Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Andrew Lynch

LynchName: Andrew Lynch ’06

Education (UR and additional): BS (Physics and Astronomy), University of Rochester, 2006

Current city/state of residence: Marlton, NJ

Job Title: Inside Sales Manager

Employer: Edmund Optics, Inc.

Family: Wife


When and how did you choose your major?  

I fell in love with Physics and Astronomy in high school.  My high school had block scheduling, and one “semester” I ended up taking both a Physics class and an Astronomy class.  Spending a half day or more every day on those two subjects – with an extremely talented teacher I might add – really sparked my lifelong interest in those subjects.  The next semester I got a job at the local science center running planetarium shows and guiding telescopes for the public.  Those early experiences sealed the deal as far as what major I was going to choose in college.  It also led to my choice of attending UR.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

My primary on-campus involvements revolved around my membership in a Fraternity (Sigma Chi).  Some people have strong opinions one way or another about Fraternities in general, but the life lessons that I learned from that place are too numerous to list in this questionnaire.  The absolutely ridiculous stories and anecdotes that I’ll have at my disposal are priceless as well!

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I’m pretty sure I was the only person in my graduating class that chose to get a job after college rather than pursue grad school, and I’m so glad I did.  Whereas a lot of my friends went the grad school route for some niche topic or another, I now already have 5+ years of real world industry and business-related experiences that I can leverage for the rest of my career.  When and if I do end up pursuing a higher degree down the road, it will be that much more valuable since I can put everything into context and see the bigger picture.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

When I started my job search, it became pretty clear that a BA in Physics and Astronomy would be a valuable degree for several different engineering fields.  With a decent background in telescopes and a firm understanding of the nature of light, Optical Engineering seemed like a good bet.  I spent my first few years as an Applications Engineer, where my main job function was to solve technical problems are questions that our customer’s had.  During that stint, I spent a year and a half living in Singapore and travelling around Asia.  When I came back to the U.S., I knew I wanted to get into the Technical Sales side of the business.  I now manage our Managed Account Inside Sales Team that services the Americas.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?  

Mainly problem solving skills and general principals.  Most of what you learn in college consists of the hairy details that you won’t necessarily have to use in practice.  You need to be familiar with all of them conversationally, but otherwise they all reside in books on the off-chance you need to reference them in the future.  I did an insane amount of integrals and derivations in college, but in my day-to-day job 99% of the math I have to do is trig and/or simple equations.

What advice do you have for current students?

For Physics and Astronomy students, hang out at the POA Library (in B&L) with your fellow nerds as often as the workload warrants it.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a better think tank for working through problem sets, and you’re guaranteed some funny and memorable sci-fi related debates.  For all students, realize that there is so much more to college than a perfect GPA.  Your GPA only marginally matters for your first job out of college, and sometimes not even then!  Make sure you get your degree, but also make sure you have a balanced social life as well.  Push yourself into situations outside of your comfort zone and take some calculated risks while it is still perfectly acceptable to do so!

Summer Research Experience Leads to Science Paper for Physics Undergrad

Like other seniors, Owen Colegrove had a busy end of the semester: staying on top of classes, preparing for finals, wrapping up projects, and applying to graduate school. But unlike other undergraduates, Colegrove had to leave the last week of the fall semester for San Francisco, to present a poster at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting. Attended by tens of thousands of people, it is one of the highlights of the scientific conference season, with lots of high-profile speakers, media coverage and topical issues being covered.

Colegrove presented work he had done during his Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). During REUs, students across the country spend part of their summer on a research project as part of their academic experience. Unlike Colegrove, though, not many will have a Science paper to their name at the end of the project.

Exposing undergraduates to research is exactly the purpose of REUs, and Colegrove thinks it was a fantastic opportunity for that. Now at the University of Rochester, a research university, Colegrove studied at Finger Lakes Community College for his freshman and sophomore years.

“We encourage our physics majors to take on a major research project over the summer, either in Rochester or elsewhere, to complement their classroom experiences,” said Kevin McFarland, professor of physics at Rochester who taught Colegrove last semester. “Owen’s success is a great example of how productive these summer research projects can be.”

Colegrove worked during the summer of 2013 under the supervision of Dr. David Hathaway, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Together with Hathaway’s student, Lisa Upton, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Colegrove helped analyze data from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The team was looking for evidence that would point to the proposed existence of giant convection cells on the sun.

These giant convection cells are flows on the sun’s surface that could be related to the sun’s magnetic fields, and also to sunspots. Small granules (and larger supergranules) that move gas around on the surface of the sun have been studied since early in the 20th century, but the team showed that these are moved around by even larger features: giant convection cells, which are much slower moving.

The work of Hathaway, Upton and Colegrove might also help answer a longstanding question: “why is a day on the Sun’s equator (25 days) so much shorter than a day on the Sun’s poles (35 days)?” It could be that these giant cells alter what is happening as the Sun spins.

The day before leaving for the AGU conference in California, Colegrove appeared to be taking all the new experiences in stride. Reflecting on having his name on a Science paper as an undergraduate he commented “that it just hadn’t sunk in.”

“I’ve been caught up in classes, preparing for exams, and trying to figure out what’s next,” he said. “And it also seems to have happened over such a long period of time, so it feels like a long time ago when we did the work and submitted the paper!” Although Hathaway, who spent 29 years searching for these giant convection cells, might not agree, Colegrove admits.

Colegrove is clear that he wants to go to graduate school for physics – he is just trying to decide which area of physics and what university. “I hadn’t taken many astrophysics classes before this project, but now after this work I think this is an area I want to learn more about.”

There is one thing he is certain he takes with him from the whole experience, and that is a better understanding of the patience that research requires and a determined attitude to continue forward, even after multiple setbacks. Colegrove thinks that when any future research does not go as planned he will think back to his advisor, Dr. David Hathaway, who kept thinking of ways forward even after 29 years.

Spotlight on Humanities and Natural Sciences Alumni: Dan Richman

richmanName: Dan Richman ’08

Occupation: Graduate student (Johns Hopkins University)

Education (UR and additional): BS (Physics), BA (Music & Mathematics), University of Rochester, 2008

Current city/state of residence: Baltimore, Maryland

Family: Dad is UR 1970 (BS Chemistry), 1975 (PhD Chemistry)

Community activities: Outreach activities in physics and astrobiology


What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?  

Use the libraries! Browse the stacks, in all subject areas, and read a little from books that grab your attention. Move nimbly through this ocean. You can do this as small breaks from your work. And take advantage of the CDs in the Art and Music Library.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I went immediately to grad school. I knew before college that I wanted a physics PhD–I wanted that depth of engagement with the subject–but at the end of undergrad it wasn’t clear what specialization I’d pursue. I leaned toward astrophysics, but I knew I should keep options open, so I chose another joint physics-astronomy department like UR’s. Even before I started my first year at Hopkins I started to pursue options in biophysics.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I realized that “structure in the universe” applied to biology as much as it did to astrophysics, and I started to inquire around Hopkins for opportunities to combine physics and biology. Turns out it’s a big area, and I got involved in a multidisciplinary training program. My consistent interest in fundamental principles and intricate form and motion led me finally to the protein science lab I currently work in.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?  

In venturing outward from physics into realms of biology and chemistry, all of my basic physics training has been crucial to quickly learn new fields. Statistical mechanics is my bread-and-butter in the land of proteins, and familiarity with quantum mechanics and electromagnetism has let me get deeply into the NMR spectroscopy I use to study proteins.

How do you balance your work and your personal life?

Discipline and flexibility together. When I walk over to campus to spend the day I focus on the work of experiments, data analysis, studying literature, and having conversations about science, but I’m flexible about switching among these things on a whim, to follow my mood or curiosity. I try to protect my evenings so I can run, cook dinner with my girlfriend, and enjoy interests such as music. It’s not strict compartmentalization, just being focused, organized, and nimble.

Where would you like to be in five years?

Doing fundamental research in protein design as a post-doc and starting or joining a company based on designing proteins for pharmaceutical or industrial use, and possibly pursuing this in parallel with or instead of an academic career.

UR Professor sings “I Have Failed My Physics Final”

University of Rochester Physics Professor John Howell, searching for a unique way to motivate his Physics 121 students to attend workshops, recorded a music video to show his class. Set to the song “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” from Les Miserables, “I Have Failed My Physics Final” casts Professor Howell in the role of a student who chose to copy answers and play video games instead of going to his workshops. Check out the video below!


Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Roger Smith

Untitled1Name: Roger Smith
Occupation: Graduate School Student
Education: BS (Optics), BA (Physics), University of Rochester, 2009; MS (Physics), University of Oregon, 2010; PhD (Experimental Quantum Optics), expected 2015, University of Oregon
Current city/state of residence: Eugene, Oregon
Community activities: Outreach activities presenting science to young students; city-league ultimate frisbee


 

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

When I was in eighth grade, my family drove to UR to attend the “Fall into Rochester” program for my sister, then a senior in high school. During an academic open house, my father and I were looking at the engineering departments and I distinctly remember seeing a tall, lanky student standing at a table that said “Optics.” At the time, I had no idea what this was, so we ventured over and asked the student what he studied. The student cracked a large grin and replied simply “Lasers. I play with lasers!” Instantly, I was hooked and never forgot about UR. In high school, my favorite subject was physics and the prospect of playing with lasers was just too enticing to pass up so I applied Early Decision and was accepted in late December. The beautiful campus and high academic standards were also a large draw for me.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

One of the best experiences I ever had was going into local middle schools and presenting demos on optics to fifth and sixth grade classrooms. Working with children that are so eager to learn and excited to go and teach their parents was so rewarding to see.  The smiles on those faces were so uplifting and something I’ll never forget. It has shaped what I try to achieve and has helped me to see some of the bigger issues in my field that I am now actively trying to address.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I enrolled in a physics PhD program at the University of Oregon in the fall after graduation. In my junior year, I realized that I was less interested in designing optical systems for industry and more interested in the fundamental principles underlying why light does what it does. So I began taking more classes in physics (and ended up with a second major) to prepare for a future academic program in physics. I have always had the aspiration to gain a PhD and as graduation grew closer, I realized that I wanted more skills in experimental physics and a better intuition for the subject before I tried to do independent work. I also relished the university atmosphere, working with students, and constantly learning that I wanted to eventually become a professor at the time.

Where would you like to be in five years?

In five years, I would like to have graduated my current PhD program, completed a Post-Doctoral position in ultrafast laser physics in either Germany or Switzerland, and be looking for a more permanent position in the US. At this point, I’m leaning toward either working in industry or a national laboratory, but who knows – five years is a long time from now.

What advice do you have for current students?

It’s hard to know what exactly you will want in a couple years – maybe your career goals will be the same as they are now, but chances are that your ideas and desires will change. When I entered the UR as a bright-eyed freshman, I had very different ideas and desires from when I left with my degrees. So always make long range goals and shoot for them, but don’t be concerned if your path and your end goal change. As long as you’re always making steps forward and always doing what you love, then you’ll end up somewhere happy and rewarding.

Optics “Focuses” Efforts to Defeat Physics in Photon Cup

Members of the Optics Department focused their efforts on the soccer field to defeat members of the Physics Department in the third annual Photon Cup.

A match between Optics and Physics, the Photon Cup features undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty from each department in a friendly rivalry to name the best department of the year.

And, while Physics might have thought their knowledge of buckminster fullerenes would lead them to the win, the control of this particular soccer “buckyball” proved too much. Perhaps it was one group of atoms they couldn’t control with much “coherence.”

Optics triumphed over the department 4-3, coming back from a 3-0 half-time deficit. After some tactical adjustments at halftime, Optics went into an “excited state” and was able to control the run of play in the second half.

By all accounts Steve Gillmer of Optics was athlete of the match, scoring twice. One goal was a brilliant 30-yard half-volley.

Physics has yet to hoist the Cup with Optics winning the past 2 years and the first contest ending in a draw.

Watch Highlights from the 2012 Photon Cup

The Elusive Geomechanics Major

By Dan Wang ’14
Univ. Communications

Out of the more than 4,500 full-time undergrads at the University of Rochester, exactly three are pursuing a major in geomechanics. Just who are these brave few?

The trio is made up of very different students: a freshman from Kingston, Jamaica who emphasizes her environmentalism; a junior who went to high school in Rochester and would like to work on an oil platform or for an oilfield services company; and a Take 5 scholar from outside of New York City who would like to do fieldwork to study seismology and geothermal energy.

But first, what kind of degree are they pursuing? The bachelor of science degree in geomechanics is a program run jointly between the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. An interdisciplinary major, completing geomechanics also means taking classes in math, physics, and chemistry.  Lisa Norwood ’86, ’95, assistant dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and a former geomechenics major, describes the program this way, “The curriculum emphasizes the application of the principles of mechanics to problems associated with the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid earth.”

Kayon Ellis ’16 has not yet declared her geomechanics (geomech) major, but she’s quite set on pursuing it. Ellis comes by way of Jamaica, and this is her first year living in the United States. A commitment to environmentalism and an analysis of basin sediments in streams prior to coming to Rochester propelled her to study geomechanics. “I find the study of the earth fascinating,” says Ellis. “You just can’t study anything in isolation; you have to analyze the whole system.”

Two years ahead, Michael Grotke ’14 has different goals in mind. Grotke grew up in Tucson, Arizona and attended high school in Rochester. On campus, he works part-time for the Earth and Environmental Science Lab, and is a member of the SA Appropriations Committee. What does he see himself doing? “I hope to use this degree towards a career in the oil and natural gas industry, most likely shale-gas and crude oil exploration.” The companies he’d like to apply his geomech training to include Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and Halliburton.

Skipping two more years ahead, the final geomech major is Brian Castro ’12 (T5). Though he had a hard time deciding between studying physics and mechanical engineering, he has embraced the geomech major with vigor. Castro also has extensive experience in fieldwork. Research on geothermal energy took him to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and, as part of an NSF-sponsored program, to work at a geosciences research company in New Zealand. He also conducted seismic research at the University, in Professor Cynthia Ebinger’s lab. Castro’s interests are more academic, and he’d like to further study seismology, geothermal energy, and planetary science.

The major is robust enough to accommodate all of these interests. Dean Norwood sees no shortage of ways to use the geomech major. “Career opportunities include work with the U.S. Geological Survey and with departments of natural resources or environmental protection at the federal, state, and county levels; with the oil and mineral resources industries; and in multidisciplinary private consulting firms engaged in geological engineering.”

UR Astronomy Club: Hands-On Observing

Univ. Communications – Living in a city like Rochester, N.Y., can put a damper on most nighttime astronomical observing because of light pollution and the seemingly always present cloud cover. However, the Astronomy Club at the University of Rochester offers students the opportunity to enjoy observational astronomy as well as a look into all aspects of astronomy and physics. Also, the club is perfect for those who merely want to know more and enjoy astronomy without the tedious task of trying to solve mathematical equations.

“We try to explain phenomenon qualitatively, so there’s virtually no math,” states club president Alexandra Kuznetsov ’14, astronomy major and founding member of the Astronomy Club. Because of this, club members can thoroughly appreciate the physical beauty of the cosmos.

The club plans trips one or two times a semester to CEK Mees Observatory in the Bristol Hills of Naples, N.Y., where they get hands-on experience observing through a 24-inch Cassegrain telescope. Kuznetsov said that at the last observation, the club members were able to observe Saturn, its rings, and some of Saturn’s moons. She says the club hopes to schedule three visits in the upcoming fall semester.

“There’s always exciting things going on,” said Kuznetsov. When asked about what students look for while observing, she said they “usually have a list of things [they] want to see.”

For those especially enthusiastic about observing, the University offers sanctuary to budding astronomers near Mees Observatory at Gannett House. Gannett has several bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, and more, making it a comfortable location for students and amateur astronomers to set a spell.

Recently, the club has been trying to implement “Quad Astronomy” into their activities by setting up a telescope on UR’s Academic Quad. Marissa Adams ’14, a physics major who is the secretary and a founding member of the Astronomy Club, believes bringing a telescope or solar scope to the Quad would be a fun activity.

“On a hot day, why not bring this aspect to the Quad when everybody is out lounging? I’m sure anyone on campus would love that,” she said.

If this becomes implemented into the club’s activities, observing could happen more frequently and be overall easier to plan and more accessible for students.

A known fact about observing is how incredibly cold astronomers can get while sitting in frigid observatories on top of mountains. Because the members want to survive an observation session, they take a break during the winter season.

During the cold months, the club plans bi-weekly events called “Astro Major Presents,” where they bring in astronomers and professors to talk about a characteristic of astronomy they know particularly well. Often after the talk, the floor opens for discussion while participants enjoy the occasional tea and cookies. Last semester, the club held a special event where several professors spoke about astronomy and then screened Steven Hawkins’s Into the Universe.

While founded only two years ago, the Astronomy Club offers as a great outlet for any night gazing enthusiast.

Furthermore, Mees Observatory holds weekly tours over the summer. For students who are on campus during the summer, the Astronomy Club is interested in going! Contact them as soon as possible to capitalize on this fun opportunity to get out of Rochester and experience the depths of the universe.

Learn more about the club and how to become a member by visiting https://sa.rochester.edu/clubs/AstroClub/about.

Article written by Cody McConnell, an English and philosophy dual major and member of UR Men’s Rugby, The Uglies. In McConnell’s free time, he plays bass and is the lead vocalist in a signed, touring death metal band.

In the Photo: Jeffrey Vankerkhove ’13, a physics and astronomy major, views the sky from the Mees Observatory. Photos are courtesy of Marissa Adams ’14.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Grant R. Tremblay

Name: Grant R. Tremblay
Age: 28
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Physics & Astronomy, University of Rochester, 2006; Ph.D. in Astrophysics, RIT.
Current city/state of residence: Munich, Germany
Job Title: Fellow
Employer: European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO – www.eso.org)


What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?

I’m an observational astrophysicist and Fellow in the Directorate for Science at the European Southern Observatory headquarters near Munich (ESO – www.eso.org). Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, I study links between star formation and supermassive black hole growth in the giant galaxies found in the center of the largest galaxy clusters in the Universe. I am also a member of the Paranal Observatory Science Operations Team, providing observing support for ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT – http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/vlt.html) in the Chilean Atacama Desert.

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?

UR offers some of the best undergraduate research opportunities in the country. Take advantage of them!

Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?

My closest mentor was my undergraduate advisor, Prof. Alice Quillen (Associate Professor in the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy). I still actively collaborate with her today – in fact, we just published two papers together this month!

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Immediately after graduation, I started a graduate research post at the Space Telescope Science Institute (the science operations center for the Hubble Space Telescopewww.stsci.edu). This opportunity was fostered entirely by my undergraduate advisor who had connected me with a large network of collaborators.

Where would you like to be in five years?

I love working in Astronomy and plan to stay in the field. In five years, I’ll hopefully be finishing my second postdoc and applying for longer term research positions.

How are you still connected with the University?

I still collaborate actively with my former undergraduate advisor and have returned to the campus many times since graduation. Of course, I also stay in touch with my many friends from UR. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: the friends made in college are friends for the rest of your life.

What advice do you have for current students?

If you’re interested in a Physics or Physics & Astronomy major, get involved in undergraduate research. Its importance cannot be overstated. It is essential preparation for a future career in science, in both academia and industry.


Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Ankur Pansari

Name: Ankur Pansari
Age: 30
Occupation: CEO & Founder of Artillery Games
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Optics and B.S. in Applied Mathematics with minor in Physics, University of Rochester, 2004.
Current city/state of residence: Silicon Valley, CA
Community activities: Big Brothers / Big Sisters.  Former big-brother, now fund-raiser.


What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?

I recently founded Artillery Games, and through the company, we are trying to build the next generation of browser based games.  There are three of us that founded the company, and all of us met by working at Google together.  We’ve raised an investment round already and are really excited about what we’re doing!

Prior to Artillery, I spent four years at Facebook working on partnerships and implementing them technically where I was a partnership engineer.  Likewise, I did something similar at Google for two years prior to that.  After college, I worked as a sales engineer at an optical engineering company for a year before ending up at Google in Silicon Valley.

I do what I do because I love it — I’m the luckiest guy on earth.  Technology is something that I do for fun.  In high school, when cool kids were probably going to parties, I was disassembling my computer or installing Linux.  To me, my job isn’t a job, but something I would do even if I didn’t get paid to do it.  I’m so thankful that the whole Internet thing became popular because I’m not exactly sure what I would have done with my life otherwise.

What activities were you involved in as a student, and what did you gain from them?

I founded a software development firm called Treosoft in college.  We built the now infamous Campus Club Connection.  It was a great learning experience of how to build a startup, even if we weren’t ultimately able to make it successful. Also, I founded the Business and Investment Club and played squash.  All of these were really fun and kept me busy.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

After Treosoft failed, I had a bit of a difficult couple months.  Ultimately, I took a sales-engineering job at an optics company in Pittsburgh, PA while trying to build another software startup in my free time.  After about a year, my brother referred me to Google and found that there were sales-engineers, so I applied and ended up with an offer a couple weeks later and moved out to the Valley!

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Day to day, I don’t use the specific skills from my degrees, but most important are the tools that we learned of “how to learn.”  Meaning, the incredibly challenging problems we faced in college aren’t any different from trying to build a company.  It just takes patience, resolve, time, and tons of hard work.  My freshman year, I was pretty lazy and unmotivated, but once optics started to get really challenging my sophomore year, it taught me how to step up, learn how to work hard, and love it.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

It’s always a challenge, but I tend to burn-out easily, so I try to give my job 40-50 hours a week of focused time, meaning, completely focused with no distractions, and when I come home, I’m completely separated from the office.  In this way, I’m able to recharge.  I’m probably still “thinking” about things, but that time is for me to decompress and do other things.

Going to the gym and spending time with family have been important things that help keep my life in balance also.  I’d encourage students to develop hobbies in college that they can continue the rest of their lives.  Balance is important.

How are you still connected with the University?

I have hosted alumni get-togethers in the Bay Area in the past, and I have helped interview students.  Now days, I try to attend all of the alumni get togethers.  It’s great to meet all of the bright young students graduating from the alma matar.

What advice do you have for current students?

Tough question … I’d say, “explore everything that you can, and see if you can find something that you love.  Don’t chase money, but chase your passion.  If you can work on something that you love every day, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.  If you happen to become successful at it, that is great, but even if you don’t, you just spent your life working on something that you love!”