Department News

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is hosting a Solar Eclipse event on April 8, 2024.

Total Eclipse Event Flyer.png

Assistant Professor James Dent and Associate Professor Joel Walker, associate professor of physics at Sam Houston State University, have been awarded $240,000 over three years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their research proposal: “RUI: Neutrino, Collider, and Dark Matter Phenomenology.” In keeping with the NSF’s educational mission, the Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) designation of this project indicates that the work of Professors Dent & Walker’s will involve students in the research process at the earliest possible juncture, increasing their chances of securing a space in a competitive particle physics graduate program.

Dr. Joel Walker, associate professor of physics at Sam Houston State University, has been awarded $75,000 over three years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research proposal: “RUI: Supersymmetric Theory, Phenomenology, and Tool-Building.” In keeping with the NSF’s educational mission, the Research at Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) designation of this project indicates that Walker’s work will involve students in the research process at the earliest possible juncture, increasing their chances of securing a space in a competitive particle physics graduate program.

NOTICE: Physics 1401

If you are an incoming freshman or sophomore considering majoring in Physics, Pre-Engineering or any Engineering Program, please consider taking Physics 1401 – Physics Boot Camp in the 2016 Summer Session II.

Apply for Summer Session II in order to register for this course.

Prokosch to Represent US Astronomy Education Community in Upcoming Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) Trip

Michael Prokosch, laboratory assistant in the Department of Physics, will travel to Chile as one of nine ambassadors chosen to represent the United States astronomy education community in Chile. During the trip, which will run from June 19 to July 1, Prokosch will visit many of the major international observatories located in the Atacama Desert, including Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), Gemini South, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). 

Prokosch has set up a blog on the trip that is hosted by the Huntsville Amateur Astronomy Society. The blog is located at In addition, he will take part in a Google Plus Hangout on Friday, June 12 at 2:00 p.m. to help get the word out about the trip, at

Considering a Physics or Pre-Engineering Major?

Pre-Register Now for Physics Bootcamp (PHYS 1401) During Summer Term II 

  • Determine quickly if these majors are a good fit for you
  • Rapidly develop the core math skills needed in years 1&2
  • Receive credit toward graduation
  • Start main coursework in the Fall
  • No prerequisites
  • See Ms. Penny in F204 for details

January 29 Physics Colloquium To Explore Cutting-Edge Research on Matter-Wave Solitons

(courtesy of Today@Sam)

Rice University post-doctoral research associate Jason Nguyen will discuss his research on matter-wave solitons and the discoveries his team made in a study on Thursday (Jan. 29) at the Physics Department Colloquium. The colloquium presentation will begin at 3 p.m. in Farrington Building Room 209.

In the study, titled “Collisions of Matter-Wave Solitons,” Nguyen and his team found that when dealing with ultracold matter, results may produce an important new idea that was previously unknown to the physics community.

Solitons are non-dispersive waves that have been observed in many wave phenomena, such as the motion of water waves in narrow canals and light pulses in optical fibers. When Nguyen and his team began their study, they noticed that while solitons are supposed to pass through one another, some seemed to bounce off of one another.

“We are proud to host these conferences, because they provide an opportunity for students and faculty to continue to learn more and stay up to date with what is new in the physics community,” said Dr. Barry Friedman, professor of physics at SHSU. “If you’re interested in physics, this is a chance to hear cutting-edge information from the best group of physicists in the country.”

James' Harvard Presentation Available on YouTube

Professor Reneé James was invited by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to give a public talk about her book, "Science Unshackled." The presentation was well-received and was made to a packed house. A video of Dr. James' presentation is below.

SHSU Students Attend American Astronomical Society Meeting in Seattle With Miller

Physics faculty member Dr. Scott Miller recently accompanied two SHSU students, Travis Hites (physics major) and Katrina Reeves (astronomy lab instructor), to the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Washington on January 5-8, 2015, where they presented posters on research they completed with Dr. Miller regarding the NASA-funded ASSET summer workshops presented over the past two years by Dr. Renee James and Dr. Miller.

Reeves and Hites

Travis Hites and Katrina Reeves with their posters at the AAS meeting in Seattle


Katrina Reeves discussing her poster with another AAS conference attendee

Department of Physics Offers Special Partial Eclipse Viewing October 23

The SHSU Department of Physics invites you to a special eclipse viewing atop the SHSU parking garage (1730 Avenue I) on Thursday, 23 October 2014. The moon will partially eclipse the Sun that evening, with "first contact" beginning at 5 p.m. Central Daylight Time. The eclipse will be at its best around 6 p.m., when a little over a third of the Sun will be blocked. Viewing will continue until sunset, but the eclipse will continue for western viewers until and will end about 6:42 p.m. CDT.

To view the eclipse, viewers need to wear special eye protection, which the Physics Department will provide. Also on hand will be special solar telescopes. Do NOT try to look at the eclipse without proper filters.

Excerpt of Book by James Published in Discover

An excerpt from Professor Reneé James' new book, Science Unshackled: How Obscure, Abstract, Seemingly Useless Scientific Research Turned Out to Be the Basis for Modern Life, is appearing in the August 29 edition of the popular science magazine Discover. The excerpt, titled "Like GPS? Thank Relativity," describes an early experiment to test Einstein's relativity theory which involved measurements with a number of highly accurate atomic clocks dispersed around the world via jet travel. The tiny differences in the various clocks' timekeeping due to distance demonstrated the reality of relativity in a way that had implications for the development of today's accurate GPS systems. The article is available online here.

James' Forthcoming Book Included in Johns Hopkins University Press Fall Catalog

A new book by Professor Reneé James will be featured in the fall catalog of the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Press. Dr. James' book, Science Unshackled, explains the sometimes unexpected impact of basic science research on modern life. As the catalog notes, "With a novelistic style, C. Renee James reveals how obscure studies of natural phenomena--including curved space-time, poisonous cone snails, exploding black holes, and the precise chemical makeup of the sun--led unexpectedly to WiFi, GPS, genetic sequencing, pain medications, and cancer treatments."

A description and capsule review of the book can be found on page 8 of the catalog. A digital version of the catalog can be viewed here.

Walker Awarded 2014 Enhancement Research Grant

Associate Professor Joel Walker has been awarded a competitive “2014 Enhancement Research Grant” by the Sam Houston State University Office of Research and Sponsored Programs for a proposal entitled “Dynamically Determining Stable Local Minima in No-Scale Supergravity”. This funding affords Dr. Walker valuable summer research time to investigate specific mechanisms by which physical parameters such as the mass of the Dark Matter particle might be naturally predicted.

Additionally, a research assistantship will be funded for two SHSU undergraduate physics students, Jesse Cantu and Trenton Voth, working on optimization of search strategies applicable to related models of physics at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

With cooperative support from the Department of Physics, the College of Sciences, and the SHSU Society of Physics Students, Dr. Walker will also represent Sam Houston State at a planning conference for a next-generation 100 TeV Particle Collider (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center), a conference on high energy physics Phenomenology (University of Pittsburgh - accompanied by Jesse Cantu and recent SHSU graduate William Ellsworth), a workshop on Dark Matter and Collider Physics (Texas A&M University), a workshop on creation of particles in the early universe (Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics), and a conference on Particle Physics and Cosmology (University of Guanajuato, Leon, Mexico).

Dr. Walker will present research findings at each of the latter four meetings on topics to include the no-scale F-SU(5) grand unified theory (with Dimitri Nanopoulos, Tianjun Li and James Maxin), enhancement of supersymmetric particle decay signatures using boosted event topologies (with Bhaskar Dutta and Kuver Sinha), and applications of his computer program AEACuS to the projection of current LHC data refinement strategies onto simulated particle collisions (with Jesse Cantu and William Ellsworth).

Fang Contributes to Groundbreaking Research on Nanoparticle Cobalt Oxide Photocatalyst

Dr. Hui Fang, faculty member in the Department of Physics, participated in a breakthrough research led by Dr. Jiming Bao from University of Houston on nanoparticle cobalt oxide photocatalyst. This research was the first to use cobalt oxide and the first to use neutral water under visible light at high energy conversion efficiency without co-catalysts or sacrificial chemicals. Cobalt oxide nanoparticles were prepared in two ways, using femtosecond laser ablation and through mechanical ball milling. Once the nanoparticles are added and light applied, the water separates into hydrogen and oxygen almost immediately, producing twice as much hydrogen as oxygen. The research demonstrated the potential of using cobalt oxide nanoparticles as a source of renewable fuel. The results of this research were published in Nature Nanotechnology under the title, “Efficient solar water-splitting using a nanocrystalline CoO photocatalyst”.

Pooley Awarded Grant from Research Corporation for Science Advancement

Dr. David Pooley, faculty member in the Department of Physics, has received the Cottrell College Science Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). As RCSA describes the award: "The Cottrell College Science Award (CCSA) program, RCSA's oldest initiative, was created in the early 1970s to promote basic research as a vital component of undergraduate education at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs). Program initiatives are aimed at helping early career faculty to start active research programs targeting complex scientific problems. Because most modern problems in science require teamwork and often cross-disciplinary approaches, CCSA encourages collaborative work."

Dr. Pooley's research supported by this grant will focus on understanding the late stages of evolution in the lives of massive stars. As stars age, they lose a portion of their mass in the form of a wind. The amount of material lost in this wind is not well known, and it can vary as the star goes through different stages before finally dying in a violent explosion known as a supernova. The timescales for these stages are thousands to millions of years, so it is impossible to study this in real time. However, certain types of emissions, such as X-rays and emission lines from hydrogen, are produced as a fast-moving shock wave from the supernova races through the material that was shed earlier in the life of the star. X-ray observations and hydrogen emission observations therefore act like a time machine, tracing the mass-loss history of the progenitor star. With this grant, Dr. Pooley will perform a search of existing X-ray satellite observations, and will also equip the SHSU Observatory to perform systematic observations of the hydrogen emission lines from supernovae.

Students Present Posters at American Astronomical Society Meeting in Washington, DC

Two students in Sam Houston State University’s Department of Physics, Anna Kareva and Cale Lewis, joined the department’s Assistant Professor Scott Miller at the recent semi-annual American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Washington, DC on January 5-9, 2014. At this nationally prominent four-day meeting, astronomers and students from every specialty field within the discipline provide presentations on their work. See full story at the College of Sciences website.

Whine Rand Named KITP Scholar

Dr. Joel Whine Rand was named a 2013-2015 KITP Scholar by the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, with two weeks of travel to the institute funded for three consecutive years.

Astronomy Faculty Members Bringing an Important ASSET to Area Secondary Educators

Dr. Scott Miller and Dr. C. Reneé James of Sam Houston State University's Department of Physics are almost ready to provide an ASSET to regional science teachers. A two-week, on-campus workshop for secondary educators whose courses include an astronomy component, ASSET (Astronomy Summer School of East Texas) will be held from July 15 through July 26, 2013, and then again in the summer of 2014. Dr. Miller and Dr. James were awarded over $200,000, through NASA's Education and Public Outreach in Earth and Space Science arm, to offer educators a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in astronomy as they learn engaging, student-centered activities. With over 25 years' combined experience in astronomical research and astronomy education research, Dr. Miller and Dr. James will be drawing upon the abundant resources from decades of NASA missions.

According to Dr. Miller, "In this workshop we will help teachers incorporate real NASA data in their lesson plans, so they can teach their students HOW we know what we know about astronomy, rather than simply learning it as a bunch of random facts."

The teachers themselves will get to play the role of the student for the first week, as they "test-drive" various astronomy activities that address the required TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and the Next Generation Science Standards with research-backed astronomy education techniques. During the second week, teachers will get to incorporate what they've learned into their own curricula, personalizing it for the students they encounter daily.

"One problem with many workshops is that you get all these ideas, but you don't have time to figure out how to incorporate them into your classes," James said. "By the time the semester starts, you revert to the old methods because changing things is too much effort. But with ASSET, participants will get the chance to show us and the other teachers how they will implement these ideas, and they will provide feedback to each other. They'll make the changes at the workshop, so that they're ready when the school year starts back up."

Distinguished Texas A&M Professor Suntzeff Speaks on “Our Dark Universe” at SHSU

Nicholas B. Suntzeff, a Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor and holder of the Mitchell/Heep/Munnerlyn Chair of Astronomy in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Texas A&M, was a guest lecturer at a public talk presented by the Department of Physics on Wednesday, April 24, 2013, at 7:30 p.m., in Room AB4, Olson Auditorium, on the Sam Houston State University campus. See full story at the College of Sciences website.

During 2008 Dr. Renee James won the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society's Popular Writing Award for her piece in Sky & Telescope, was an invited speaker for the first "Let's Talk!" program that raised money for the Honors Program, and was asked to participate in "Scout Day at Sam" that helped two dozen girl scouts with their astronomy requirements. In addition, Dr. James was nominated for the SHSU Excellence in Teaching Award and won the SPS Physics Professor of the Year Award.