Physics and Astronomy

Physics Major Channels Michael Jackson at Clemson’s National Pan-Hellenic Council Fall Fest Step Show

Physics and Astronomy junior, VJ Mattison, joined his brothers in the Kappa Lambda Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity to compete in last fall’s NPHC Fall Fest Step Show. The group performed a Michael Jackson-themed routine, which featured different members portraying Jackson throughout different stages of his career. Mattison portrayed a mid-career Jackson, performing iconic dance moves like the moonwalk. The Fall Fest Step Show, which is a part of Clemson’s homecoming festivities each year, is a competition fundraiser where NPHC sororities and fraternities face off in a heated step and stroll battle to determine who will be crowned the winner of Fall Fest. Judges score groups based on a variety of factors, including the quality of their stepping, strolling, and overall choreography. Along with bragging rights, Fall Fest winners are awarded a cash prize, which can be used to help cover the cost of dues and the organization’s philanthropic endeavors. Competing in Fall Fest requires months of practice and preparation, which helps bolster the sense of brother- and sisterhood of the participating organizations. Mattison said “Having to be with [my fraternity brothers] every day for the last two months definitely makes our bond stronger.” The NPHC serves as the governing council for nine historically African American fraternities and sororities, eight of which are represented at Clemson. Members note that their participation with these organizations helps them build a community with other African American students and gives them a reason to come back to Clemson after graduation. Though Mattison’s fraternity didn’t take away first place in last fall’s event, they gave an impressive, energy-filled performance! You can learn more about Clemson’s NPHC Fall Fest and view portions of the performances here!

Clemson Astrophysics Alum Featured in NASA’s Early Career Scientist Spotlight

Dr. Ross Silver (Ph.D., 2023) was recently featured in NASA’s “Early Career Scientist Spotlight” series. After graduating with his Ph.D. in 2023, Dr. Silver accepted a position as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. His research is centered on active galactic nuclei (AGN), and since joining NASA, he has contributed to three proposals and one paper. Dr. Silver said his research experience at Clemson, with his Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Marco Ajello, prepared him well for his current position. We’re so proud of Dr. Silver’s accomplishments! You can read NASA’s article about Dr. Silver here

Credit: Jay Friedlander

PandA Graduate Student Awarded Prestigious Research Award

Congratulations to PandA doctoral student, Madeline Clyburn! Clyburn, who works with Dr. Jonathan Zrake, recently won a prestigious NASA FINESST award for her research on black holes! The award includes a stipend as well as financial support for computing equipment and to attend astronomical conferences in the U.S. and abroad. Learn more about Clyburn’s research and the FINESST award at 

PandA Grad Student to Give Invited Talk at Space Technology Conference in Taiwan

Atmospheric and Space Physics graduate student Deepali Aggarwal is scheduled to give an invited talk at the International Conference on GPS Radio Occultation in Taipei, Taiwan. The conference, which takes place in November, 2023, aims to integrate science, technology, and industry in the space domain. Deepali, a second year graduate student, will present her research on the response of Earth’s ionosphere to instabilities in the jet stream and the polar vortex. This collaborative work with her advisor Dr. Jens Oberheide and colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, has a number of important consequences for the predictability of space weather and space situation awareness in the very low Earth orbit that is considered the new frontier of space technology. Deepali’s travel is fully covered by the Taiwan Space Agency.

Prof. Chad Sosolik Appointed Interim Chair of Physics and Astronomy

Dr. Chad Sosolik, who was appointed acting chair of Physics and Astronomy following the departure of Dr. Sean Brittain, officially accepted College of Science Dean, Cynthia Young’s offer to serve as interim chair of the department on August 17, 2023. Dr. Sosolik is an experimental condensed matter physicist with a PhD in Physics from Cornell University who joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2003 and has served as the undergraduate program coordinator since 2015. As a researcher, Dr. Sosolik’s efforts focus primarily on the interactions of single atoms and ions with surfaces, including extensions of that work to electronic devices and biomaterials. In addition, Dr. Sosolik manages the Electron Beam Ion Trap laboratory (CUEBIT) which generates highly charged ions for studies in fundamental atomic physics, laboratory astrophysics, and radiation effects in materials. His work has been funded by numerous agencies, including NSF, NASA and DARPA, including the receipt of an NSF CAREER award in 2006. As a physics educator, Dr. Sosolik has been recognized as a recipient of the George B. Pegram Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Southeast by the American Physical Society (2019) and served as the president of the Southern Atlantic Coast section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (SACS-AAPT). Dr. Sosolik will serve as interim chair until the appointment of a permanent chair, a position for which a national search has been launched by the department in cooperation with the College of Science. We are confident the department will continue to thrive under the capable leadership of Dr. Sosolik! 

GSO Led Symposium Highlights Student Research

The Clemson Physics & Astronomy Graduate Student Organization (GSO), led by outgoing GSO president, Benjamin Amend, hosted the annual Symposium for the Introduction of Research in Physics and Astronomy (SIRPA) on Monday, August 21 at the Madren Conference Center. SIRPA is an event highlighting current student research across the various subfields of physics and astronomy within the department. This student-led event features research talks and poster presentations by current CU P&A graduate and undergraduate students. Keynote speaker, Prof. Sarah Morrison, an astronomer and faculty member at Missouri State University, kicked off this year’s event. SIRPA 2023 included thirteen student talks and twelve student posters. Mr. Amend concluded this year’s event by introducing incoming GSO president, Madeline Clyburn, and presenting the awards for “Best Talk” and “Best Poster,” which were selected through participant voting. First place for “Best Talk” was awarded to Andrealuna Pizzetti for her talk entitled, “To the Torus and Beyond.” Second place was awarded to Zhenzhen Zhang for her talk entitled, “Bri2 BRICHOS Domain Inhibiting JAPP Aggregation.” Winning first and second prize for “Best Poster” were Nikita Khatiya and Prawin Rimal/Pitambar Poudel, respectively. Winners received a certificate and gift card. Congratulations to the award winners, participants, and GSO on another successful event!

Congratulations to our August Graduates

Congratulations to Clemson P&A’s newest Ph.D.s! Receiving doctoral degrees at the August 10th Ph.D. Hooding Ceremony were Rick Mattish (adviser, Prof. Joan Marler), Aniruddha “Ani” Pan (adviser, Prof. Catalina Marinescu), Samalka Anandagoda (adviser, Prof. Dieter Hartmann), and Yang Yang (adviser, Prof. Endre Takacs). We are so proud of the accomplishments of this group, and we wish them all the best in their future endeavors!

PandA Grad Student to Give Talk at TEDxMirandola in Italy

Astrophysics graduate student, Andrealuna Pizzetti is scheduled to give a talk about one of her favorite subjects–the moon–at TEDxMirandola in Italy this Saturday, June 24! Pizzetti will discuss how the world, society, and technology would look if the moon were destroyed or had never formed.

“If you think about the 1950s and the ‘60s, everyone wanted to go to the moon. So, if there was no moon, how would that have looked?” asked Pizzetti, “How much different would the Space Force and our upcoming space missions look if we had never been to the moon?”

Pizzetti will dive deep into these questions, using the knowledge she has gained from following her passion for the stars.

After earning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Bologna, Pizzetti decided to pursue her doctorate in physics at Clemson under her adviser, Dr. Marco Ajello to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an astronomer. “When you do a Ph.D., you really need to love what you’re doing,” she said. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always been in love with astronomy.”

When she was 10, Pizzetti got her first astronomy book, and her mom took her to the local observatory. Eventually, she began to volunteer at that same observatory. “For 12 years before coming to the U.S., I used to volunteer in the local observatory. That’s a place where I feel happy, and when I talk about stars and what you see in the sky.”

Pizzetti still has a passion for astrophysics outreach. She is part of a YouTube channel called On Planet Nine. The channel breaks down astrophysical topics and explains them for all people to learn. “I can explain to you the same phenomena with equations, but also with words and in different ways so that you can understand,” Pizzetti said.

Her TEDx talk is another opportunity for Pizzetti to talk about what she loves and to educate people through an accessible platform. She strives to make intimidating topics like astronomy and physics something everyone can learn about. “Everyone always tells me, ‘Oh, you must be a genius because you do astrophysics.’ It’s like, ‘No, that’s not true. I’m just a normal person.’” Pizzetti’s love for the stars and for teaching people about them fuels her ambition to become an educator one day. “You just need to find the right language to explain to people even the most difficult thing, and that’s something I’ve always loved to do,” she said.

Adapted from Clemson News.

Clemson to host International Workshop on Inelastic Ion-Surface Collisions

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is excited to announce that we will host the 24th International Workshop on Inelastic Ion-Surface Collisions (IISC-24). This year’s workshop will take place September 10-15 in Charleston, SC. The workshop is a biennial gathering of the world’s experts in particle-solid interactions, drawing in researchers from the fields of chemistry, physics, materials science, and fusion research. First organized in 1976 at Bell Labs, IISC meetings have rotated over the past four decades to be held all around the world, most recently in Japan in 2019. By tradition, the weeklong meeting will feature early career scientists in the field with plenary and invited speakers already committed to attending from research institutions in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and South America.
Learn more at the IISC-24 Conference Website:

CU PandA Alumna Wins Prestigious Award, Postdoctoral Fellowship

     Clemson Physics and Astronomy alumna, Emily Thompson (B.S., 2016) has received an award for her Ph.D. thesis from the ATLAS Collaboration at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. After graduating from Clemson, Thompson enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Germany. Her dissertation focused on the search for long-lived supersymmetric particles. Her work represents the first attempt to search for such particles using the ATLAS detector.
     The ATLAS Collaboration is a vast technological and human undertaking, consisting of more than 5,500 people in over 180 institutions all around the world. Nearly a fifth of the collaboration members are Ph.D. students. A dedicated committee selects up to six awards every year to recognize outstanding doctoral dissertations within the collaboration.
“Emily was a fantastic Ph.D. student, and thus I am not surprised that ATLAS awarded this competitive prize to her!” says Thompson’s supervisor, DESY Research Director Beate Heinemann.
     Thompson’s award-winning Ph.D. research helped her earn a coveted Chamberlain Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. “Dr. Thompson was one of our most outstanding students,” remarks CU Physics and Astronomy Chair, Dr. Sean Brittain, “As a department, we are committed to integrating research with education to help our students reach their goals. Seeing her continue to excel at the highest level in physics is incredibly gratifying.”
    The Department of Physics and Astronomy congratulates Dr. Thompson, and we look forward to following her promising career!

Adapted from: 

Dr. Emily Thompson (left) with her Ph.D. adviser, 
DESY Particle Physics Director, Beate Heinemann.