Department of Physics

  • AI and Data Science in UAB’s Department of Physics

    In the last decade, data science has become truly interdisciplinary, with accelerating applications in many different fields and data scientists coming from diverse disciplines.

    Data science was born centuries ago when vast amounts of astronomical data first became available. To draw actionable conclusions from the information, new approaches for analyzing data had to be invented. Today, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and other data science techniques offer new opportunities for analyzing big data to solve problems impacting society.

    In the last decade, data science has become truly interdisciplinary, with accelerating applications in many different fields and data scientists coming from diverse disciplines. For example, ML and data-driven approaches are used by physicists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to solve challenging science and engineering problems, holding promise to revolutionize current technologies and advance fundamental knowledge that will change our world.

    Specifically, UAB’s Department of Physics is integrating data-enabled materials and photonics research with workforce training to prepare graduates for a data-driven technical market. For example, faculty members Renato Camata, Ph.D., and Cheng-Chien Chen, Ph.D., were part of the “Roadmap on artificial intelligence and big data techniques for superconductivity,” a paper that lays out how AI and big data drive superconductivity research and development (R&D) to spark a tech revolution. This roadmap was published as an invited paper in the Institute of Physics’ journal Superconductor Science and Technology, and it showcases 18 short pieces produced by 40 researchers from 25 institutions around the world. Together, these articles offer a comprehensive guide on how the power of machine learning can help overcome present obstacles that have held back the creation of new technologies built with superconducting components.

    This data-enabled research has also provided new opportunities for UAB students. For example, a recent physics Ph.D. graduate found a job as an R&D associate in AI-enabled synthesis of novel materials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Other graduate students have been using machine learning to visualize and decode complex experimental data acquired with electron microscopy and advanced laser spectroscopy. In addition, physics undergraduate students have been using AI to model financial stress in the banking system and adapt AI codes to analyze hyperspectral data for energy applications.

    The Department of Physics is offering new Blazer Core Curriculum and elective courses for all students. Such courses promoting data fluency and computational modeling instruction include “Understanding the World Through Data,” “Reasoning through Modeling and Simulation of Data,” and “Machine Learning Applications in Physics and Materials Science.” Also, data visualization and analysis tools are now embedded in introductory physics courses that serve many undergraduate majors, such as “General Physics I & II” and “Computation, Theory, and Measurement in Quantum Physics and Relativity.”

    The department is also reaching the community through programs like the Magic City Data Collective (MCDC). The MCDC internship program connects future data professionals with purpose-driven organizations, including many local companies and non-profits. In this innovative data training program, UAB student teams from a wide variety of backgrounds and majors realize the synergistic benefits of their varied disciplinary perspectives by solving problems of civic importance.

    By emphasizing fundamental data science and computational skills together with critical thinking and creativity, the Department of Physics prepares students to tackle real-world, complex problems across a variety of disciplines, including physics, data science, biology, business, and finance. Centuries ago, Copernicus and Kepler were the first “data scientists” who figured out planetary orbits from astronomical data. Now, physicists are using data science to enable the fourth industrial revolution.

    Given the department’s recent national award from the American Physical Society, as well as being named one of the 25 Best Online Accelerated Physics BS/MS degrees, great progress for addressing the challenges and opportunities of today’s knowledge-based economy and society has been made through these efforts.

  • UAB Music students win at state singing competition

    Music majors Austin Green and Reagan Martin and physics major Jackson Hanle won top prizes in the Alabama State Auditions of the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

  • “Blessed and Grateful …”: Longstanding UAB employee reflects on life and career

    UAB shop administrator Jerry Sewell is celebrating 85 years of life and 59 years with UAB.

  • UAB Department of Physics receives national award for undergraduate education

    The UAB Department of Physics will receive a national award for improving undergraduate education by the American Physical Society in April.

  • College of Arts and Sciences announces grant recipients

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences offers faculty a range of awards and grant opportunities to advance their research and scholarship and recognize their achievements.

    The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Arts and Sciences offers faculty a range of awards and grant opportunities to advance their research and scholarship and recognize their achievements.

    In 2020, the College announced a new grants program aimed at supporting students’ diversity awareness and building their multicultural competence. Through the program - entitled Building a Multicultural Curriculum - faculty can access grants to develop new courses or revise existing courses. Faculty can use the funds to pay for instructional materials, professional development, student assistants, and salaries. Congratulations to the 2022-2023 grant recipients:

    • Aiqi Liu, Ph.D., Department of History: “Race and Power in U.S-Pacific Relations from 1776 to 1952”
    • Gabe H. Miller, Ph.D., Department of Sociology: “The -Isms and -Phobias: Intersectionality in the Social Sciences”
    • Samiksha Raut, Ph.D., Department of Biology: “Instructional Teaching Practicum BY 488-02A; BY 488- 02B (Honors)”
    • Michelle Wooten, Ph.D., Department of Physics: “Preserving Alabama’s Starry Skies”

    In 2021, the College launched a new grant mechanism -  Mid-Career Pivot Grants - to support tenured faculty seeking to “pivot to a new direction in their research scholarship or creative activity." The individual grants are for a maximum of $10,000 over a two-year period for the disciplinary project proposed by the tenured faculty. After a review conducted by the senior faculty members in CAS, the following three pivot grants were selected for funding for 2022-2023:

    • Aaron Catledge, Ph.D., Department of Physics, “From Super-Hard to High-Entropy:
      A Novel Approach in Materials Development”
    • Stephen Merritt, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, “Social Science Research in Cellular Agriculture”
    • Gregory Mumford, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, “Coring in Lisht’s floodplain to locate the ‘lost’ Middle Kingdom Itj-tawy, Egypt”

    The College organizes monthly innovation forums to focus on some of the world's biggest problems where interdisciplinary innovations could have a significant impact and where UAB has existing strengths/interests.

    In addition to the forums, the College issues an annual call for interdisciplinary team proposals.

    Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biology, was selected for a FY 2023 CAS Interdisciplinary Team Award of $30,000 for his proposal entitled “Alternative antimicrobials and ecology of therapeutic treatment.” This interdisciplinary team award represents a collaboration led by Morris between CAS and the UAB School of Engineering. This interdisciplinary team proposal was selected after an external review of the all the proposals that were submitted to the College in November 2022.

  • UAB secures National Science Foundation grant to help sustain artificial intelligence

     Research from UAB on neuromorphic computing is now being funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

  • 2022 in review: In case you missed these stories

    From innovative teaching approaches to research accomplishments, opportunities for artistic expression and more, there’s no shortage of stories to tell about what’s happening at UAB. Review some of the year’s best below, and visit and to read hundreds more.

  • An artistic focus in astronomy courses creates community and creativity for science students

    Students in Michelle Wooten’s AST 101, 102 and 103 courses discovered unique connections to course material by creating artwork as part of class assignments.

  • Physics graduate finds passion for space, studying coronal mass ejections thanks to UAB mentorship

    For one UAB student, a passion for physics can help keep the Earth safe from space weather events.

  • Department of Energy funds four different projects making impact in fields of chemistry and physics

    Grants totaling more than $3 million have been awarded to UAB researchers in Chemistry and Physics by the Department of Energy, signaling continued investment in UAB projects.

  • Harbert Institute honors Innovation Award winners, inducts first UAB class of National Academy of Inventors members

    At their annual Innovation Awards, UAB’s Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship celebrated innovators from all corners of campus for their accomplishments, inventions and ingenuity.

  • NSF grant brings state-of-the-art materials research equipment to the UAB Department of Physics

    The grant will enhance research capabilities at UAB by facilitating acquisition of a Physical Properties Measurement System.

  • NSF award will help UAB researchers develop and understand high-temperature-resistant materials

    Through this grant, Catledge will explore and develop a class of materials known as high-entropy ceramics.

  • UAB graduate students receive Alabama EPSCoR Graduate Research Scholars Program Round 17 awards

    Five UAB graduate students received more than $118,000 in awards to strengthen graduate research projects.

  • NSF award will boost UAB research in machine-learning-enabled plasma synthesis of novel materials

    The $20 million National Science Foundation award will help UAB and eight other Alabama-based universities build research infrastructure. UAB’s share will be about $2 million.

  • More faculty share the stories behind their development grants

    Plant-based diets, biased language in the courts and the trouble with night lights: Recipients of 2022 Faculty Development Grant Program awards explain how they will use their funds.

  • Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration partners in $20 million statewide effort funded by NSF

    Nine Alabama universities and one private firm are partnered in a new $20 million, five-year effort to develop transformative technologies in plasma science and engineering.

    Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., working with physics graduate student Chris Perreault.Nine Alabama universities and one private firm are partnered in a new $20 million, five-year effort led by the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) to develop transformative technologies in plasma science and engineering (PSE) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

    The grant is entitled “Future Technologies enabled by Plasma Processes” (FTPP) and will be for a five-year duration (2022-2027) to explore plasma synthesized novel materials, surface modified biomaterials, food safety and sterilization, and space weather prediction.

    Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., associate dean for University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and professor university scholar in the Department of Physics, serves as a co-principal investigator and UAB’s Institutional lead for this statewide award. The UAB research team, led by Vohra, includes the following members from the UAB Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration (CNMB), which is based in CAS:

    Scott Snyder, Ph.D., professor in the UAB School of Education, will provide internal evaluation for this grant and will monitor management, statewide workforce issues, and internal projects.

    The grant will support two postdoctoral research scholars at UAB—along with several graduate students—who will work synergistically with other academic institutions and an industrial partner in this consortium. In addition, the grant offers the opportunity for faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars to take the laboratory-based pilot synthesis of novel materials to their full commercial potential.

    “The funding is the result of a team effort from the co-investigators in assembling the group, who generated the concepts and ideas underlying the proposal and executed the plan by writing a successful proposal,” said Gary Zank, Ph.D., FTPP’s principal investigator, director of UAH’s Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research (CSPAR) and the Aerojet Rocketdyne chair of the Department of Space Science.

    Although different in aims, research goals, and scope from a previous $20 million NSF EPSCoR grant awarded in 2017, the new FTPP grant will continue to build plasma expertise, research, and industrial capacity, as well as a highly trained and capable plasma science and engineering workforce, across Alabama.

    Yogesh Vohra. “Plasma is the most abundant form of matter in the observable universe. PSE is a technological and scientific success story, translating advances in fundamental plasma science to technologies that address society’s needs,” said Vohra. “UAB’s role in this consortium is to develop future transformational technologies enabled by PSE including data-driven approaches in plasma synthesized high-entropy and quantum materials.”

    According to Vohra, the research team will employ machine learning techniques to speed up the process for materials discovery and guide the materials synthesis effort using microwave plasma chemical vapor deposition and plasmas generated by high-powered lasers. The plasma synthesized materials will be especially designed for their applicability in extreme environments, including elevated temperatures as well as thin-film superconductors which can be used in quantum information devices. An additional effort is devoted to plasma assisted metal nanoparticle deposition for their antimicrobial properties to be employed in biomedical devices for reduction in infection rates.

    Partnered with UAH and UAB are the University of Alabama (lead: Dr. R. Branam), Auburn University (lead: Dr. E. Thomas), Tuskegee University (lead: Dr. V. Rangari), the University of South Alabama (lead: Dr. E. Spencer), Alabama A&M University (lead: Dr. R. Mentreddy), Alabama State University (lead: Dr. K. Vig), and Oakwood University (lead: Dr. A. Volkov), together with a commercial/industrial partner CFD Research Corporation (lead: Dr. V. Kolobov), that specializes in computational fluid dynamics software and is located in Cummings Research Park.

    In addition, FTPP cooperatively partners with three national laboratories: Los Alamos National Lab, Sandia National Lab, and Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. FTPP will harness and share cooperatively the project team’s collective expertise, resources, and workforce.

    “Not only are the problems to be investigated in the FTPP program among the most challenging intellectually, they have enormous societal benefits and commercial implications,” said Zank.

  • Yager selected for a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship award

    Yager is the first UAB student to receive the NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Opportunities fellowship award since its inception in 2011.

  • Vohra receives $540k grant from U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration

    A UAB physics professor has received a grant to synthesize novel materials for hypersonic applications and study their response under extreme conditions.

  • 22 faculty receive grants to fund developmental projects at UAB

    The grant program funds early-career faculty to advance their skills and careers across campus and beyond.