Ana Maria Rey to Speak at Graduate Commencement Ceremony

For Ana Maria Rey (Ph.D. ’04, physics), the path to a highly successful career as a theoretical physicist and researcher began more than three decades ago in her home country of Colombia, with an inspiring high school physics teacher, the brilliance of Isaac Newton and her own boundless curiosity.

Ana Maria Rey.  Courtesy of same.Ana Maria Rey. Courtesy of same. Ana Maria Rey. Photo courtesy of same. Click image to download hi-res version.

I had a physics teacher in high school, and he was amazing, he taught me about Newton’s laws of motion,” Rey recalled. “I was so excited that I could write an equation and predict the behavior of objects that I kept asking him to give me books so I could keep working and solve more problems because it was all so interesting to me.”

A few years later, after Rey earned her bachelor’s degree in physics in Colombia and began her Ph.D. in physics at the University of Maryland, her future as a scientist began to come into sharper focus. Thanks to a game-changing connection with Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Nobel laureate William Phillips, Rey charted a course toward breakthrough research in atomic and molecular physics and laid the groundwork for a fruitful collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), one that is still going strong today.

“For me, NIST and the University of Maryland are just blended. I can’t separate them because they’re so connected,” Rey explained. “UMD gave me a strong foundation, all my research experience, the collaboration experience, everything I learned about how I should talk to experimentalists was thanks to the University of Maryland/NIST partnership. My research was going on at NIST but this only could happen because I was at UMD, so I think when I decided to go to the University of Maryland it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Currently an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, Rey has been a NIST Fellow since 2017 and a Fellow of JILA, the joint physics institute of CU Boulder and NIST, since 2012. She has earned a host of prestigious awards including a MacArthur Fellowship and the 2014 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. In 2019, Rey became the first Hispanic woman to win the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists, and in 2023 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest professional honors for a scientist.   

A big, big honor

In May 2024, nearly 20 years after earning her Ph.D., Rey will return to Maryland—a place that is still very close to her heart—to deliver the keynote speech at the Graduate Commencement Ceremony for UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. She’s honored and humbled by the invitation.

“It’s a big, big honor. For me it was really special to feel that a university that has been so important in my career, to determining who I am, has asked me to give a speech like this,” Rey said. “I feel like inspiring students is one of my biggest roles and that’s why I find so touching the possibility to give the commencement speech because maybe this is a way I can tell them how I feel and try to encourage them to make the most of their future.”

A Nobel Prize-winning inspiration

When Rey began her graduate work at UMD she planned to pursue research in plasma physics—that is, until she attended an inspiring lecture by Phillips about his pioneering work with atoms and lasers.

“I heard Bill’s talk about how he was cooling atoms with light, and I found it fascinating. He was fantastic.  I approached my plasma physics advisor Adil Hasam afterward and I told him, ‘I feel that this is the direction that I want to pursue’ and he was totally supportive,” Rey recalled. “He encouraged me to reach out to Charles Clark, who at that time was the chief of the electron optical physics division at NIST and that is what I did.  Charles was very welcoming and told me that I could start working on ultra-cold atoms trapped in periodic potentials using lasers. That is how my Ph.D. adventure started.”

From then on, Rey’s research efforts really took off. At UMD and NIST and later at JILA, her work has focused on atomic, molecular and optical physics as well as condensed matter physics and quantum information science, setting the stage for one of her proudest achievements—her contribution to the most accurate atomic clock ever created.

“My goal is to try to understand the deepest secrets of the universe and try to use them for something useful,” Rey explained. “Understanding the collisions with these atoms has allowed us to create a clock that is really one of the best timekeepers that we have ever been able to construct, and we can now predict that they offer many other, unique possibilities.”

“You need to be excited”

A leading researcher in the Quantum Systems Accelerator, Rey has published more than 200 papers. And, after more than two decades of research, she’s still as motivated and excited about her work as she was the day it all began.

“As a scientist, you have to work a lot to make progress, so you absolutely need to be excited,” Rey explained. “I love it. Every day I’m surrounded by so many exciting experiments and so many things that I need to learn and understand. And every time that I learn something new, it really makes my day.”

Rey hopes she can share that excitement when she speaks to students and their families at the CMNS Graduate Commencement Ceremony in May. Her goal is to inspire the next generation of scientists to create success stories of their own.

“I would like to serve as a role model the way others have done for me,” Rey said. “If I am able to inspire new generations to become physicists, to advance science and do better, that’s one of my great ambitions, and it would be a great honor to feel that I’m doing that. So, my message to them is you have now in your hands the possibility to make a change in the world, so use all the knowledge that you’ve acquired to make that happen.“


Charles Tahan Brings His Research Expertise to Thriving UMD Quantum Enterprise

Charles Tahan, who recently stepped down as director of the National Quantum Coordination Office (NQCO), is now bringing his expertise as a quantum physicist and a leader in the quantum research community to the University of Maryland. After leaving NQCO this month, he is taking on new roles at UMD as a visiting research professor in physics and a special advisor to President Darryll J. Pines and Vice President for Research Gregory F. Ball.Charles Tahan in 2022 speaking at QIS Program Day, which is an annual gathering of quantum leaders from across the US Government.  Credit: National Quantum Coordination OfficeCharles Tahan in 2022 speaking at QIS Program Day, which is an annual gathering of quantum leaders from across the US Government. Credit: National Quantum Coordination Office

Tahan served as the director of NQCO beginning in 2020, and before that, he was the founder and director of the Laboratory for Physical Sciences Qubit Collaboratory—a national research center. It serves as a collaborative hub for academia, industry and government research on quantum information processing and associated technologies.

Tahan also leads a quantum information research group that studies topics like various device designs for storing qubits—the basic information building blocks of a quantum computer. In his new role as a special advisor, he will provide recommendations to guide UMD’s efforts in cutting-edge quantum research and transitioning quantum capabilities from the lab to use. Today, there are more than 200 scientists and engineers at UMD exploring topics related to quantum science and technology. The university is a leading member of the Mid-Atlantic Quantum Alliance and is home to the Quantum Startup Foundry and eight centers and institutes dedicated to quantum research.

“As Special Advisor to President Pines and VP for Research Gregory Ball, over the coming months I will help UMD further develop their quantum strategy,” Tahan says. “I will also continue working with my research group as a visiting research professor in the physics department. This aligns really well with my desire to be a physicist and continue to build the quantum community in the DC region, nationally and internationally.”

Story by Bailey Bedford

Sullivan Named Distinguished Scholar-Teacher

Professor Greg Sullivan has been named a University of Maryland Distinguished Scholar-Teacher. The Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Program, established in 1978, honors a small number of faculty members each year who have demonstrated notable success in both scholarship and teaching.

Sullivan received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and did postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago before joining the UMD faculty. His research interests span high energy physics and astrophysics.

“Greg very much deserves this recognition,” said Physics chair Steve Rolston. “In his remarkable career, he has won a triple crown, as a key player in three tremendously important findings. And he has always been a superb mentor and fantastic classroom teacher.”

Early in his career, Sullivan was a major contributor to the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF), one of two experiments that made the momentous 1995 discovery of the top quark, a subatomic particle whose existence was predicted by the Standard Model. The finding was so significant that decades later, it continues to merit high acclaim, including the 2019 Particle Physics Prize of the European Physical Society.Sullivan (right) at work in AntarcticaSullivan (right) at work in Antarctica

As a UMD assistant professor, Sullivan joined the Super-Kamiokande experiment in Japan, which started operation in 1996 and in 1998 announced the first evidence that neutrinos—the lightest subatomic particles, long believe to be massless—do indeed have mass. This was an enormous reversal of accepted wisdom.  So important is the realization of neutrino mass that the Principal Investigator of the Super-Kamiokande experiment received the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics and the collaboration was honored with the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Physics.

Sullivan at the South PoleSullivan at the South PoleFollowing the Super-Kamiokande success, Sullivan turned to a scientific and engineering marvel: the cosmic neutrino-seeking IceCube experiment at the South Pole. Painstakingly, in a near-decade-long effort in frigid conditions, scientists drilled 86 1.5 mile-deep holes in the pristine Antarctic ice and equipped them with ultra-sensitive detectors, creating a massive observatory of unprecedented volume.  Sullivan was deeply involved in planning IceCube and was elected to the crucial position of Spokesperson (chief scientist) as it began operation. In two years, the collaboration published the first observation of cosmic neutrinos. Physics World named this feat the 2013 Breakthrough of the Year.  The discoveries continue; just months ago, IceCube announced detection of neutrinos from our Milky Way galaxy. And IceCube will continue to play a very important role in the evolving world of multimessenger astronomy, the collaborative effort to turn varied earth and space-based telescopes in unison to track emergent cosmic phenomena.

Sullivan has served as the thesis advisor for 17 students. He was the department’s Associate chair for Graduate Education from 2006-09. More recently, he has served as co-chair of our department’s Quantum Education Committee.

He will give a Distinguished Scholar-Teacher lecture in the fall 2024 semester.

Jamie Raskin to Give Milchberg Lecture on March 28

Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland’s 8th Congressional District will give the fourth Irving and Renee Milchberg Endowed Lecture on Thursday, March 28 at 1 p.m. in the lecture hall (1412) of the John S. Toll Physics Building. Rep. Raskin will discuss Democracy, Autocracy and the Threat to Reason in the 21st Century.

University of Maryland Professor of Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering Howard Milchberg, his wife Rena, and their three children Moses, Mollie, and Max, established the lecture in memory of Howard's late parents, Renee and Irving Milchberg. Renee and Irving were witnesses to and victims of what can happen to society when ideology and lies are accepted in lieu of facts.

The talk is free and open to the public. Please register:

Rep. Raskin is serving his fourth term representing the eighth district, which includes most of Montgomery County and a small part of Prince George's County.  He is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability in the 118th Congress. 

Rep. Jamie RaskinRep. Jamie Raskin

Previously Rep. Raskin served three terms on the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on House Administration. He served two terms on the Rules Committee and the Coronavirus Select Subcommittee. During the 117th Congress he served as Chair of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Chair of the Rules Subcommittee on Expedited Procedure. Rep. Raskin was the lead impeachment manager in the second impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump and served on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

Prior to his time in Congress, Raskin was a three-term State Senator in Maryland, where he also served as the Senate Majority Whip. Congressman Raskin is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School and is a former editor of the Harvard Law Review. He is the author of Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy.

 Irving and Renee Milchberg Endowed Lecture Speakers:

2024:  Congressman Jamie Raskin, "Democracy, Autocracy and the Threat to Reason in the 21st Century"
2023: Jonathan Moreno, University of Pennsylvania, "Bioethics and the Rules-Based International Order"  
2021: James Glanz, reporter for the New York Times, "The Public Relations Machine in Science: A Self-Inflicted Wound?"
2019: Susan Eisenhower, President and CEO of the Eisenhower Institute, "Lessons from 1945: Ethics, the War in Europe, and its Enduring Legacy"