Sarah Antonsson attends Penn State Open House

In October 2015, Pennsylvania State University hosted the STEM Open House, a program which invites underrepresented junior and senior undergraduates with strong academic records and research proposals to visit the campus, explore the graduate and research opportunities there. Applicants submitted transcripts, personal statements, letters of recommendation, and research area interests. Finalists were brought to Penn State for the Open House weekend with all travel expenses covered.
Sarah’s Report:
The weekend was a busy one, with individualized schedules jam-packed with presentations, meetings, and panel discussions. Even meal times were occupied by informative sessions. Visiting students were encouraged to ask questions at all times, including via anonymous notes.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Penn State and found the program extremely informative. The chilly weather was a welcoming break in this all-too-long summer we have had in Stockton. During the morning of the first day, I had the opportunity to meet privately with two professors of the Acoustics department and one professor from the Materials Research Institute, and received tours of both facilities. In the afternoon, I met with some of the Physics department faculty, along with other prospective Physics PhD students, and got to see a laser-cooling setup during our tour of the facilities. Before I left on Sunday, I was able to meet with the materials science professor again, Prof. Mike Lanagan, and two of his PhD students for lunch. There, I learned about the students’ perspective of life at Penn State and in the department of Materials Science.
Despite the long and busy days scheduled for the visiting students, we still had the opportunity to explore the area on our own and get to know each other. I attended the Penn State orchestra concert on Friday night, at which I was able to meet a few of the school’s French horn players. Being a horn player myself, they were excited that I would join them in performances, if I attend Penn State next year. On Saturday night, I ventured off campus with a few other visiting students to a bar recommended by Dr. Flohic, called Zeno’s Pub. There, we found some peace and quiet while every other bar was filled with mobs of people cheering on Penn State’s football team, the Nittany Lions, during their away game against Ohio State.
Overall, the trip was very satisfying. I met many great people (both faculty and visiting students), learned a lot about Penn State and graduate school, and enjoyed seeing the beautiful campus and facilities. In addition to being a good learning opportunity, it served as a nice break from the stresses of day-to-day life in my senior year, here at Pacific.

Talk: Big physics and big computers – Prof. Kieran Holland


  • When: Thursday, Oct. 27
  • When: 4pm
  • Where: Olson 120
  • Who: Prof. Kieran Holland
  • Title: “Big physics and big computers”

For this week’s talk, we have a real treat: our own Prof. Kieran Holland, an expert at making supercomputers solve his knarly quantum field theory equations so he can better understand the Higgs particle. Come here this exciting talk on his research. (AND:  cookies before the talk!)

Here’s the abstract:

The goal of particle physics is to understand the interactions of fundamental objects at the smallest distances we can experimentally probe, and to ultimately answer the question, could the universe have been different. The newest experiment is the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, where the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012. My research is on using computer simulations to test if a particular model explains why the Higgs boson exists, as well as predicting new particles which the experiment should discover if the model is right. My talk will be at a general undergraduate level.

Talk: Doubleheader today–Tabletop Photons and Oddly Shaped Drums

  • When: Thursday, Oct. 15
  • When: 3pm
  • Where: Olson 120
  • Who: Brian Farr (’17) and Robert Ashby (’18)
  • Title: “Playing with photons on the tabletop / Hearing the shape of a drum”

Two of our students (sophomore Robert Ashby and junior Brian Farr) are beginning their research projects. Come learn about what they have been doing and their ambitious plans with their projects.

Pacific Physics alum’s article – cover story of Physics Today!


In a previous blog post we congratulated our alum, David Pace (B.S. Physics 2002) for receiving the prestigious Landau-Spitzer Award given by the American Physical Society (APS) for his contributions to understanding the physics of plasmas and fusion.

Now Dr. Pace’s article, written with Drs. William W. Heidbrink and Michael A, Van Zeeland titled Keeping fusion plasmas hot is the feature story appearing on the October 2015 cover of Physics Today, the monthly professional journal of the APS. Pacific students and others on campus can access the article by clicking the title link above. Access is free through our library’s subscription when accessing the article from a computer on campus.

David is the first author of the article, which is about understanding the very complex interactions of plasma particles with the strong electromagnetic fields and waves inside the toroidal (bagel-shaped) fusion reactor, called a Tokamak. In the fusion reactions of deuterium and tritium, high energy alpha particles are produced which heat the plasma and help to maintain thermonuclear temperatures required for a self-sustained reactor. However, as the plasma heats, energetic ions can leak from the “magnetic bottle“, which can lower the reaction yield, ablate material from the tokamak walls polluting the plasma, and even damage the reactor vessel.

The article in Physics Today reviews David’s and his collaborator’s work on understanding these complex wave-particle dynamics that will help researchers better control this energy loss mechanism in reactors such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) currently under construction in the south of France. In fact, if you visit ITER’s website, David’s article is featured as one of the rotating header images/links for the international project.

Wow! Cover of Physics Today   AND   the top of the ITER webpage!  

Congratulations Dr. David Pace  from all of us here at UoP!

I expect it won’t be long before David’s picture is on the “cover of the Rolling Stone”.
(for my students, that’s a reference to a 70’s song by Dr. Hook, from when I was your age)


Monthly Physics Social – Tuesday Oct 6 @ 3pm

Hey Everyone!

Tuesday, Oct. 6, is the monthly Physics Social, where Physics and Engineering-Physics majors and minors get together with faculty and eat homemade treats, talk about news and issues, and hope to win the raffle prize.

Physics Dept. T-Shirt
The retiring Physics Department T-Shirt. The new winning design could be yours!!

On Tuesday’s agenda:

  • Time for the New Physics Department T-Shirt Design Contest !!!

Learn the details and get your Picasso on.
The winner will receive a cool prize, the admiration of your besties, and divine mathematical inspiration while taking the GRE.
Ok. Well, the first two for sure.

  • Notebooks are here.


Last time we took orders for gorgeous Moleskin notebooks so you can keep all your project plans, back-of-the-envelope calculations, geek poetry, and time machine designs in one place. Get used to carrying it with you and writing notes to your future self.

  • Talks

Learn about the upcoming weekly talks for majors. Recent talks have included talks on 3D Printing and Arduinos by Chris Vincent (Physics 2014) and on Getting a job with the UN Office of Space Affairs (Therese Jones).

  • Drone Video of F=ma

If enough people show up, we will walk to the DUC lawn and make our drone video of the human F=ma

See you at  3:00pm Tuesday Oct. 6, in Olson 105.


Talk: Experimental Engineering (Arduinos and 3D Printing in Physics)

  • When: Tuesday September 29
  • When: 4pm
  • Where: Olson 120
  • Who: Chris Vincent (UOP ’15)
  • Title: Experimental Engineering

Chris will tell us about the engineering and research projects he was involved in over the summer.



Over the summer of 2015, Chris Vincent developed and honed skills in programming, prototyping, and the integration of experimental apparatuses. He worked on building an intensity controller for an alignment laser, a digital scale to measure the amount of N2 in a dewar, a scrolling LED sign to signify that the pump laser was in use, and a system to measure atmospheric data at various altitudes. To accomplish these tasks, he developed skills in programming for Arduino, including communications with external parts, such as potentiometers, load sensors, and LED matrices. Also, he honed 3D modeling and printing skills to create housings for the apparatuses. The ability to build and integrate experimental gear can be the factor to make or brake the completion of the experiment.

Pacific Physics alum David Pace (2002) recognized for contributions to fusion research

Dr. David Pace

Pacific Physics alum David Pace was awarded the prestigious American Physical Society‘s 2014 Landau-Spitzer Award for his contributions to understanding the physics of nuclear fusion.

David completed his B.S. degree in Physics at the University of the Pacific in 2002. His desire to study nuclear fusion developed following his participation in a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in 2001 at the National Spherical Torus Experiment, run by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where a mega-Ampere current run inspired his excitement for tokamak research.

He went on to earn a Ph.D. in experimental plasma physics at UCLA, working at the Large Plasma Device Laboratory there. With teams at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility through the University of California, Irvine, and at the Alcator C-Mod National Tokamak Facility, Dr. Pace helped commission fast ion loss detector diagnostic systems, leading to new studies of loss mechanisms through wave-particle interactions. He is a U.S. member of the International Tokamak Physics Activity Energetic Particles Topical Group, and leader of the United States Burning Plasma Organization Energetic Particles Group. He is presently a staff scientist with General Atomics and continues to engage in energetic ion research topics anticipated to influence the operation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

The Landua-Spitzer Award specifically recognizes

an individual or group of researchers not exceeding three, for outstanding theoretical, experimental or technical contribution(s) in plasma physics, and for advancing the collaboration and unity between the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA) by joint research, or research that advances knowledge which benefits the EU and USA communities in a unique way.

The Award consists of a $4000 honorarium and a certificate citing the contribution made by the recipient. The citation for Dr. Pace reads:

For greater understanding of energetic particle transport in tokamaks through collaborative research

Congratulations David!

To learn more check out the links in the text above,  especially

  • the ITER project site to learn more about the international project to build a nuclear fusion reactor, and
  • this article, “A Star in a Bottle” in The New Yorker magazine