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The newsletter for alumni and friends of the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy

Fall/Winter 2021

Fulfilling UT's Strategic Vision | It Takes a Volunteer

Message from Department Head Hanno Weitering

Hanno Weitering


Change is happening fast, and this year it has been dazzling.

It Takes a Volunteer | Conducting Research That Makes Life & Lives Better

Andrew Steiner Steve Johnston

Focusing on Fundamentals

You may not realize that you’re carrying around a little bit of neutron star inside. Or that this sentence won’t take long to read, but the technology that made it possible took decades of scientific discovery and creative thinking. From astrophysics to quantum materials, massive stars to atoms, the physics department engages in fundamental research that helps explain the world we live in and improve how we live in it.

It Takes a Volunteer | Making Ourselves Nimble & Adaptable

Ruixing Zhang

A Quantum Universe

As a kid, Ruixing Zhang loved to look up at the night sky and stargaze, inspired by the vast wonders overhead and the beauty of nature. He followed that curiosity to become a physicist and now explores the smallest of physical systems, each a universe of its own.

It Takes a Volunteer | Embodying the Modern R1, Land-Grant University

Larry Lee

Sharing a Collaborative Spark

Larry Lee can look out over his classroom of physics majors and empathize. As an undergrad he struggled with the very same course—down to the identical textbook.

It Takes a Volunteer | Cultivating the Volunteer Experience

Anthony Mezzacappa and Brooke Carter

Learning World-Class Physics in Their Own Backyard

Nineteen students file in with backpacks and laptops, many bundled up in hoodies against the chill of a gray December afternoon. Among them it’s easy to spot the iconic Chuck Taylors and phones and at least one notebook with colorful sketches, notes, and stickers. They take their seats and chat amiably as they pass around copies of a worksheet they need to complete. Anthony Mezzacappa will be providing the answers.

It Takes a Volunteer | Ensuring a Culture Where Vol is a Verb

Alejandra Cepero Thaddeus Smith Gema Villegas

Diversifying Nuclear Physics & Building New Relationships

Nadia Fomin had a straightforward goal in mind: recruit students from underrepresented groups to go into nuclear physics, adding diversity and strength to the field. Alejandro Cepero, Thaddeus Smith, and Gema Villegas wanted to bolster their research experience and learn more about nuclear physics opportunities. With funding from the US Department of Energy for the Nuclear Physics in Eastern TN (NPET) fellowship program, those objectives aligned perfectly.

2021 Faculty Retirements

Soren Sorensen

Swimming in the Primordial Soup

Soren Sorensen has earned some impressive (and interesting) titles between joining the faculty in 1984 and retiring in 2021. Chancellor’s Professor and Head. Macebearer. Muffin Man.


Geoff Greene

An Ongoing Neutron Mystery

Geoff Greene may have officially retired from the university, but he’s by no means going to abandon the neutrons he’s been following closely for most of his career.

Remembering Friends and Colleagues

In Memoriam

The department’s success has been shaped by the talent, dedication, and vision of gifted scientists over the decades—some with full-time university appointments and others with connections that strengthened our research profile and broadened opportunities for our faculty and students. We were saddened by the loss of so many of them in 2021.

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