GW Arts & Sciences
May 2016
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Message From the Chair

This has been an exciting year in the Physics Department and one with many changes. Rachel Potter left us in December to join her husband on his diplomatic mission in Dubai. Leah Kochenderfer is now our operations supervisor and doing a great job. She will soon be joined by a new administrative assistant. Our most exciting news is that Corcoran Hall will be renovated over the next 18 months, and until then we will be living and working in Staughton Hall. The renovation will provide us with space for expanded research and teaching space. If you are considering a gift to the Physics Department, you might want to contribute to the renovation of individual rooms or furnishings for classrooms and laboratories.

Our astronomy program is growing—we have a new major and minor in astronomy approved and ready to start taking on students next year. Our search for a new faculty member in astrophysics seems to be about to come to a successful completion, and we expect funding levels to match the increase of faculty. Two of the members of the Astrophysics Group have received honors from the university—Oleg Kargaltsev has received the Early Career Award for Research and Bethany Cobb-Kang has received the Bender Prize for Teaching. To add to the honors, Professor Chryssa Kouveliotou has been named foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and Commander of the Order of the Hellenic Republic.

On a sad note, my old teacher and mentor Roger Peverley has passed on. I think most of us remember Roger as the quiet professor with the Cambridge accent. The Peverley Prize for Undergraduate Research will continue to be awarded in his honor; this year's winner is Brian Alden.

Our annual Berman Memorial Lecture took place on April 21st; we thank Dr. Cedric X. Yu for his generous gift which supports this lecture series.

On April 22, a plaque was unveiled dedicating the Cornelius Bennhold Lecture Hall in his memory. Family, friends and faculty were present for the ceremony and the luncheon that followed. We thank the Bennhold family for their generosity.

William Briscoe
Chair, Physics Department

Department Spotlights

Corcoran Hall

On the move: See you later, Corcoran. Hello, Staughton

Dedicated in 1924, Corcoran Hall is the oldest GW building at Foggy Bottom, the home of George Gamov, of Bohr's conference announcement of the Nuclear Age in 1939, of the Alpher-Gamov discovery of the mechanism behind big-bang nucleosynthesis in 1948, of the development of the bazooka in WWII—in short, of the Department of Physics since Time Immemorial.


GW SPS students conduct outreach sessions in local middle schools.

GW Society of Physics Students Named Outstanding Chapter

The GW Society of Physics Students (SPS) is the local branch of the nation-wide organization SPS. The purpose of GW SPS is to foster a welcoming environment for undergraduates who are passionate about physics to grow academically, professionally and socially, as well as to give back to the D.C. community through outreach. GW SPS was revived last year and had a strong first year.


A new interdisciplinary Data Science program offers both an MS and a graduate certificate.

Physics and the New Data Science Program

The GW Data Science program was born along with a promising partnership with the Department of Physics. The Columbian College of Arts & Sciences Associate Dean Yongwu Rong and Research Professor of Physics Larry Medsker collaborated to develop and promote the idea of a Data Science program and organize a faculty committee to guide the design of the Master of Science in Data Science.


Student News

Sri Murthy participated in a research program in Mainz, Germany (R) Brian Alden spent a summer at CERN

Undergraduate Summer Research at GW and Abroad

One of the most exciting and productive ways to spend your summer as a physics undergraduate is doing research: either locally, with one of our own professors, or with collaborators at institutions such as the Naval Research Lab and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; or by taking advantage of one of the many competitive programs offering Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) or even International Research for Undergraduates (IRES) programs.


Department News

New Astronomy & Astrophysics Major and Minor

The universe fascinates people from all ages and backgrounds. Until recently, this fascination with our universe was addressed at GW only in the introductory astronomy sequence: two courses largely populated by (and very popular with) non-science majors, typically teaching 400 students per semester.


Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

The Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics is an opportunity for students to come together and learn more about the great work by women in physics and astronomy, diverse career opportunities available after graduation, and strategies for resilience and success in a highly competitive environment.


New Multi-Disciplinary Institute in Astronomy, Physics and Statistics

The GW Astronomy, Physics, and Statistics Institute of Sciences is a multi-disciplinary Institute focused on “Multi-wavelength Observations, Statistical Inference, Modeling, and Simulations of High-Energy phenomena in the Universe,” comprising groups from the GW Physics, Statistics and Mathematics Departments.


First-Year Anniversary of GW Center on Biomolecular Sciences

The GW Center on Biomolecular Sciences (CBMS), chartered April 2015, aims to catalyze intramural and extramural collaborations in tackling complex problems of biomolecular structure and function, and to transform them into new research and training opportunities with deep impacts.


Bringing GW’s Pedagogical Experience to Europe

As many of you know, the GW Department of Physics has fully implemented the SCALE-UP collaborative group-learning approach in our introductory courses in physics and astronomy. This is a model for the university as a whole, and it has proven to be very successful for improving student learning gains.


Nuclear Physics Research Highlights

Lattice simulations provide the ab-initio approach to quantum chromodynamics in the non-perturbative regime. There, we can study the strong interaction through scattering experiments like the collision of two pions forming an unstable rho resonance. Professor Andrei Alexandru and graduate student Dehua Guo have calculated the rho resonance on the lattice.


Astrophysics Research Highlights

This past August, five members of the GW Astrophysics Group attended the XXIXth International Astronomical Union General Assembly, held in Honolulu, Hawaii. This two-week-long conference, held every three years, brought together thousands of astrophysicists from all over the world for the largest conference of its kind.                                              


Class Notes

Hans Bode, BS ’60, received a PhD in biophysics at Yale and spent four years as a post-doc in Germany learning about the developmental biology of hydra. He continued this work at the University of California at Irvine for 36 years, retiring in 2006.

Philip Brinkman, MA ’74, has worked for the past 28 years in an office now within the Federal Aviation Administration that regulates the commercial space launch industry. Prior to that, he spent 15 years in highway safety research at the Federal Highway Administration.

John Capone, BS ’10, is currently completing his PhD in astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park.  In July of 2016, he will begin a postdoctoral research position in the Department of Physics at Oxford University.


Support the Program

Gifts to the Department of Physics allow us to provide support for faculty and student research and travel, graduate student fellowships and academic enrichment activities including guest speakers, visiting faculty and symposia. Each gift, no matter how large or small, makes a positive impact on our educational mission and furthers our standing as one of the nation's preeminent liberal arts colleges at one of the world's preeminent universities.

Your gift to the Department of Physics will be considered a part of Making History: The Campaign for GW, a comprehensive, university wide philanthropic effort to raise funds in support of GW’s vision and priorities.  To learn more, please visit

You can make your gift to the department in a number of ways:

  • Securely online at  Just choose “other” under designation and type in the name of the department. 
  • By mailing your check, made out to The George Washington University and with the name of the department in the memo line, to:
    The George Washington University
    2033 K Street NW, Suite 300
    Washington, DC  20052
  • By phone by calling the GW Annual Fund at 1-800-789-2611.

Donor Recognition

The Physics Department would like to gratefully acknowledge the following generous donors who made a gift to the program from January 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015. Your gifts were used to provide support for faculty and student research and travel, graduate student fellowships and academic enrichment activities including guest speakers, visiting faculty and symposia.

We couldn’t have done any of this without you. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

Dayton Foundation Depository, Inc.
Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund
Derek A. Brehm, BS ’14
Montie Rea Craddock, BS ’84
Ms. Berhan Taddesse Demissie, MPhil ’13
Mary Anne Frey, BA ’70, PhD ’75
Laura F. Horn, EdD ’06
Mark V. Hughes, III, BA ’69, MS ’77
John W. Kauffman, BS ’47
Peter F. Koehler, MS ’63
Carla H. Messina, MS ’62
Irving Michael, BS ’50
Silvia Niccolai, MPhil ’01, PhD ’03
Reyna K. Pratt, MPhil ’95
W. Stuart Riggsby, BA ’58
Rise G. Schnizlein, BS ’71
Ilana L. Spar, BS ’08

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