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Spring Honors for Physics

April 30, 2018

Physics department students and faculty finished the spring term with a multitude of honors—from recognition of research and scholarly excellence to awards for leadership and service. April brings a flurry of honors across campus and the department had an enviable showing across the board. Below is a listing of the much-deserved accolades presented to members of our department.

Chancellor’s Honors Banquet

The Chancellor’s Honors Banquet is held each spring to recognize students, faculty, staff and friends of the University of Tennessee for their extraordinary achievements. The 2018 physics awardees were:

Extraordinary Professional Promise

These honors are awarded to undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate professional promise in teaching, research or other contributions. Physics students recognized this year were: Aaina Bansal, Brandon Barker, Samuel Emmons, Andrew Michael Lopez, Peyton Nanney, Tyler Scott Smith, and Travis Stockinger.

Extraordinary Academic Achievement

These honors are awarded to undergraduates who exhibit extraordinary scholarship. The physics students recognized with this award were Brandon Barker, Kevin Kleiner, and Taylor Stevenson.

Research & Creative Achievement
Yuri Efremenko

Research & Creative Achievement honors are bestowed to senior faculty in recognition of excellence in research, scholarship, and creative achievement. Physics Professor Yuri Efremenko was among the honorees for his work, described as follows: "Efremenko’s research into neutrinos—extremely elusive particles that up to now could be detected only by enormous underground detectors—opens up the possibility for small portable detectors that can identify the production of nuclear materials. Efremenko has been a leading member of several important international collaborations on neutrino research and led the charge to construct the world’s smallest working neutrino detector, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source. This project was selected by the readers of the prestigious journal Science as the third most important scientific breakthrough of 2017."


Each spring the Office of Undergraduate Research sponsors the Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (EURēCA). Students from across the university enter their undergraduate research, senior design projects, clinical projects, and creative achievements for judging. In 2018 more than 800 students presented 626 projects—99 of those projects received recognition at the EURēCA Awards night. In nine categories, students were awarded 10 gold, 10 silver and 8 bronze awards.

Taylor Stevenson

Taylor Stevenson

Physics students Brandon Barker and Taylor Stevenson each won a silver award. Brandon’s presentation, explaining his work with Eirik Endeve (Joint Faculty Assistant Professor), was on Prospects for High Energy Followup Studies of Gravitational Wave Transients. Taylor, who works with Joint Faculty Professor Raph Hix, presented her work on Nucleosynthesis in Core-Collapse Supernovae. Brandon also won an Arts and Sciences Award in the College of Arts and Sciences, Natural Sciences Category—Taylor was recognized with an Honorable Mention in the same.

EURēCA also recognizes an outstanding mentor for students performing research, scholarship, and creative activity. The physics department was again well represented as the 2018 honor went to Eirik Endeve.

Physics Honors Day
Won Namkung

The annual Honors Day ceremony brought with it recognition of outstanding students, faculty, and the 2018 Distinguished Alumnus: Won Namkung.

Dr. Namkung, who gave the Honors Day address, earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at the Seoul National University in 1965 before serving in the Korean Air Force. In 1971 he came to UT as a graduate assistant, completing his PhD in 1977.

Dr. Namkung’s research focuses on particle beam and EM wave interactions in large-scale scientific facilities for accelerator-based sciences and fusion energy research. Since 1988 he has held an impressive list of positions with the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory and Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea, including Dean of the Graduate School and Director of the Laboratory. He has held critical positions in the broader scientific community, including Chairman of the Board of Trustees and President of the Asia Pacific Center for Theoretical Physics and Chairman of the International Thermonuclear Experiment Reactor (ITER) Council.

The department recognized him "For outstanding contributions and global leadership in accelerator physics and fusion energy research."

The student honorees from the Honors Day celebration were as follows, with information from their nomination letters:

Outstanding First Year Student

Lara Blokland
Lara is a graduate of Oak Ridge High School and has performed exceedingly well in our introductory honors physics courses, Physics 137/138, earning her the Outstanding First Year Student honor.

Robert Talley Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research

Peyton Nanney
For the past two years, Peyton has worked on epitaxial film growth, making critical research contributions and impressing his mentor (Assistant Professor Jian Liu) with his persistence and drive in problem-solving. He also helped with a major and complex equipment installation—that of a pulsed laser deposition system. Peyton is currently completing the results for a manuscript for his findings.

Robert Talley Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Leadership

Peter Tarlé
Peter has played a key role in organizing the "Hidden Physicist" series, where undergraduates can engage with our alumni to learn more about career options—especially less obvious but interesting paths for physics graduates. He also holds a leadership role in the Society of Physics Students’ successful outreach activities and has recently been elected as the new SPS president for UT’s chapter.

James W. McConnell Award for Academic Excellence

Brandon Barker
Acing almost every physics class he has taken, Brandon has also performed research with the supernova group using the TITAN supercomputer at ORNL, with x-ray photoelectron spectrometry here at UT, and also as an international research scholar in Pisa in gravitational wave detection. As a professor comments, "He is distinguishing himself not only through standard academic measures, but also through scholarship, starting from the very early stages in his academic career." Additionally, he has been an exceptional citizen of the department, through his leadership roles in SPS, and as a student employee.

Douglas V. Roseberry Award

Taylor Stevenson
Taylor has excelled academically, and as one faculty member comments, "She is easily one of our top physics majors . . . she is on par with Yale’s students. I recommended that she apply to some top ten graduate schools because I think she is on par with those students." She has contributed to research both in condensed matter physics and nucleosynthesis in core-collapse supernovae. She was the department’s first-ever Isabel Tipton Scholarship student, and she has been an active member of SPS, worked to set up undergraduate labs, and was a founding member of the Women in Physics group at UT.

Outstanding GTA Award

Aaron Kirby
Among the faculty and student comments regarding Aaron are the following: “He has shown that he is willing to provide an effort – greater than that which would fulfill his obligations as a GTA – toward the promotion of his students’ success and their general well-being as individuals separate from the classroom.” As well as: “The manner in which he taught his students was unique to any other GTA’s teaching style that I have ever observed . . . His attention to his students and constant willingness to answer questions and explain concepts in different ways . . . prevented situations in which students leave the laboratory with absolutely no idea of the significance or relation their experiment holds to the material they are learning in lectures.” And finally: “He is, without doubt, the best GTA that I have ever had the pleasure of being taught by while enrolled at the University of Tennessee – including GTAs of all physics and non-physics courses that I have taken.”

Outstanding Tutor Award

Jesse Buffaloe
Here are the student comments from Jesse’s nomination: “He is hands down the best tutor/TA I've ever had as a junior. He is personable, extremely capable of distilling complex physical concepts to make them digestible to a frustrated engineering major, and it is apparent he's invested in my success in my course. I literally cannot sing his praises enough.”

James E. Parks Award

Nathan Traynor
Nathan invests a lot of time and energy in preparation for recitations and labs. He truly cares that his students understand the material and thinks about how we can make improvements to the lab to better educate the students. He then incorporates those improvements into the lab.

Colloquium Award

Shashi Pandey
Shashi was recognized with the Colloquium Award for his consistency in attendance and thoughtful reviews of the material.

Stelson Fellowship for Beginning Research

Michael Sandoval
Michael is a third-year graduate student and has worked to map current supernova models into FLASH code, diagnosing and correcting problems with minimal supervision. He has recently completed one extended model, and is currently working on a second. Many of his FLASH improvements have been added to the source repository and are now available to other FLASH users. His hard work means that his research team is ready to start science runs and anticipates first publication of this work later this year. He has also made significant contributions to the ExaStar collaboration in helping reach a major milestone comparing codes for improved astrophysics simulations.

Stelson Fellowship for Professional Promise

Matthew Frost
Matthew is combining his full-time work as a technician at the Spallation Neutron Source with graduate study and research to complete a doctoral degree. He is designing the experiment configuration for the future neutron-antineutron oscillation search at the European Spallation Neutron Source (ESS). His research prepares and qualifies him for high level development work at SNS, and makes him one of the few experts at SNS who can perform comprehensive creative design work for the future Second Target Station. He is already participating in new technology development initiatives at SNS, and has steadily progressed in his career from technical staff to an independent expert.

Fowler-Marion Award

Aaina Bansal
Aaina is exploring how results from lattice quantum chromodynamics bind protons and neutrons into medium heavy nuclei. Importantly, she questioned a “standard” approximation the field employed for a long time and showed that it was not compatible with the effective field theory. This moved the research beyond an impasse in connecting the forces between protons and neutrons with the results from lattice QCD. In addition to her research, she has excelled in the classroom and has found time to volunteer with children’s education efforts in her native India.

Wayne Kincaid Award

Jay Carroll
Jay is currently serving as the head astronomy TA and has been exceptional in this role. From his dedication to teaching, which is appropriately expressed by his showing up to teach his lab sections dressed to impress with a jacket and bowtie, to his strong demonstration of responsibility in how he runs the Telescope Labs and assists the other TAs, he has consistently shown dedication to our astronomy education program.

Society of Physics Students Teacher of the Year Award

Maxim Lavrentovich
Every year the UT Society of Physics Students selects an outstanding teacher to recognize at Honors Day. This year that faculty member was Maxim Lavrentovich.

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