- Dr. Hanno Weitering, Department Head, Professor, and Joint Insitute for Advanced Materials (JIAM) Chair of Excellence
- Dr. Marianne Breinig, Associate Head and Director of the Graduate Program
- Dr. Kate Jones, Associate Head
Selected Department Highlights
A Few Numbers of Interest
Expertise and Contributions to Ground-Breaking Science
- Professor Robert Grzywacz was among the scientists who helped confirm one of the newest elements on the periodic table: Tennessine, which pays homage to our state. He helped develop a process that measures the decay of nuclear materials down to one millionth of a second, which was vital in proving the existence of the new element.
- We’ve won five National Science Foundation CAREER grants in three years: Andrew Steiner and Lucas Platter (both in 2016), Haidong Zhou (2014), Jaan Mannik (2013), and Norman Mannella (2012), as well as two Outstanding Junior Investigator Awards from the Department of Energy (Kate Jones in 2009 and Thomas Papenbrock in 2007). Recent faculty hires are leading research efforts in biophysics, condensed matter, and nuclear physics.
- At CERN, our faculty and students built and maintain particle tracking detectors at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) as part of the historic effort to find the Higgs Boson. The relativistic heavy ion group studies the properties of the Quark Gluon Plasma produced in high energy heavy ion collisions via the ALICE experiment. We’ve also geared up for the next run of LHC studies.
- UT physicists are part of the 210-member NOvA team from all over the world set on demystifying neutrinos. In 2014 the experiment caught sight of their first neutrinos and they now have evidence that these subatomic particles are oscillating—or transforming—from one “flavor” to another.
- Our faculty have written invited reviews for prestigious journals (Nature Nanotechnology, Nature Physics, Reviews of Modern Physics) on condensed matter physics. They have also published high-profile papers on their own work and are pursuing the promise of nano-scale superconductivity, magnetic nanowires, and hydrogen storage—all of which have the potential to revolutionize how we create and use energy.
- Physics graduate student Chris Tate worked on assembly and verification of an instrument command sequence for a neutron detector on NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.
- Our students helped define isotopes and develop code as part of a study that redefined the limits of atomic nuclei, the results of which were published in Nature.
Strong Ties with Oak Ridge National Laboratory
- The department’s relationship with researchers and facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory gives our students access to some of the most powerful computing in the world.
- When the next generation of high-performance computing comes to ORNL, UT’s physicists will be working on the first projects that put its power to work. Summit, the third in the evolution of ORNL’s supercomputers, is set to come online in 2017. Of 13 initial projectschosen to showcase Summit’s prowess are ventures into long-standing questions in nuclear physics and astrophysics, both of which involve UT-affiliated faculty.
- UT physicists are directors or co-directors of four UT-ORNL joint institutes: the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials (Hanno Weitering), the Joint Institute for Computational Sciences (Anthony Mezzacappa), the Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences (Alan Tennant), and the Joint Institute of Nuclear Physics and Applications (Robert Grzywacz).
- Our faculty and students work at the Spallation Neutron Source and the High Flux Isotope Reactor, as well as other research facilities all over the world.
A Commitment to Outreach
- Physics Professor George Siopsis is the Director of UT’s Governor’s Schools for Sciences and Engineering, which serves the top high school students in Tennessee through a four-week non-credit program each summer.
- Our planetarium provides the lab setting for astronomy students and a powerful outreach tool for the department. Regularly-scheduled observation sessions on the roof of the physics building, along with special events such as the Venus Transit viewing, make our resources available to the public in an approachable, engaging fashion.
- Our Society of Physics Students won a 2015 Blake Lilly Prize from the national organization for their outreach efforts, including their demos on Market Square and the Saturday Science Club at Pond Gap Elementary School. They have been recognized as an outstanding chapter three times since 2011.