News Archive


Semester Ends with Silly Talks

Photograph of faculty members singing a parody of "Wonderwall"

Dr. Smallwood and our own Oasis cover band band brought down the house in a thrilling conclusion to the semester seminar series. There were also many talks about cats.

oSTEM Conference Report

Photograph of Jacob Garner, Pranav Seetharaman, and Prof. Brianne Gutmann at the oSTEM conference.In November, SJSU physics department members Jacob Garner, Pranav Seetharaman, and Prof. Brianne Gutmann attended the 2023 oSTEM (Out in STEM) conference in Anaheim, CA. The conference was a meaningful opportunity for LGBTQIA+ people to meet and discuss their contributions and perspectives as STEM researchers. Highlights from the conference included Prof. Brianne Gutmann's presentation detailing the process of "queering" a physics conference and Jacob Garner's poster discussing the experiences of queer physics students in California.

CalBridge Scholars Confer

Photograph of CalBridge scholars and mentors around a table.SJSU scholars and alum attended the first annual Cal-Bridge conference at UC Berkeley in October, as part of a statewide CSU–UC training program for undergrads transitioning to PhDs in STEM. Pictured are Rami Husseini, Natasha Forrand, Walter Mendoza (now in UC Davis PhD program), Adrian Barajas, Ian Nepomuceno and Xavier Mendoza (Mariana Rojas-Montoya and Adrian Juanson were also there but not pictured.) The students made oral presentations on their summer research, networked with UC admissions faculty, heard about research and career opportunities, and participated in workshops for thriving in school.

Field Trip to Lick Observatory

Group photo of SJSU students inside the 36-inch great refracting telescope dome.

Professors Aaron Romanowsky, Chris Smallwood, and Tom Madura arranged a tour for students to visit Lick Observatory in October. Eleven graduate and undergraduate students visited for a tour that included an overview of exoplanet searches and Optical SETI, an inside view of the 3-meter Shane Telescope, first-hand peaks through the famed 36-inch Great Refractor, and all the hot chocolate and tea we could handle. The observatory, a 135 year old astronomical laboratory founded all the way back in 1888, sits in our back yard atop Mt. Hamilton.

High Energy Opportunities

Headshots of Kassahun Betre and Curtis Asplund.

Assistant Professors Kassahun Betre, Curtis Asplund, and collaborators at SLAC National Laboratory have received a $1M grant, over three years, from the U.S. Department of Energy for the project "A Transformative Master’s Program in High Energy Physics (HEP at SJSU)." The grant will provide funding for a 1.5 year long traineeship program for three SJSU students per year, as well as research support for the two faculty. The traineeship is aimed at improving equity and diversity in the High Energy Physics workforce and targets students interested in pursuing PhDs or careers related to high energy physics.

Cassandra Paul Featured in Physics Magazine

Headshot of Cassandra Paul.A study of university-level physics classes by SJSU Physics & Astronomy Professor Cassandra Paul and collaborator David Webb shows that changes in course structure can help to eliminate grade gaps between student groups with different races, ethnicities, or genders. Paul and Webb find that allowing exam retake options, and teaching concepts first can improve outcomes for students while also decreasing course grade equity gaps. Their work was featured in Physics Magazine.

Fall Seminars

Group photo of the audience at the Department Seminar fall kick-off.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy's weekly seminar series started off with a bang on August 23rd, featuring a packed room and a full slate of faculty members set to advertise their research activities. See the Department's Get Involved in Research page to learn more and to catch up on opportunities. Department seminars more generally occur on a weekly basis. Contact Prof. Ken Wharton at with the words "Seminars and Events" included in the subject heading if you'd like to be added to the mailing list.

Christopher Smallwood Publishes an Optical Spectroscopy Book

Cover illustration of Christopher Smallwood's spectroscopy book.Assistant Professor Christopher Smallwood's new book, Optical Multidimensional Coherent Spectroscopy, is published and available for purchase at all major outlets. The book, co-authored with Hebin Li, Bachana Lomsadze, Galan Moody, and Steven Cundiff, provides an introduction to the technique of optical multidimensional coherent spectroscopy (MDCS), a relatively new method of studying materials based on using ultrashort light pulses to perform spectroscopy.

The book is aimed at graduate students and scientists seeking to better understand the MDCS technique, is published by Oxford University Press, and came out in early February of this year. 

Pranav Seetharaman Wins the Bertha Kalm Scholarship Award

Headshot of Pranav Seetharaman.Graduate Student Pranav Seetharaman has been awarded this year's Bertha Kalm Scholarship Award. The $10,000 scholarship, awarded on an annual basis by the SJSU College of Graduate Studies, goes to first-year graduate students in "any field of study who demonstrate a desire to make a difference for humanity". Congratulations Pranav!!

Transfer Knowledge

Photograph of Gina Quan and Annie Chase.

Physics and Astronomy Professor Gina Quan, Lecturer Annie Chase, and colleagues have received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Racial Equity in STEM Education program to fund the project "Transfer Advocacy Groups: Transforming Culture to Support Transfer Students of Color in Undergraduate Physics."  

The proposal, a partnership between San José State and Michigan State University, intends to support students of color transferring from community college in STEM fields by creating student-driven transfer advocacy groups (TAGs) to engage in university-wide institutional change.

Read the full story at the SJSU NewsCenter Blog.

Brianne Gutmann, Danny Barringer, and colleagues Examine the Intersection of Ethics, Physics, and Society

Cartoon illustration of people engaging in science activities and advocacy.

A new publication by Physics and Astronomy professor Brianne Gutmann, Physics and Astronomy lecturer Danny Barringer, and colleagues was featured in the American Institute of Physics showcase journal, Scilight, in an article titled "Preparing the next generation of physicists to consider ethics and society." Their work focuses on building physics curricula that acknowledge scientists' roles within society, that validate the place of ethics and societal considerations in science, and that create opportunities for students to engage in ethical reasoning in the context of their ongoing and potential future careers.

The full article, "How Can We Design Instruction to Support Student Reasoning About Physicists' Ethical Responsibilities in Society?", was published in the May edition of The Physics Teacher. The publication summarizes and compares ethics modules developed in three different course contexts and provides concrete takeaways for physics instructors who want to develop their own curricula about the intersections of ethics, science and society.

College of Science Student Research Day

College of Science Student Research Day group photo.

SJSU's 18th Annual College of Science Student Research Day was a great success! Students and faculty members from the department presented eight posters at the event in all, sharing the progress they have made in areas ranging from materials spectroscopy to general relativity tests to nuclear weapons policy. Participants included, from left: (back row) Ehsan Khatami, Monika Kress, Brendan Stork, Ian Nepomuceno, Henry Wahhab, Walter Mendoza, Satinder Singh, Curtis Asplund, Christopher Smallwood, Aaron Romanowsky, and Jae Ho Han (back row); Hilary Hurst, Emily Foreman, Hediye Aktas, Mariana Rojas-Montoya, Linh Pham, Adrian Barajas, and Eduardo Ibarra Garcia Padilla (front row).

Jiahao Jiang wins an NSF GRFP Award

Headshot of Jiahao Jiang.SJSU alumnus Jiahao Jiang has won a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program award. Jiang received his BS in Physics from San Jose State University in the fall of 2020, and worked in Professor Christopher Smallwood's research group as a student building up optical spectroscopy capabilities. He was also a Cal-Bridge Scholar and in 2019 won the Department's Undergraduate Award for Academic Excellence. Jiang is currently a PhD student in Physics at UC Irvine, where he is working on battery research under the guidance of Professor Huolin Xin. Congratulations, Jiahao!

Ken Wharton Discusses Retrocausality in The Conversation

Headshot of Prof. Ken Wharton.Physics and Astronomy professor Ken Wharton and co-author Huw Price have published a popular science article at The Conversation entitled "Quantum mechanics: how the future might influence the past." Established in April of 2010, The Conversation is an online print journalism platform that invites professional academics to explain their work in layman's terms.

When Optics Met the Maker Movement

Photograph of 3D-printed interferometer components.SJSU physics students Tanner Melody, Krishna Patel, Peter Nguyen, and Physics and Astronomy professor Christopher Smallwood have developed a low-cost tool for measuring microscopic length changes using a broken pair of 3D movie glasses, a battery-operated green laser pointer, and a variety of other components that you probably already have on hand in your closet.

In the past several years, 3D printers, microcontrollers, and other hardware control elements have undergone a revolution in terms of cost reduction. Melody and coauthors have shown in a new paper that these maker-movement-inspired tools can be readily applied even to the construction of highly sensitive optical interferometers, and the interferometers are still capable of working well enough to illustrate overarching principles of the device, at a cost of just under $500.
The study opens possibilities for classroom and laboratory demonstrations of interferometer capabilities, and may even lead to kits that could be deployed to large groups of students taking classes remotely. The work appears in the February 2023 issue of the American Journal of Physics. An open-access version of the work can be viewed at

Not so Fast, Spooky Action!

Schematic diagram of a quantum foundations concept, in the shape of a triangle.Physics and Astronomy Professor Ken Wharton and his recently graduated bachelor's degree student Raylor Liu here at SJSU have a new paper out, published in Foundations of Physics, which challenges the necessity of Einstein's famously coined requirement of "spooky action at a distance" in quantum mechanics.

In their paper, entitled "Entanglement and the Path Integral" [see Found. Phys. 53, 23 (2023)], Wharton and Liu have shown how to analyze complicated quantum entanglement scenarios with a simple "sum over histories" method, similar to one pioneered by Dr. Richard Feynman. Liu devised a way to extend Feynman's methods to scenarios where two particles are jointly measured, and then showed that a very different calculation still leads to the conventional results. This paper shows that there are alternate ways to make sense of quantum entanglement, and that some of the strange non-local aspects of the conventional approach are not strictly required to match experiments.

Wharton has also been featured on the podcast Physics Frontiers, where he discusses the article in language aimed for a popular audience.


The Secret Life of Space Dust

Telescope image of dust rings around the Wolf-Rayet star system.Physics and Astronomy Professor Thomas Madura is among the co-authors of a manuscript published in the journal Nature Astronomy that reveals a spectacular set of nested dust shells surrounding the carbon-rich Wolf–Rayet binary star system WR 140. The results were were acquired using the mid-infrared measuring capabilities of the recently commissioned James Webb Space Telescope, and they indicate that dust-forming binary systems of this sort can enrich the interstellar medium with organic compounds and carbonaceous dust.

Additional information on the discovery, including a popular summary of the result and a public outreach video, is available directly from NASA here.  

Alejandro Garcia Publishes a New Thermodynamics Book

Cover photo of the textbook "Essentials of Modern Thermodynamics"Physics and Astronomy Professor Alejandro Garcia's new book Essentials of Modern Thermodynamics is newly published and available for purchase on Amazon.

According to Garcia, this book "puts the dynamics back into thermodynamics." While classical thermodynamics focuses on systems at equilibrium, modern thermodynamics emphasizes irreversible processes in systems out of equilibrium. The book is not designed as a course textbook but it should help you understand thermodynamics, in or out of school. 

Essentials of Modern Thermodynamics is the latest in Garcia's long list of acclaimed contributions to the physics community. Garcia has published over 70 journal articles in the field of microscopic fluid mechanics, has organized numerous international workshops in this field, and in addition this newest publication he is the author of the popular textbook, Numerical Methods for Physics.


NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Enters the Limelight

James Webb Space Telescope image of the "Cosmic Cliffs" in the Carina Nebula.

On July 12, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) released its first full-color scientific images and spectroscopic data, marking what NASA describes as “the dawn of a new era of astronomy.” According to NASA, “the Webb is the world’s premier space science observatory,” geared at solving the “mysteries in our solar system,” and is an international program conducted in partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). 

In connection with the release, Prof. Thomas Madura shared his thoughts on the photo release with the SJSU NewsCenter, as a leading astrophysicist in SJSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy, and as a member of member of NASA’s Early Release Science (ERS) program assigned to observing JWST images to investigate space dust.

Read the full story at the SJSU NewsCenter Blog.

Grade Scales Under the Microscope

Histogram comparing grade distributions under a 4.0 grade scale to those under a percent scale.In a study published this month in Physical Review Physics Education Research, SJSU Prof. Cassandra Paul and her co-author David Webb from UC Davis report on hidden inequities in one of the most commonly used grade scales in higher education – the percent scale (in which a score of 90%-100% is an "A", 80%-90% is a "B", and so on and so forth until the lowest grade of an "F" is assigned with a score of 0-60%).

Paul and Webb conducted a quantitative analysis of 95 introductory physics classes including more than 16,000 students, and then compared courses where students are graded using the percent grading scale to those courses where students are graded using the 4.0 grading scale (where an “A” is 4 points, a “B” is 3 points, a “C” is 2 points, a “D” is 1 point, and an “F” is zero points). While all students graded using the percent scale on average suffer a penalty due to the harsh impact of zeros and low partial credit, students belonging to demographic groups defined as those underrepresented in physics suffer an additional penalty that is not explained by their understanding of physics.

Paul and Webb hypothesize based on prior work that one reason behind this inequity is that the test-taking approaches used by students differ by demographic group. They emphasize that a solution to this inequity is not to teach appropriate test taking strategies, but rather to implement alternative grading methods to better measure the understanding of their students.

Cassandra Paul and Gina Quan Are Awarded a CSU CREATE Award

The California State University’s Office of the Chancellor has awarded a $222,000 CSU CREATE Award (Creating Responsive, Equitable, Active Teaching and Engagement Award) to four members of San José State University’s faculty, including Profs. Cassandra Paul and Gina Quan in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. SJSU’s award is the largest bestowed by the CSU of the five winning proposals, which ranged from $48,000 to $222,000. The other two members of the winning proposal team are Resa Kelly, professor of chemistry and science education; and Jennifer Avena, assistant professor of biological sciences. The team's principle investigator is Prof. Paul.

The inaugural CSU CREATE Award program is designed to accelerate momentum toward Graduation Initiative 2025 goals by creating opportunities for faculty to lead innovative projects. The SJSU faculty, along with Kim Coble, physics and astronomy professor at San Francisco State University; and Laura Rios, assistant professor of physics at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; received the award for their proposal “Agents of Change: Faculty-Learning Assistant Partnerships Supporting Active, Engaging, Equitable Learning Environments.”

Read the full story at the SJSU NewsCenter Blog.

Departmental Student Award Winners Announced

Headshots of Sidney Johnson, Tommy Chin, Shivam Kamboj, and Autumn Galinski

The Department is proud to announce the student winners of the 2022 academic awards competition. Winners of the awards are (from left) Sidney Johnson and Tommy Wen Chin, who have been awarded the Undergraduate Award for Academic Excellence; Shivam Kamboj, who has been awarded the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award; Autumn Galinski, who has been awarded the Richard & Angela Craig Scholarship; and Kai Sian Hu (not pictured), who has won the Graduate Award for Academic Excellence. 

The Undergraduate Award for Academic Excellence has been jointly awarded to Sidney Johnson and Tommy Wen Chin. Sidney has an excellent academic record, served the Department as Physics Club President, and has just submitted a first-author publication (to The Physics Teacher) summarizing student and faculty reflections on the Physics & Astronoy Student Reading Society (PhASRS), an online journal club that Sidney was heavily involved with in the summer of 2020. She has continually improved her academic performance over the course of her undergraduate career and has shown immense growth during her time as part of the Department. She is outspoken in class, and is committed to the betterment of the Department and building a strong community through (for example) her involvement in the LA program and in the Physics Club. Sidney is bound for the University of Oklahoma's PhD program in physics in the Fall of 2023. Tommy Wen Chin pulled off nearly straight A's here at SJSU, participated in almost every academic endeavor possible related to physics and beyond, is Treasurer of the Physics Club, is a tutor with CoSAC, is an unofficial tutor to his peers in basically every class that he takes, has been a significant contributor to the content of the Physics 52 manual, and is on-track to submit a first-author paper in the near future to Physical Review B about silicon-vacancy centers in diamond. Tommy has also participated in multiple summer research experiences and contributed posters and presentations at several meetings, mostly notably, a contributed in-person talk on silicon-vacancy centers at the 2022 APS March Meeting. Tommy is bound for Penn State's PhD program in physics in the Fall.

The Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award has been given to Shivam Kamboj. Shivam has a clear passion for teaching. Since joining the Department as a TA in Fall 2020, he has shown remarkable growth as a physics teaching assistant. During his time at SJSU Shivam has taught the Physics 2A lab multiple times, including teaching three sections in Spring 2022. Nearly 100 undergraduate students have interacted with him over the course of his teaching career at SJSU. Shivam exemplifies excellent teaching by providing students with empathy and encouragement, and is flexible in working with students to meet their goals in the course. Shivam received endorsements of his teaching excellence from the other members of the Physics 2A teaching team. Shivam will begin a PhD program in Physics at UC Merced in the Fall, where he expects to continue his teaching journey.

The Richard & Angela Craig Scholarship has been awarded to Autumn Galinski. Autumn will be a senior at SJSU in the fall of 2022, and has already left her mark in several areas. Her instructors have described her as an extraordinary student who is prepared for class and active during lessons. Her research efforts in Dr. Aaron Romanosky’s lab has resulted in a poster presentation, a successful student grant, and entrance to an REU at the University of Rochester this summer where she is working on a cosmology project. She has also worked on campus as a peer educator providing both supplementary instruction to students and serving as their peer mentor. She plans to apply for astrophysics and astroparticle physics PhD programs this upcoming fall. We are excited to see what she does next!

The Graduate Award for Academic Excellence has been awarded to Kai Siang Hu. Kai is graduating with his MS in Physics in two years with a 4.0 GPA. He participated in research in theoretical physics throughout his time at SJSU. Kai exemplifies excellence in academics not only through his outstanding GPA, but also his diligence and consistency as displayed in all his assignments which are always of very high quality and rigor. Kai has demonstrated great adaptability and flexibility is his cumulative academic experience at SJSU which was the basis of his successful admission to a bioengineering PhD program at UC Merced.

Students and Faculty Members Attend the Access Network Annual Assembly

Gina Quan, Autumn Galinski, and Brianne Gutmann pose in front of a strone wall wearing matching Access Network T-shirts.Physics student Autumn Galinski and faculty members Brianne Gutmann and Gina Quan attended the Access Network Annual Assembly at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. The Access Network is an organization that supports vibrant interactions among students and faculty engaging in equity work in the physical sciences.

Congratulations Class of 2022!

Students and faculty members pose in graduation regalia.

Students and faculty members show off their favorite version of the right-hand rule after the Spring 2022 Commencement Ceremony. SJSU returned to hosting in-person graduation ceremonies, with great fanfare, over the course of the past year.


Thomas Madura's research on Eta Carinae Gets Published in Nature Astronomy

Telescope photo of Eta CarinaeDr. Thomas Madura, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, is a co-author on a new study published in Nature Astronomy, where he and his colleagues use NASA's NuSTAR Mission to prove that superstar celestial object Eta Carinae shoots cosmic rays. Watch a video of the process in action.

Ehsan Khatami Featured on Physics Girl

Headshot of Ehsan Khatami.In an interview with Physics Girl host Dianna Cowern, Dr. Ehsan Khatami addresses the question: Are machines better at quantum mechanics than humans? Watch the video.


Watch Detection of Gravitational Waves Seminar

Held on 2/24/16 via YouTube

Undergraduate Students Attend PHYSCON 2016

PHYSCON F16Physics and Astronomy students Angelica Lorraine Lee, Stephanie Hadley, and Bitha Salimkumar at the 2016 PHYSCON conference, meeting with Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discoverer of the the first pulsars.


Aaron Romanowsky Wins 2015 Early Career Investigator Award

Professor RomanowskyThe SJSU Research Foundation awards this prize to tenure-track faculty who "have excelled in areas of research... at an early or beginning point in their careers at SJSU." Read more about his award.


Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at UC Santa Cruz

Women in Physics F15Attending the 2015 Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, SJSU physics students Beth Johnson, Stephanie Lorelli, Jennifer Vu, and engineering student Franchesca Owens enjoyed networking, lab tours, and talks.

Physics and Astronomy Students Tour Lick Observatory

Lick Observatory F15Students and faculty went to the top of Mt. Hamilton to learn about modern and historical telescopes. Here they are seen on the catwalk outside the 120" reflector.


Olenka Hubickyj Wins 2013 Outstanding Lecturer Award

Olenka HubickyjThe Outstanding Lecturer Award recognizes a lecturer for excellence in teaching effectivenessand service to the SJSU campus community. This year's winner comes from the College of Science.

Physics Undergraduate Conducts Research in Hawaii

Richard VoRichard Vo, now a graduate student at San Francisco State University, conducteed astrophysics research at the Keck telescopes at Mauna Kea, Hawaii in spring 2014, with the guidance of his adviser, Dr. Aaron Romanowsky.


Alejandro Garcia Wins the 2012 - 2013 Outstanding Professor Award

Professor Garcia wearing 3D glasses.The Outstanding Professor Award recognizes a faculty member with overall excellence in an academic assignment. This year's winner comes from the College of Science.