Department of Physics

  • With new NSF grant, UAB researchers have a hot ticket to the materials of the future

    UAB will be a statewide hub for developing a new generation of components for spacecraft, power plants and biomedical implants thanks to crush- and corrosion-resistant spark plasma sintering technology.

    Read more...
  • Physicists explain how to beat automation and navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution

    The first Industrial Revolution, the one that built cities and takes up the most space in history books, was driven by water and steam. The second was fueled by electricity. The third was the result of simple digitization. Today, we are living in the early days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, powered in part by artificial intelligence (AI), quantum science, and quantum engineering.

    The first Industrial Revolution, the one that built cities and takes up the most space in history books, was driven by water and steam. The second was fueled by electricity. The third was the result of simple digitization. Today, we are living in the early days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, powered in part by artificial intelligence (AI), quantum science, and quantum engineering. A convergence of physical, digital, human, and biological sciences is forcing companies across all industries to re-examine how they do business and what kinds of employees they hire.

    More and more, repetitive work is being taken on by computers that use AI techniques such as machine learning. What is left for humans? Anything that requires creativity and critical thinking. Research has shown that five skills are of the greatest value to today’s employers. These are what you could call “21st century skills”:

    • problem-solving,
    • critical and creative thinking,
    • collaboration,
    • communication and
    • ethical reasoning and mindset.

    When combined with technical specialized training, these skills make workers more competitive for high-demand, high-paying jobs in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) fields.

    The Building (IT) Together report from Burning Glass Technologies, commissioned for the city of Birmingham by a consortium of local groups, has identified three main areas for economic growth and workforce development in our region: advanced manufacturing, information technologies, and life sciences and biotech. These recommendations also align with the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Accelerate Alabama 2.0 economic development plan for recruitment, development, and workforce training. As both plans note, employers are seeking candidates who have demonstrated proficiency in using specialized skills to solve complex problems.

    What is the best way to prepare for this future? The 21st century skills are not specific to any individual discipline, but the right blend of training and opportunity is crucial. In the UAB Department of Physics, our existing hands-on research projects and faculty expertise let students pursue highly sought-after experiences in materials science, lasers and photonics, computation, and high-tech instrumentation. These experiences are now critical for all STEMM fields and 21st century jobs.

    Our courses integrate new AI-enabled, socially rich, remotely accessible activities with the best of face-to-face and in-laboratory experiences. In-person or online, our students benefit from one-on-one, high-quality interactions with faculty researchers who have international reputations. You don’t become a physicist by watching a professor talk. You must be a problem-solver, work effectively in teams, have STEMM content knowledge, must be a self-directed learner, and must make ethical decisions.

    The problems addressed by physics research are complex. They require skills such as imagination and the ability to break down a complex problem into manageable parts. You know where you want to go, but you don’t know how to get there. So we train students to tackle situations they have not encountered before through team-based learning and project-based lessons.

    Three examples will give you a flavor of what our students learn:

    • In Machine Learning Applications in Physics and Materials Science, students solve real problems while learning about one of the hottest branches of artificial intelligence and getting hands-on with industry-standard tools.
    • Understanding the World through Data gives students of all disciplines an introduction to computer modeling as a way to develop reasoning, critical thinking, analysis, and problem-solving skills. Throughout the course, students make and explore conjectures in physics and data science as well as biology, the social sciences, business, and more.
    • Reasoning through Modeling and Simulation of Data dives deeper into modeling and simulation, with a focus on using acquired knowledge for project-based cooperative learning in the analysis of real-world datasets.

    UAB has always set itself apart by welcoming undergraduates into our research labs as early as their freshman years. Students who discover an interest in any of these areas can join our research teams working on projects in advanced computation, advanced materials, and lasers and photonics.

    The impact doesn’t stop there. Over the past several years, our faculty have developed an online course called Coding with Physics that uses hands-on, experiential learning and “gameful” learning concepts to help teachers in Alabama high schools get their students excited about science. Our Understanding the World through Data course is a foundational class in the Magic City Data Collective project. This public-private partnership aims to help Birmingham students explore careers and gain data-literacy skills while tackling real-world projects for local companies and organizations. We emphasize the development of digital fluency, i.e., an ability to use technology in order to create new knowledge. For example, when learning a new language, a literate person can read and speak, while a fluent person can use it to create a story or a poem. All students and life-long learners must be able to learn and use the new technologies that they will need to solve problems in the future, including those technologies that do not exist yet.

    No one wants to spend a career looking over their shoulder as a robot is trained to do their work. We are doing our part to prepare a generation that looks forward instead.

    Ilias Perakis, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Physics. Lauren Rast, Ph.D., is assistant professor in the Department of Physics.

    Read more...
  • UAB celebrates groundbreaking of Science and Engineering Complex on Sept. 9

    UAB’s newest academic building, located in the heart of campus, will serve College of Arts and Sciences faculty, staff and students.

    Read more...
  • Science and Engineering Complex: A personal perspective

    “My first steps at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Physics began 28 years ago in July 1993.”

    My first steps at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Physics began 28 years ago in July 1993. Dr. Bill Sibley, at that time UAB Vice President for Academic Affairs and physics faculty member, invited me to UAB and charged me with establishing a laser lab. Soon after that invitation, I remember sitting at one of the Department of Physics offices with Dr. Chris Lawson and Dr. David Shealy, chair of the department at the time, on the recently opened third ​floor of Campbell Hall, and, together, we generated technical drawings of the future Laser and Nonlinear Optics Labs. We intended to build the labs on the fourth floor during the upcoming remodeling of the then-vacant building shell located on the fourth floor of Campbell Hall.

    After several decades of teaching and researching within the Department of Physics, I am excited for a big day in Fall 2023 when the department, together with the departments of Chemistry and Biology, will be relocated to a modern science and engineering building. The Science and Engineering Complex will provide cutting-edge instructional and research laboratories and will be a magnet for excellent students and faculty. The research missions of these departments and the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) as a whole will be strongly advanced due to a modern and highly collaborative space enabling synergetic relationships between our departments, as well as with other departments, clinical units, colleges, and universities. It is expected that the new complex will enable the three basic science departments to attract new talent, retain existing talent, and win new research funding not possible without this infrastructure investment.

    The UAB and CAS investment in the new Science and Engineering Complex was an instrumental component of a $25 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center for Infrared-driven Intense-field Science (IRIS) project recently submitted by 11 universities led by the University of Central Florida. The project became one of the NSF finalists and the final decision is expected soon.

    The UAB Department of Physics’ world-leading expertise and patented technology of novel infrared gain materials and lasers opened the pathway for the design of new highly intense mid-long-wavelength infrared (3-10 um) lasers. Many physical phenomena performed with intense laser pulses—including electron acceleration and the production of short wavelength X-rays—favor lasers with wavelengths longer than the widely available, conventional near-infrared (~1 um) solid-state lasers. Conquering these so-called scaling laws will provide for laboratory tabletop plasma formation and particle acceleration, novel materials modifications, and attosecond (10-18 s) molecular dynamics investigations in university laboratory settings. The long-wavelength regime represents an unexplored scientific frontier that will reveal new phenomena; generate a significant impact across STEM fields; and bring deep insight into atomic, molecular, plasma, and material sciences.

    The UAB Department of Physics and IRIS activities of integrated research, optical development, and education are important steps in reestablishing the United States’ presence in the international landscape of high power laser activities. The commercialization of the infrared laser technology will make them available for new discoveries by many more scientists, including biologists, chemists, materials scientists, and medical doctors.


    Sergey Mirov, Ph.D., is University Professor of Physics. The groundbreaking of the UAB Science and Engineering Complex will be held on Septembter 9, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. Learn more about the new building at uab.edu/cas/building.

    Read more...
  • UAB researcher awarded a prestigious fellowship in Germany

    Vijayan’s research will study the biodegradation of devices within the human body.

    Read more...
  • UAB laser physicist to chair the 2021 Advanced Solid State Laser Congress

    Sergey Mirov, Ph.D., lead researcher in developing and investigating tunable lasers, will be the general chair for the Optical Society’s Advanced Solid State Laser Congress.

    Read more...
  • Physics courses inspired by ‘good games’ help draw high schoolers to STEM careers

    Coding with Physics workshops train teachers to incorporate storytelling, supportive teamwork, productive failure and other videogame techniques to engage teens in science.

    Read more...
  • Two UAB researchers receive nearly $1.3 million in grant funding

    With the funding, Da Yan, Ph.D., will study how newly emerging services are changing the way Alabamians travel every day, and Paul Baker, Ph.D., will work toward the development of an artificial vascular graft.

    Read more...
  • I Am Arts and Sciences: Vincent Cirel

    Vincent Cirel developed a passion for mathematics in high school and found personal inspiration even earlier in life working with his grandfather as a land surveyor. When it was time to pursue his undergraduate degree, he looked to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    While growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Vincent Cirel developed a passion for mathematics in high school and found personal inspiration even earlier in life working with his grandfather as a land surveyor. When it was time to pursue his undergraduate degree, he looked to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    "I always thought I'd do my undergraduate work at UAB," said Cirel. "It was a part of my hometown."

    During his tenure at UAB, Cirel pursued a major in mathematics and a minor in physics. His talents and interests aligned with the emergence of the Word Wide Web, and, as a result, he applied his valuable knowledge in real-time at UAB's Health Sciences Learning Technologies Lab.

    He became the co-founder and co-chair of the UAB Web Advisory Group, and he navigated the evolution of the web at UAB for seven years. This experience reflects a primary theme in Cirel's life and career—leveraging emerging technologies during pivotal moments within institutions and businesses.

    "I was passionate about science and technology, and I blended it with the business world," said Cirel.

    Cirel continued to build his knowledge and expertise, earning a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from UAB and a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University. By combining his cross-curricular academic interests in mathematics, applied sciences, and business, Cirel successfully co-led Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings through a defining moment in 2013.

    "Norwegian went public in 2013," said Cirel. "It transformed the cruise line industry."

    As Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Cirel spearheaded the expansion of mobile/social to include full customer lifecycle integration and got to stand at the podium when the company was added to the NASDAQ. It was a defining point in his career.

    Throughout his numerous professional milestones, Cirel admits that he never steered far from his early foundations in mathematics and physics. "That foundation is something I rely on and apply everyday," said Cirel.

    Today, Cirel is the executive vice president of Worldstrides, Inc. (in addition to many independent consulting engagements) and, through these roles, he finds ways to leverage emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and quantum computing. As he continues to blaze ahead, he sees his alma mater as a source of continued pride and inspiration. 

    "It's interesting to watch how UAB has grown in size and impact. It's what you always hope will happen," said Cirel.

    As Cirel's career moves forward, he continues to watch the transformation of the business world, noting that fewer people are focused solely on financial wealth. He sees workplaces emphasizing and elevating personal growth and diversity, equity, and inclusion, which he believes is important and necessary.

    He encourages future UAB graduates to think about both their personal and professional goals as they look ahead. "The most important early-career question to ask is, 'Where does my passion lie?' And do your very best to align your efforts to that answer," said Cirel.

    Read more...
  • More than 1,100 employees to be honored with annual service awards

    This year, the university recognizes 50 years of service by Jeanne Hutchison, Ph.D., and Ferdinand Urthaler, M.D., and 45 years of service by Robert Kim M.D., and Joseph Lovetto. In addition, 294 employees with 20 or more years and 904 with five, 10 and 15 years will honored for their longevity.

    Read more...
  • Eight UAB researchers included on list of “1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists”

    The list was made by a group that aspires to bolster and increase diversity across all scientific fields, promote retention through the “leaky academic pipeline,” and broaden academic and industrial awareness of diversity and inclusion.

    Read more...
  • NSF CAREER grant powers quantum magnet research

    Assistant Professor Wenli Bi, Ph.D., in the Department of Physics will expand studies in a field that could lead to new green technologies — and more opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities in cutting-edge physics.

    Read more...
  • UAB program recognized as Top 25 Best Online degree

    The Accelerated Bachelor’s/Master’s program in the UAB Department of Physics has been recognized as a Top 25 Best Online program by The Bachelor’s Degree Center.

    Read more...
  • Advanced Materials Characterization research core selected by IRCP

    The UAB Office of Research and the Institutional Research Core Program announced the selection of a total 15 cores that align and contribute to UAB’s research mission and provide access to cutting-edge technology and/or specialized expertise.

    The UAB Office of Research and the Institutional Research Core Program announced the selection of a total 15 cores that align and contribute to UAB’s research mission and provide access to cutting-edge technology and/or specialized expertise. For the first time, a research core led by the College of Arts and Sciences in Advanced Materials Characterization has been selected for funding. Dr. Paul Baker, researcher in the Department of Physics, is the director with co-director Dr. Vinoy Thomas from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. This new institutional core will consolidate materials characterization facilities in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering under one organizational structure and will result in improved maintenance of high-end capital equipment and result in new interdisciplinary collaborations on UAB campus.

    Selections were made based on merit from 24 applicant cores. Criteria included alignment and contribution to UAB’s research mission, access to cutting-edge technology and/or specialized expertise represented in the services of the core, and core leadership. Learn more about the 15 cores.

    Read more...
  • Vineeth Vijayan awarded prestigious NSF seed grant worth $40,000

    A UAB postdoctoral fellow was awarded a seed grant to help further research in rapid, greener and efficient methods of synthesizing nanoparticles using dusty plasma.

    Read more...
  • 12 honored for excellence in teaching

    Twelve faculty have been selected to receive the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, which honors those who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching. The 2020 honorees represent each school, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Honors College and the Graduate School.

    Read more...
  • UAB National Alumni Society Top 25 Excellence in Business Awards

    The 2020 UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 event was a little different this year, but the celebration, held via Zoom on Thursday, June 25, was just as meaningful as previous award ceremonies.

    The 2020 UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 event was a little different this year, but the celebration, held via Zoom on Thursday, June 25, was just as meaningful as previous award ceremonies. Nine College of Arts and Sciences alumni were honored as members of the 2020 class—we are very proud of their achievements.

    These deserving graduates were among 25 UAB alumni recognized for their success at a company they founded, owned, or managed. The UAB National Alumni Society has ranked and verified the nominated companies based on the annual growth rate for the three most recent reporting periods.

    Companies being considered for an Excellence in Business Award must meet the following criteria:

    1. The company must be owned, managed or founded by a UAB graduate (or group of graduates) who meets one of the following:
      • Owned 50 percent or more of the company during the most recent eligible period.
      • Served on the most senior/division leadership team (chairman, CEO, president, partner, vice president, broker, etc.) during the eligible period.
    2. The company has been in operation for a minimum of three years prior to December 31, 2019.
    3. The company has verifiable revenues of at least $150,000 for its most recent 12-month reporting period.

    Congratulations to our deserving graduates!

    ADAM ALDRICH

    Aldrich is the president and co-founder of Airship, a software development firm in Birmingham. Airship deploys a wide array of technologies to service clients in 11 states and across a range of industries, including healthcare, construction, retail, insurance, real estate, non-profit, and fitness. Aldrich graduated with a B.S. in computer and information sciences in 2008.

    JOSHUA BAKER

    Baker is the owner and managing director of Baker Camp Arnold Capital Management, a premier, full-service financial advisory firm located in Hoover, Alabama, with a nationwide presence. The firm offers clients concierge-quality advisory and planning services customized for their individual needs and goals. Its approach is to centralize clients’ diverse financial strategies and life plans to provide a coordinated, efficient, and effective road map for financial security. Baker graduated with a B.A. in history in 2004.


    JOHN BURDETT

    Burdett graduated with a B.S. in computer and information sciences in 2000. Today he is the CEO of Fast Slow Motion, which offers expert Salesforce guidance for growing businesses. The company focuses on implementing Salesforce as a platform to run businesses so companies can focus on growth—not managing technology or worrying about operations. Its team has expertise across a wide range of businesses and industries.

    DAVID FORRESTALL

    Forestall founded SecurIT360 in 2009. The full-service, cybersecurity and compliance consulting firm has grown consistently year after year. With offices in Chicago, Illinois, and Birmingham, SecurIT360 has partnered with hundreds of organizations nationwide and abroad to measure, monitor, and respond to cyber risk. Forrestall graduated with a B.S. in physics in 1996.


    JOE MALUFF

    Maluff graduated with a B.S. in Psychology in 1996. Today, he is an owner of Full Moon Bar-B-Que, one of the Southeast’s most popular restaurants. Joe and his brother David bought the original restaurant and have grown the business while still maintaining the landmark restaurant’s family feel. Full Moon employs 345 people across Alabama.

    BRADY McLAUGHLIN

    McLaughlin is CEO of Trio Safety CPR+AED, a family of four life-saving brands designed to prepare the general public to save lives with AEDs, CPR, first-aid training, and bleeding control kits. They employ 13 team members in Birmingham and have nearly 40 contractors nationwide. McLaughlin graduated in 2009 with a degree in Communication Studies.


    CHRISTINA SMITH

    Smith graduated in 2009 with a Masters in Public Administration, and today she is the owner and principal of Smith Strategies Association Management, which provides resources to help member associations succeed. Smith began in 2016 with the Alabama chapter of the American College of Cardiology. Four years later, the company manages seven membership associations that collectively have more than 3,500 members and a budget of more than $7 million.

    CORY WAGGONER

    Waggoner is CEO of Higher Yields Consulting, a cannabis consulting firm located in Denver, Colorado. Higher Yields provides assistance for businesses seeking guidance and advice in this highly competitive industry. The company provides government support, compliance training, garden management, commercial facility build and design services, branding, and business development services. Waggoner graduated with a B.S. in Justice Sciences in 2009


    JAMES WU

    Wu is Co-Founder and CEO of DeepMap, which has a goal to provide the world’s best HD mapping and localization services for autonomous vehicles and smart cities. Founded in 2016, DeepMap employs about 140 people, including a growing team of experienced engineers and product visionaries. It partners with global companies including Ford, Honda, SAIC Motor, Bosch, Daimler, and Einride. Wu graduated with an M.S. in computer and information sciences in 2001 and a Ph.D. in 2003.

    Read more...
  • NASA Alabama Space Grant Consortium awards fellowships, scholarships to UAB students

    UAB students are granted the opportunity to continue academic goals through NASA research programs.

    Read more...
  • New discovery helps close the gap toward optically controlled quantum computation

    Model building and analysis of optically controlled quantum computation at UAB leads to new discovery.

    Read more...
  • Honoring the 2020 winners of Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

    Congratulations to Drs. Danny Siegel (English), Renato Camata (Physics), and Jason Linville (Criminal Justice)
    From left: Dr. Renato Camata, Dr. Danny Siegel, and Dr. Jason Linville.

    The Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes full-time regular faculty members of College of Arts and Sciences who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching. The individual must have held faculty status at UAB for a minimum of three years and may receive the award only once in any three-year period. The 2020 winners were chosen from these three distinctive areas and departments:

    • Arts and Humanities: Art and Art History, Music, Theatre, English, Foreign Languages, History, and Philosophy
    • Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Physics, and Mathematics
    • Social and Behavioral Sciences: African American Studies, Anthropology, Communication Studies, Criminal Justice, Political Science and Public Administration, Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology

    The awards were based outstanding accomplishments in teaching as demonstrated by criteria including:

    • Broad, thorough knowledge of the subject area and the ability to effectively convey difficult concepts to students.
    • Exemplary classroom instruction as evidenced by student and peer evaluation.
    • Fairness, open-mindedness, and accessibility to students in and out of the classroom setting.
    • Effective use of innovative teaching methods and assurance that his/her courses stay abreast of current theory and use of modern technology.
    • Ability to infuse students with a commitment to life-long learning and professional development.

    The three winners, who were selected by the CAS President's Award for Excellence in Teaching Committee, will be considered for the final College of Arts and Sciences nominee for the President's Award of Excellence in Teaching. 

    Arts and Humanities: Dr. Danny Siegel, Associate Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of English

    Natural Sciences and Mathematics: Dr. Renato Camata, Associate Professor, Undergraduate Program Director, Department of Physics

    Social and Behavioral Sciences: Dr. Jason Linville, Teaching Assistant Professor, Department of Criminal Justice

    Read more...