Chair’s Note

Message from the Chair

When I became the Chair of the Engineering Physics Department just over a year ago, I never could have expected the year that would follow, one marked by a lingering global pandemic and urgent calls to address systemic racism.  In twenty years as a faculty member, I have never seen the campus respond so promptly and with purpose as I have to these two issues.  As much as these topics have dominated so many stories since this spring, there are many other things to share about the Engineering Physics department.

At the top of that list are three new faculty members that have started in the last year.  Professor Kumar Sridharan has been a research leader in our department for two decades and inviting him to become a professor will make it easier for both our undergraduate and graduate students to benefit from his internationally recognized expertise both in the classroom and through expanded opportunities to mentor students.  Assistant Professor Stephanie Diem has returned to her alma mater (BSNE 2003), having collected experiences at PPPL, ORNL and DIII-D, to lead innovative new upgrades in hardware and operational regimes for Pegasus as it expands to its new mission.  Finally, Assistant Professor Ben Lindley has joined from the UK, where he worked in the commercial sector to leverage his expertise and experience in reactor physics methods into support for an array of advanced reactor concepts.  

With these new additions, and the recent retirements of Profs. Robert Witt and Jake Blanchard, we have the youngest faculty in the College of Engineering and are poised for a growing portfolio of research successes.  Early signs of those successes came in a few shapes this year. Assistant Prof. Benedikt Geiger was awarded one of the Department of Energy’s Early Career research award to study the transport of impurities in stellarators, expanding the UW’s expertise in stellarator physics.  As part of another successful year for our faculty and scientists, Assistant Profs. Yongfeng Zhang and Ben Lindley were successful in their first attempts to secure funding from the NEUP R&D program, the primary funding opportunity for the nuclear engineering community.  Zhang will be using computational approaches to understanding the irradiation behavior of TRISO fuel and Lindley will study the design of integrated nuclear and solar energy systems for the generation of both electricity and potable water.

Some may be surprised to learn how much biology plays a role in our research portfolio. Professor Rod Lakes has a longstanding interest in the behavior of hierarchical biological materials, and Professor Wendy Crone has been collaborating with cardiac stem cell researchers by studying, developing and providing substrate materials with mechanical properties that ensure these cells develop successfully and tools to assess whether they’ve been successful. But the newest addition is Assistant Professor Jacob Notbohm’s lab, where he and his students study how the stresses and strains imposed on or by individual cells and networks of cellular material affect the growth and formation of those cells and those around them. Among other things, this research can help us understand the way that some diseases grow and spread, or how tissues grow to heal wounds.  Notbohm has been recognized by the Society for Experimental Mechanics by selecting him for their highly selective Young Investigator Lecture.

We hope that all of you and your family are staying well during these challenging times.  As our Engineering Physics department works to support our campus’ efforts to continue providing a world class education during this pandemic, we are renewing our commitment making the department a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.  We look forward to sharing examples of these with you in the coming months along as we continue our excellence in research and education.

Stay well and be kind to each other – and On Wisconsin!