spanned the globe, but his home base has always been the UMD Department of Physics.

“I like to say I have held every academic position here from freshman to Distinguished University Professor,” Goodman said. 

A Terp through-and-through, Goodman also chaired the physics department from 1999 to 2006 and chaired the University Senate in 2016-17. He is the longest serving member of the Alumni Association’s Board of Governors and has served on the University of Maryland College Park Foundation’s Board of Trustees. 

A native of Washington, D.C., Goodman was a child of the Apollo space exploration era and grew up with an interest in space, but he wasn’t sure what career path he wanted to follow. During Goodman’s sophomore year, Physics Professor Gaurang Yodh (1928–2019) invited him to work in his lab, which was investigating high-energy cosmic rays. Goodman began writing computer code for the team, and two years later he was still working in Yodh’s lab and committed to pursuing astrophysics in graduate school at Maryland.

“I stayed at Maryland in part because I had a girlfriend who was here, and in part because it was a great program,” Goodman recalled. “It was the largest physics department in the country. Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, there weren't very many nationally top-ranked programs at the University of Maryland, but our physics department was one of them.”

His girlfriend, Carole Chansky (B.A. ’73, art education; M.A. ’78, secondary education), would eventually become his wife and mother to their two children. Together, the family has nine degrees from UMD: eight from College Park and one from the medical school. Two Terps: Jordan Goodman on the right.Two Terps: Jordan Goodman is on the right.

Having arrived at UMD as a freshman in 1969, Goodman said he can’t help but feel the parallels with his students of today. He met Chansky while photographing anti-war protests on campus as National Guard troops were marching up Baltimore Avenue. Goodman and Chansky were pepper sprayed that day, and he laments that many of the issues on their minds then remain unresolved today.

“The good thing is, people are once again engaged and active,” he said. “But we haven’t done enough to make a difference in this country. We have to do more, and we have to do better.” 

Goodman understands that the challenges are large and the work ahead is long term, but he said he is encouraged by the global interest in moving the needle on social justice issues. And he knows from experience that big challenges are often junctures for opportunity. 

Trial, Error and Perseverance

Goodman’s first big project ended in failure. It was his Ph.D. research.

“I was working with Goddard Space Flight Center to build a balloon experiment for measuring primary cosmic rays,” Goodman recalled. “I worked with them to build the detectors and all the equipment. This thing was going to be the heaviest balloon payload NASA had ever launched.”

Intended to rise 120,000 feet into the atmosphere, the balloon failed at 60,000 feet, leading to a NASA moratorium on heavy payload balloons. Needing a rapid shift, Goodman turned to an experiment in the mountains of New Mexico that he had been working on analyzing with Yodh. 

“You know, a lot of times in physics the biggest, most important discoveries you make are not the things you set out to look for,” he said. “We were looking for new high-energy particles entering the atmosphere behind cosmic rays. But what we were seeing was a lot of low-energy particles, and I wanted to know why.” 

At the time, scientists believed cosmic rays were composed of primarily lightweight particles, such as protons, but Goodman discovered that the low-energy particles Yodh’s team observed were produced by heavy primary particles, including iron. This discovery became the basis of his Ph.D. research. It took many years for other researchers to confirm and validate his findings, but that work helped set the trajectory of Goodman’s career and eventually led him to Mexico to build HAWC.

“One of the most exciting things for me has been that HAWC has actually sort of revolutionized our view of a lot of the stuff in the sky,” he said. “We've discovered new classes of objects that no one had really seen before. And now the community realizes that there should be another detector in the Southern Hemisphere.”

With an international effort now underway to build the Southern Wide-field Gamma-ray Observatory in South America, Goodman said it is satisfying to see the scientific community moving forward with ideas he spearheaded so many years ago.  

“My job has afforded me the chance to really pursue what I’m passionate about, and it has been rewarding on so many levels: the science, of course, but also the travel has meshed well with my other passions in art, photography, hiking and skiing,” Goodman said. “Not to mention teaching. I love to teach.” 

Goodman’s passion for education shines through in the multiple awards he has received, including the Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Award, the Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award and the American Physical Society’s Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award, among others. 

“I’m looking forward to teaching Physics 105: ‘A Global Challenge: Energy and Climate Change,’ this fall,” he said. “It’s going to be different this year, with so much being done online, but that’s OK, I’m good with technology.” 

And his 51 years at UMD have taught him that another adventure is always just around the corner. 


Written by Kimbra Cutlip

In Memoriam

It is with much sadness that the Department of Physics announces the passing of several members of our community.

  • David Falk (1932–2020) was a professor emeritus who made multitudinous contributions to the department, senate and entire campus in his years at UMD. More
  • Arnold Glick (1931–2020) was a condensed matter theorist, artist, folk dancer and active citizen in Greenbelt. More 
  • Gloria Becker Lubkin (1933–2020) was a visiting senior research scholar and a former editor of Physics Today. More
  • Phillip Warren Mange (1925–2020) was a Naval Research Lab physicist and Slawsky Clinic tutor.  More
  • Bob Park (1931–2020) was a solid state physicist, author, former department chair, and forceful voice for science and rationality. More
  • Gregory Ruchti (1980–2019) received his B.S. in 2003 and was a data scientist at Veracity Forecasting and Analysis in Alexandria, Va. 
  • Akash Jani “AJ” Shah (1997–2020), a biology major and aspiring doctor who worked as a technician on the Physics helpdesk, died in an accident while vacationing in Puerto Rico on spring break. 
  • Lila Snow (1927–2020) was an accomplished artist and the founder of the George A. Snow Award. More
  • Lincoln Arthur Watkins (1927–2020) received his B.S. in 1951 after serving in the Navy during World War II. He designed hovering missile compensation systems for submarines at Electric Boat until he retired in 1992.
  • Leepo Cheng Yu (1939–2020) received her Ph.D. in 1969, spent her career at the NIH and retired as a section chief in its muscle biology laboratory. Dr. Yu established the Elliott W. Montroll Fund to support undergraduate physics students. More

Neural Networks and Hidden Figures

For physics Ph.D. student Amitava Banerjee, coming to the University of Maryland was a giant step—literally. Banerjee grew up more than 8,000 miles away in Amitava BanerjeeAmitava BanerjeeKolkata, India, with a strong interest in science early on. Both of Banerjee’s parents are physicists, and when he did his undergraduate and master’s work at Presidency University in Kolkata, his own future in physics started coming into focus.

“As I learned more and more, I saw that physics claims it can solve anything in the universe starting from small atoms up to the scale of the full universe and that kind of mission is very, very grand,” Banerjee said. “I feel that if I want to pursue any particular interest, physics will actually help me do that.”

By the time he was ready to begin his doctorate in fall of 2018, Banerjee had done his homework. Though he’d only left India once before, distance was no obstacle. He knew exactly where he wanted to go.

“I was already following the work of many UMD faculty members and I also knew many alumni personally,” Banerjee said. “I felt like I had a connection with them right from the beginning.”

That connection inspired Banerjee and his research, almost from the day he arrived.

“Before coming to UMD I thought that I would be doing work in atomic, molecular and optical physics,” Banerjee recalled. “But I got into working with the Chaos Group led by Professors Edward Ott and Rajarshi Roy and others, and they gave me some problems that I found were too interesting to ignore. So, I started working on them and Professors Ott and Roy became my advisors.”

Now, Banerjee is working to understand real physical systems via computer models made with artificial neural networks that learn to behave like those systems. 

“As of now, we have developed a theoretical framework using machine learning that can tell you how different components of a big system are influencing each other, just by looking at their behavior over time,” Banerjee explained. “Examples of such tasks can be very broad. They include understanding how neurons in the brain are wired together just by observing their firing patterns, or how different genes in some unknown biochemical circuitry turn each other on or off, or understanding how different elements of global climate affect each other only by looking at the weather of several days.”

Banerjee’s hope as he continues to test this framework is that by looking inside neural networks or similar computer models, we may one day be able to better understand, or even predict, useful information about real systems in the physical world.

His research is ongoing, but in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything stopped. Labs were off limits and Banerjee had to improvise, recruiting his housemates—physics classmates and an alumnus, Wrick Sengupta (Ph.D. ’16, physics)—and taking his work in a different direction. In a letter to the online magazine Physics, he described the experience.

“We have been able to uncover connections between concepts in vastly different areas of physics,” Banerjee wrote. “When we are not busy collaborating, we share in the housekeeping and eat free-delivery or buy-one-get-one-free pizzas. It also helps to have a Netflix subscription, a good stock of red wine, and someone who can bake cheesecakes.”

While Banerjee was working from home, his focus shifted to trying to create a simplified model for a certain class of plasmas, often difficult to deal with computationally because of their complex interactions. The idea was to map the plasmas to a very different set of systems.

“These systems have traditionally been employed to describe synchronization in the natural world,” Banerjee said. “You have synchronization all around in nature, like fireflies flashing in concert in the evening or crickets chirping together or frogs croaking. We have very nice analytical theory describing synchronizations and we have simple models predicting the emergence of synchronous behavior as seen in nature, so I tried to map plasmas onto those models in order to get a simplified model of plasmas. We’ve been able to take this stuff to a point where it’s too interesting to discontinue.”

Though science and physics drive Banerjee’s research, he also has a strong creative side. When he missed his mother’s cooking after coming to the U.S., he taught himself how to prepare the traditional dishes he grew up with. 

“When I came here, it was kind of a challenge,” he said. “I took it as a challenge, cooking simple foods like rice and curries, and now I can cook fairly good stuff.”

And although he won’t call himself a photographer, Banerjee’s Instagram account features a colorful patchwork of cellphone images, reflecting the simple beauty he sees around him.

“I like capturing simple things in nature, the little things,” he said.

Banerjee’s creative side is also reflected in one of the studies he’s most proud of. Published in 2019 in the journal Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science, this work used a neural network model of systems to infer their underlying interaction network—in the form of a picture of meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz.

It was Lorenz’s simple model for atmospheric convections, and computer simulations of that model in the ’60s, which eventually led to a paradigmatic system of chaos theory. And they have been applied to model a variety of other systems since then, like lasers and electric circuits. 

In a sense, Banerjee’s research connected the dots.

“In my work, I have a large number of interconnected Lorenz systems and I try to know how they are interacting using a neural network model of the system,” BanerEdward LorenzEdward Lorenzjee explained. “To make things more interesting, we used a pixelated portrait of Edward Lorenz to construct the interaction pattern for the Lorenz systems. So now our task of recovering those interactions is equivalent to the reconstruction of the portrait of Lorenz. You can readily see how well our technique works for this case.”

Banerjee later learned about an untold part of the Lorenz story—a woman named Ellen Fetter did many of the major calculations for Lorenz’s theories but wasn’t recognized for her work until decades later. To honor Fetter, and others like her, Banerjee repeated the process he tested with the Lorenz image, but used Fetter’s picture instead. fetter copy

“Just as we saw in the movie ‘Hidden Figures,’ many women were involved in the huge computations behind major scientific discoveries, but were never recognized,” Banerjee said. “I thought that with an increasing general interest to diversify physics and recognize the hidden faces behind many famous discoveries, now is a good time to tell the stories of underrepresented people through our ongoing research.”

For Banerjee, sharing these stories feels personal, because it is.

“My mother had a Ph.D. in physics but she had to leave academia when I was born,” Banerjee explained. “At those times it was harder, because in India I don’t think that we had really good childcare facilities. Knowing my mother had to quit academia makes me feel like it’s my obligation to make physics more diverse and more welcoming so more people can join us.”

Promoting gender and racial inclusion and equality in physics and all the sciences is as important to Banerjee as his research. Involved in groups like Women in Physics and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, he sees opportunities for change.

“Recently I became interested in working toward making physics more inclusive and also learning about what I should do or should not do to contribute more toward that,” he said.

Where will Banerjee be five years from now? He’s not certain. But he believes with his love for teaching and mentoring, it will probably be somewhere in academia. One thing he knows for sure—he wants to be part of a different kind of future, and not just for physics.

“If you ask people what’s the biggest open problem in physics, they’ll probably tell you it’s quantizing gravity or understanding the nature of dark matter or something like that,” Banerjee said. “But I would say the biggest open question in physics and society at large is how to make us more diverse—because we can’t advance without answering that.”

Written by Leslie Miller

Undergrads Highlight High Energy Physics COVID-19 Relief Efforts

The University of Maryland’s First-Year Innovation & Research Experience (FIRE) program encourages students to delve into research. In one of the FIRE streams, Simulating Particle Detection (SPD), the students explore high-energy physics under the tutelage of Dr. Müge Karagöz, with advising contributions by Prof. Sarah Eno and Associate Prof. Alberto Belloni.  The curriculum focuses on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment of CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is also home to the LHCb experiment; UMD physicists collaborate in both.

The 2020 SPD Summer Scholars were Ojo Akinwale, David Bour, Fred Angelo Garcia, Kevin Liang, Drew Melis, Norman Moon, Joao Pereira and Kate Sturge. While the primary focus of the summer program was assessing the performance of the High-Granularity Calorimeter as part of the CMS detector upgrades, the group also wanted to acknowledge the COVID-19 relief efforts made by CERN personnel and the wider high-energy community. Collaborating remotely, they  produced a video describing such efforts.

Watch the video here:

Goldwater Scholar Scott Moroch Explores Accelerator Physics

Scott Moroch; courtesy of sameScott Moroch

If you’re a student hoping to one day make your mark in the world of scientific research, there are few scholarships more prestigious than the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and research careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics.

Over the last decade, the University of Maryland’s nominations yielded 33 Goldwater Scholarships—the most in the nation—and 13 of those scholarships were awarded to physics majors. 

“It is not surprising that physics has produced more of UMD’s Goldwater Scholars than any other department over the last 10 years,” said Robert Infantino, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. Infantino has led UMD’s Goldwater Scholarship nominating process since 2001. “The deep commitment of our physics faculty members to mentor undergraduates on research projects has helped to transform outstanding students like Scott into researchers who significantly advance physics research even as undergraduates and who become nationally competitive scholars for competitions like the Goldwater Scholarship and NSF graduate fellowships.”<

The physics department’s latest Goldwater Scholar is Scott Moroch, who will use the scholarship to begin taking graduate-level courses at UMD, an opportunity he earned by completing all of his undergraduate requirements ahead of schedule. Moroch plans to graduate in December 2020, a full semester early.

“I was really excited when I learned that I got the scholarship because I feel like I've worked really hard and I’ve participated in a lot of research as an undergraduate,” Moroch said. “It felt very rewarding and it gave me the confidence I needed to feel like I can be a leader in the field of accelerator physics and do more research in the future.”

Moroch has been interested in math and science since he was 13 years old, but he became interested in physics in 7th grade after reading an article about a teenager who built his own nuclear fusion reactor. 

“After reading that article, something clicked and I just had to build one of these machines,” he said. 

Moroch and one of his friends spent the next three years doing research and working on creating their own reactor. Creating the type of reactor they were looking to build—a tabletop fusion device—would cost thousands of dollars, so they had to get creative. Moroch saved all of the money he received as gifts on his birthday and holidays, and he reached out to companies that donated scientific equipment or sold it to him at a discount.

“So many of these companies would normally build equipment used at universities or other research institutions, but they loved the idea that we were doing this project and getting involved at such a young age, so we managed to get a lot of equipment donated to the project,” Moroch said. “It was a huge help.”

By the time Moroch graduated high school, he had completed the nuclear fusion device. But he never entered it into a showcase or science fair. He simply did it for the love of physics.

“Physics started as a hobby for me,” Moroch explained. “Some people like fixing cars or collecting things, and I just like conducting different physics experiments for my own personal fulfillment.”

It was that deep-rooted interest in physics that brought Moroch to UMD. For years, he had been following the work of Timothy Koeth, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics. It was Koeth who brought a cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator that won its inventor the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics, to Maryland ahead of Moroch’s freshman year. 

“Professor Koeth moved the cyclotron from Rutgers University in New Jersey to UMD, and that's actually one of the reasons why I chose to come to Maryland,” Moroch said. “I wanted to work on this machine.”

The beams that cyclotrons produce, while potentially dangerous, accomplish wondrous things—killing cancer cells with extreme precision, for instance, or changing atoms into a different element altogether.

“Research accelerators at universities are pushing the boundaries of physics,” Moroch said. “They get bigger and bigger with higher and higher energies.” 

Now, Moroch is working with Koeth to develop a novel cyclotron storage ring for Lockheed Martin. The company is interested in using the technology for a new class of power supplies for aerospace electric propulsion systems that can carry things into the solar system and beyond.

With initial funding from Lockheed, Moroch showed that a cyclotron design could be effective, but it was unstable. So, the company decided to fund a more ambitious project at UMD—where the instabilities could be factored out. Moroch now leads a significant portion of the research team.

“In the past 20 years, I have mentored several dozen undergraduate researchers, and Scott Moroch is the first that has demonstrated the entire cycle of research and brought in substantial research funds,” Koeth said.

Last summer and fall, Moroch led a team of three undergraduates in assembling and upgrading a low-energy storage ring as part of the project, an accomplishment he is most proud of.

“Making that storage ring operational again was my most rewarding work because it was a real team effort,” Moroch said. “Some of my research projects have been individual projects, so it was exciting to have everyone be involved and play a part.”

Moroch will continue his work with Koeth on the cyclotron after graduation before starting graduate school in fall 2021 to earn his Ph.D. in physics. Once he finishes his graduate studies, he hopes to pursue a career in academia.

“I love doing research and I have loved teaching during the semesters that I have been a teaching assistant,” he said. “It's really rewarding to teach students and see them understand the concepts of accelerators for the first time. Several of these students have gone on to work in our research group, so I've gotten to work alongside them and watch them continue to grow and learn. I definitely think becoming a university professor is my ultimate end goal.”

Written by Chelsea Torres