Physics Lecture Series

Spring 2019 - UHCL Physics and Space Science Seminar Series

UHCL's distinguished Physics Lecture Series takes place every year during the spring semester and includes presentations by world-renowned scientists who speak on a variety of physics and space science topics. These talks are free and open to the public. They are appropriate for anyone, from high school students to practicing scientists, as they expose a general audience to ongoing research in physics and space science.


Monday Evenings at 7 p.m.
Located in the STEM Building, Room 1203

Register Online


Each session takes place in conjunction with the Research Project and Seminar (PHYS 6838) and the Modern Physics Research Seminar (PHYS 4372).

University credit is available for the series in two ways. Non-physics majors can receive class credit by signing up for PHYS 4372. Students can earn continuing education certificates as well through this series. The cost is $15 per individual seminar, $40 for any three seminars, or $99 for the entire series. If you are not pursuing a credit, you are still welcome to attend at no charge.

If you are interested in attending a future seminar, please register online or call the Center for Educational Programs at 281-283-3529.

Date Presentation
 2/4/2019

MK to km: How Millikelvin Physics Is Reused to Explore the Earth Kilometers Below the Surface

Robert Kleinberg, Senior Fellow, Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy; Senior Research Scholar, Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy

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Abstract
It is a common, but still surprising observation that many physics students have never met a physicist outside of an academic setting. Thus many undergraduate and graduate students know of few sources of information to help them understand what opportunities may exist beyond university environments. The purpose of the APS Distinguished Lecturer program is to show how some physicists have navigated the transition to the "real world." Investigations of the superfluid phases of liquid helium-3 would seem to have little application to the study of rock formations thousands of meters below the surface of the earth. However, the physicist's tool box is versatile, and techniques used in one field of study can be reused, with appropriate adaptation, in very different circumstances. The temperature of liquid helium-3 in the millikelvin range can be measured using an unbalanced-secondary mutual inductance coil set designed to monitor the magnetic susceptibility of a paramagnetic salt. The loss signal is discarded by phase sensitive detection. Now consider the task of measuring the electrical conductivity, at centimeter scale, of the earth surrounding a borehole. Turn the mutual inductance coil set inside out, with secondary coils arranged to be unbalanced with respect to the rock wall. Instead of discarding the loss signal, use it to measure conductivity. A sensor based on this principle has been implemented in a widely deployed borehole geophysical instrument, used to estimate the prevailing direction of the wind millions of years ago, or to decide where to drill the next well in an oilfield.

Biography
Robert L. Kleinberg is presently at the Center on Global Energy Policy of Columbia University and the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Boston University. He earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. At the University of California, San Diego, he studied various properties of the superfluid phases of liquid helium-3 in the laboratory of John C. Wheatley. From 1980 to 2018, he was employed by Schlumberger where his work focused on geophysical measurements.

His current work centers on energy technology and economics, and on environmental issues connected with oil and gas development. Kleinberg has authored more than 100 academic and professional papers, holds 39 U.S. patents, and is the inventor of several geophysical instruments that have been commercialized on a worldwide basis.

2/11/2019

Numerical Analysis of the Biermann Battery Mechanism of Magnetogenesis for Relativistic MHD Turbulence

David Garrison, Professor of Physics, UHCL

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Abstract
We present the results of Relativistic Magnetohydrodynamic simulations utilizing initial conditions from both the Electroweak and QCD phase transitions in order to see if seed magnetic fields may be generated via the Biermann Battery Mechanism of Magnetogensis. These simulations occur in a simulated early universe between $10^{-11}$s and $10^{-3}$s after the Big Bang. We find that magnetic fields greater than $10^{-19}$G are generated at small scales and magnetic fields of $10^{-24}$G are generated on the Mpc scale. Further work is needed to understand how these fields may have impacted the large-scale structures we observe today. 

Biography
David Garrison began his academic career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned his B.S. in Physics in 1997. During his course of study, he minored in Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Science and completed a concentration in Political Science. He then moved on to The Pennsylvania State University where he completed a Ph.D. in Physics in 2002. After which, he accepted a position as a Visiting Assistant Professor at University of Houston – Clear Lake. 

After serving as a visiting faculty member for one year, he was promoted to tenure-track. During his time in academia, Dr. Garrison earned several awards from organizations including NASA, the Institute for Space Systems Operations, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Council of Graduate Schools, the HistoryMakers Project and the Texas Educational Grid Project in addition to several internal grants and scholarships. 

During his time on the faculty of UHCL, Dr. Garrison served as Chair of the Physical Science and Physics Programs and successfully developed and oversaw the approval of a revised Bachelors Degree in Physical Science, a Bachelor's Degree in Physics, an Engineering Physics sub-plan, a Computational Physics sub-plan, a Masters Degree in Physics, a Professional Masters of Physics sub-plan in Technical Management and a Collaborative Ph.D. Program in Physics. He also served as President of the UHCL Faculty Senate twice and Director of Graduate Programs for Science and Engineering. His research in computational and theoretical physics consists of work in Numerical Relativity and Cosmology.

2/18/2019

Strategies for Conceptual Change

Evan Richards, Physics Instructor, Lee College

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Abstract
I was honored to give an overview of Physics Education Research (PER) in my last Seminar talk. Now, I will be turning to a specific area in PER: misconceptions. It is probably not a surprise that students show up in our classes with ideas about the universe (after all, they have been making observations for many years by the time that they arrive in our classes, and many of them have had varying degrees of prior instruction as well). However, not all of these ideas are consistent with the ones that we teach! In this talk, I will discuss different types of misconceptions as well as strategies on how to address them.

2/25/2019

Space Weather

David Alexander, Director, Rice Space Institute

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Abstract
Understanding how the activity of the Sun influences and affects the Earth's space environment is of great scientific interest as we explore the energetic activity of stars. Space Weather also has important ramifications for society in that it can create electromagnetic hazards in space and on the ground, impacting our communications, power grids and satellite operations. In this talk we will discuss solar activity, its impact on the Earth and, if time permits, what it tells us about extra-solar worlds.

Biography
David Alexander is a professor in the Department of Physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute. He received his Bachelor of Science in natural philosophy and astronomy, and his doctorate in relativistic cosmological models from the University of Glasgow. Alexander also received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2004 and was appointed a Kavli Frontiers Fellow by the National Academy of Sciences in 2006.

Prior to joining the faculty at Rice University in 2003, he was a staff physicist at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, California, where he worked on the development of advanced space missions for solar physics. Alexander was designated a GlobalScot by the Scottish Government and was recently named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to the space industry at home and abroad and to higher education.

3/4/2019

Why on Earth Should We Study the Health Issues of the Space Environment?

Patrice Yarbough, Senior Scientist, KBRwyle Principal Investigator HERA Complement Scientist, JSC NASA

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Abstract
The complement of multiple integrated research studies and the standardized bed rest environment that served as the platform for the 70-day Bed Rest study will be described. Eight investigator studies and a battery of standardized measures were also included to target a range of physiological systems and some testing routinely done on astronauts. This research platform proved to be an effective way to support multiple investigations and use a small number of subjects to answer many research questions.

Biography
Patrice O. Yarbough is a senior scientist at NASA Johnson Space Center, a contractor to NASA’s Human Research Program employed by KBRwyle. She is also the principal investigator for the confined isolation human subject studies performed in the Human Exploration Research Analog habitat. Yarbough earned her B.S. and Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Houston. 

She managed the NASA bed rest studies at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Previously, she did HIV clinical research at Tanox Inc. and hepatitis pre-clinical research at Genelabs Technologies. At Genelabs, she led the group to develop a hepatitis E virus sub-unit vaccine and received the international COPEV Association Award for Prevention of Viral Hepatitis. A native Houstonian, her volunteer work includes serving as president of the Ashley Jadine Foundation, a charity that seeks to prevent suicide in youth. 

3/18/2019

Gravitational Physics 101

David Garrison, Professor of Physics, UHCL

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Abstract
In this talk I introduce the field of gravitational wave astronomy. I do this from the point of view of someone who is using astronomy to answer several fundamental but challenging questions about our universe. How did the universe begin? How do we know what we think we know about the history of the universe? How can we test our theories?  To answer these questions, I show how we use conventional astronomy, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, lots of large machines and a few supercomputers. My goal is to make this information accessible to a general audience so those without a background in physics or astronomy can also understand this talk.

Biography

David Garrison began his academic career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned his B.S. in Physics in 1997.  During his course of study, he minored in Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Science and completed a concentration in Political Science.  He then moved on to The Pennsylvania State University where he completed a Ph.D. in Physics in 2002.  After which, he accepted a position as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Houston – Clear Lake. 

After serving as a visiting faculty member for one year, he was promoted to tenure-track.  During his time in academia, Dr. Garrison earned several awards from organizations including NASA, the Institute for Space Systems Operations, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Council of Graduate Schools, the HistoryMakers Project and the Texas Educational Grid Project in addition to several internal grants and scholarships. 

During his time on the faculty of UHCL, Dr. Garrison served as Chair of the Physical Science and Physics Programs and successfully developed and oversaw the approval of a revised Bachelors Degree in Physical Science, a Bachelors Degree in Physics, an Engineering Physics sub-plan, a Computational Physics sub-plan, a Masters Degree in Physics, a Professional Masters of Physics sub-plan in Technical Management and a Collaborative Ph.D. Program in Physics.  He also served as President of the UHCL Faculty Senate twice and Director of Graduate Programs for Science and Engineering. His research in computational and theoretical physics consists of work in Numerical Relativity and Cosmology.

3/25/2019

Physics of Memory and Learning, from the Perspective of Interacting Biomolecules

Margaret Cheung
, Moores Professor of Physics, Chemistry and Computer Science, UH

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Abstract
Calcium (Ca2+) signaling is a dynamic system where Ca2+ concentration fluctuates in range of 0.1-10μM with time. These short transient Ca2+ around the entry sites activate Ca2+-binding proteins such as calmodulin (CaM). The prototypical pathway describes CaM as encoding a Ca2+ signal by selectively activating downstream CaM-dependent proteins through molecular binding. However, CaM’s intrinsic Ca2+-binding properties alone appear insufficient to decode rapidly fluctuating Ca2+ signals. It has been proposed that the temporally varying mechanism for producing target selectivity requires CaM-target interactions that directly tune the Ca2+-binding properties of CaM through reciprocal interactions. In this presentation, I will focus on the binding mechanism of CaM and its target, which requires mutually and conformationally-induced changes in both participants Then, I will focus on two unique and distinct CaM binding targets, neurogranin (Ng) and CaM-dependent kinase II (CaMKII), which are abundant in postsynaptic neuronal cells and are biochemically known to tune CaM’s affinity for Ca2+ in opposite directions. My group has employed an integrative approach of quantum mechanical calculations, all-atomistic molecular dynamics, and coarse-grained molecular simulations to investigate the molecular mechanisms of CaM’s reciprocal interaction between target binding and Ca2+binding. The research of my group has been driven and tested in close collaboration with experimentalists. I will also discuss about CaM binding and target selection in the context of evolution and in a crowded environment.

Biography
Margaret Cheung is the Moores Professor of Physics at the University of Houston. She graduated from the National Taiwan University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, San Diego. Cheung carried out theoretical biological physics and bioinformatics research as a Sloan Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland and started her lab at the University of Houston in 2006. Her research focuses on protein folding inside a cell, calmodulin-dependent calcium signaling, protein motors, actomyosin dynamics, and quantum efficiency in organic photovoltaics. 

Cheung is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a senior scientist at the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, and an adjunct professor of bioengineering at Rice University. She has two young children and loves to explore the city of Houston with them.

 4/1/2019

Heterogeneity in Cortical Networks and the Recovery of Balanced Neuron Firing

Greg Morrison, Assistant Professor of Physics, UH

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Abstract
Correlated dynamics in neural networks have been shown to play an important role in neural computation as well as diseases such as schizophrenia, and a theoretical understanding of how such activity can arise is important. Previous theoretical studies have shown that cortical networks with clustered connections give rise to correlated activity in individual clusters using a leaky integrate-and-fire dynamics. In this talk, we show that this same model applied to a network with highly heterogeneous cluster sizes leads to a clear breakdown of the balanced state: the largest community becomes hyperactive and smaller clusters become suppressed. We show analytically why the balance condition breaks down for heterogeneous communities, and propose a solution to restore balance. We show that correlated cannot be observed for a truly balanced network, and thus provide a formal definition of a partially balanced neural network. We show that partially balanced, heterogeneously clustered neural networks have expected quiescent activity and are able to respond to external stimulation in a correlated manner.

Biography
Dr. Greg Morrison is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Houston. He holds a PhD in Physics from the University of Maryland with a focus on biophysics and statistical mechanics, did postdoctoral work at Harvard University focused on information theory and biological networks, and was previously an Assistant Professor at the IMT School for Advanced Studies in Lucca Italy studying complex systems applied to a variety of problems. Dr. Morrison's research has spanned two broad but fairly distinct fields: the investigation of problems in single molecule biophysics, using the theoretical approaches of statistical physics, and the study of interconnected meso- or macroscopic systems using the methods of network theory.

 4/8/2019

Physics Teacher Preparation or Improving Physics/STEM Student Success

Donna Stokes, Associate Professor and Undergraduate Academic Advisor, UH 

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Abstract
Approximately 28% of the physics teachers at the 8-12 grade level nationwide are uncertified and/or unqualified, meaning they do not hold a degree or minor in physics. Therefore they are assigned out of their field to teach physics. To better prepare students for entering college, it is critical that highly qualified teachers are prepared through pre-service teacher education programs to teach the future generation of scientists. To address the need for physics teachers locally and nationally, physics programs are making commitments to expand the availability of teacher preparation programs and to recruit/retain high-quality students interested in teaching physics. At the University of Houston, the Physics Department, in collaboration with the teachHOUSTON teacher preparation program and the College of Education, has developed a Physics By Inquiry course and degree plans for promotion of students into the teaching profession. This presentation highlights these efforts and outcomes in preparing qualified physics teachers who possess the knowledge base for teaching physics and the self-efficacy needed to retain them in the classroom.

Biography

Donna Stokes is an associate professor of physics at the University of Houston. Prior to joining the faculty at UH, she was a postdoctoral researcher at Naval Research Laboratory. She received her B.S. in physics from Southern University Baton Rouge and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Houston. Her scientific research focuses on understanding the structural, optical and electrical properties of semiconductor materials for the development of novel detectors and lasers for infrared applications. She is also involved in physics education research. Stokes is currently serving as the undergraduate academic advisor for the Department of Physics, and as a faculty advisor. 

Stokes is currently a fellow of the American Physical Society Physic Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC). She is also the recipient of the NSF Early Career Award (2002), the University of Houston Excellence in Group Teaching for Physics Award (2017), and the University of Houston Provost’s Faculty Advising Award (2011). 

 4/15/2019

Materials at Nanoscale: Some Unique Properties Relevant to Energy and Clinical Applications

Oomman Varghese, Associate Professor of Physics, UH

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Abstract
Nanomaterials are a class of materials with the size of at least one of the dimensions in the nanometer scale. For example, a material in wire shape with a diameter less than a few tens of nanometers is called a nanowire, even if its length is in micro or millimeter scale. Nanomaterials are classified as zero-, one-, two- or three-dimensional, depending upon the feature size and morphology. In nanomaterials, the nanoscale feature consists of only a few hundred or thousand atoms in one direction. Such materials can exhibit unique characteristics due to large surface area to volume ratio and influence of ultra-small size on the physicochemical properties. These special properties are utilized in developing new devices or improving the performance of existing devices. At Nanomaterials and Devices Laboratory, University of Houston, we develop nanostructured semiconductor materials, especially metal oxides, primarily for energy and environmental applications. This presentation will give an overview of the research in this laboratory. The focus of discussion will be on the specific properties of various nanomaterials exploited for the efficient conversion of solar energy to electrical energy or chemical energy (fuels) and for developing sensors for medical diagnosis.

Biography

Oomman K. Varghese received a Ph.D. in physics from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD), India in 2001. He is currently an associate professor in the Physics Department at the University of Houston. His group’s research is primarily focused on developing nanoscale materials and heterostructures and investigating their unique properties useful for energy conversion and medical applications.

Varghese has published over 100 peer reviewed articles, one book, a book chapter and two patents. His publications have received over 31,000 citations (Google Scholar h-index - 67). In 2011, Thomson Reuters ranked him ninth among the "World's Top 100 Materials Scientists" in the past decade. In 2014, 2015 and 2016 he received the title "Highly Cited Researcher" and had his name listed in Thomson Reuters’ World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.

4/22/2019

NASA-Inspired Solutions to Climate Change (and Feeding 10B by 2050)

Lisa Dyson, CEO, Kiverdi

Abstract
In the 1960's and 70's, NASA was working on ways to recycle CO2 on long space journeys to distant planets. Drs. Lisa Dyson and John Reed wondered if this old research could be combined with new technologies to provide a sustainable solution to our carbon problem that is leading to climate change here on Earth. They picked up where NASA left off and developed ways to recycle CO2 into valuable products. Their company, Kiverdi, is commercializing biotech solutions that enable the production of food from CO2 using microorganisms. For example, a nutrient-rich, sustainable protein that has 2x the protein content of soybeans can be produced in a matter of hours and in a way that uses 2000x less water and 10,000x less land vs. soy protein. In this presentation, Lisa Dyson will discuss the fruition of an idea to the future of our efforts, along with the impact and benefits of sustainable practices.

Biography
Lisa Dyson serves as the founder and CEO of Kiverdi, a company aiming to develop innovations beyond traditional agriculture to help feed and power the world. She holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT. Dyson was a Fulbright Scholar at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, where she received a Master of Science. She also has degrees in physics and mathematics from Brandeis University.

Dyson and her team created a bio-process that utilizes natural microbes to convert CO2 into proteins and oils. She also worked with executives of Fortune 100 companies at the Boston Consulting Group, where she helped them to develop high-impact strategies and execution plans, facilitate post-merger integrations, define international governance models, and identify operational cost inefficiencies. She also conducted technical research at MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Princeton, Univ. of London, UCSF and the Lawrence Berkeley Labs.

4/29/2019

Using Data to Make Curricular Decisions

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Milijana Suskavcevic, AP Physics Instructor, and Steve Alexander, Physics Department Chair, Southwestern University

Abstract
This presentation will focus on assessment-related interventions in the Fundamentals of Physics I course, the types of cognitive data collected, and analyses conducted to assess effectiveness of the intervention over one semester. The findings and implications for curricular decisions will be discussed in a broader context of physics instructional and assessment initiatives at the national level.

Biography

Steven Alexander got his Ph.D. in physics from UT Austin and has published more than 80 papers, most of them applying variational Monte Carlo techniques to atomic and molecular systems. He holds the Lazenby chair in physics at Southwestern University and is also Chair of the Physics Department. Since 2014, Alexander has been teaching first-year physics using a method that does not depend on homework or exams.

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