Department of Physics & Astronomy
Wagner Physics Center
Trinity University
One Trinity Place
San Antonio, TX 78212-7200

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Newest Faculty Member

We are delighted to announce that Dr. Niescja E. Turner will be joining us as the Zilker Professor of Physics in Fall 2013. Dr. Turner graduated from the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches. She earned her B.S. at Rice and her M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Colorado at Boulder. After a postdoctoral stint at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, she took her first faculty post as Assistant Professor of Physics at UT El Paso. Since 2004, she has been at the Florida Institute of Technology, where she is currently Associate Professor of Physics and Space Sciences and Director of the Florida Governor's School for Space Science. Dr. Turner is a space physicist whose chief interest is in the Earth's magnetic environment and Sun-Earth magnetic interactions. She is widely published and has a long history of extramural grants from NSF, NASA, DOE, and the State of Florida to support her research, education, and outreach work, including a prestigious NSF Career Award.  

Retiring Faculty

In May 2012, Dr. Gene Clark and Dr. Gordon MacAlpine retired after long and distinguished careers.  Dr. Clark spent 37 years at Trinity, serving as director of the solar energy program and securing nearly $3 million in external funding. He also served as department chair. Dr. Clark pursued additional research in atmospheric physics and astrophysics. He was an outstanding teacher, and a leading innovator in our introductory lecture and lab classes. Dr. MacAlpine spent 13 years at Trinity after a long career at the University of Michigan. He was the inaugural Charles A. Zilker Distiniguished Professor of Physics, and served as department chair. He did seminal research on the Crab Nebula, publishing several papers with Trinity students that have improved our understanding of the supernova explosion process and nucleosynthesis. His outstanding teaching included major contributions to Common Curriculum courses for non-science majors,  both on astronomy and on energy/environmental issues. 

New faculty

In August 2011, we welcomed two new faculty members to our department:

Dr. Nirav Mehta joined us as Assistant Professor of Physics. Dr. Mehta earned his B.S. from the University of Texas at Austin and his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He comes to us with three years of experience at Grinnell College. Dr. Mehta is a theoretical/computational physicist who works on a range of problems in the quantum mechanics of few-body systems in atomic and nuclear physics.

Dr. Kelvin Cheng joined us as the first Williams Endowed Professor in Interdisciplinary Physics. Dr. Cheng did his Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo (Canada), and has spent the last 23 years at Texas Tech University, where he served as Professor of Physics and Director of the Molecular Biophysics Research Lab. Dr. Cheng has an outstanding record of publications and research awards from the NSF, NIH, Welch Foundation, and other funding agencies. His research is in the molecular biophysics of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. He is establishing both experimental and computational labs for this work at Trinity.


For the 2012-13 academic year, we graduated 5 Physics Majors (and several Physics Minors). Here are the majors, with available news about post-graduatin plans:

Stephen Cahill (also History Major)

Colin Fitzgerald, head of tutoring service

Adam Sibley (Dec. 2012), Ph.D. student in medical physics at U. Chicago

Santona Tuli, teaching in Bangladesh

Junyi Wang (also Finance Major), working at North American Development Bank in San Antonio


For the 2011-12 academic year, we graduated 6 Physics Majors (and several Physics Minors). Here are the majors, with available news about post-graduation plans:

Allyson Ducey (also Art Major and Astronomy Minor), local theater company

Bryce Harlow, Technical Analyst at Forge Energy

Gareth Jones (also Astronomy and Math Minors), Ph.D. in astrophysics at New Mexico Tech

Ethan Rudd (also Computer Science Minor, Phi Beta Kappa)

David Shope (also Chemistry Major), Ph.D. in physics at U. of Oklahoma

Ian White (Wagner Prize, Outstanding Graduating Senior), Ph.D. in physics at Rice U.


In May 2011, we graduated 9 Physics Majors - the highest number since our record high of 10 in 2005. We also had several Physics Minors. Here are the Physics Majors, with just a little bit about their post-graduation plans:

Timothy Amen (also Math Major), Ph.D. in Physics at Washington U. (St.Louis)

Crosby Burdon (also Astronomy Minor), research in computational astrophysics at Trinity

Daniel Cantilo, engineering firm in Austin

Abigail Drake, Master of Arts in Teaching at Trinity

Quentin Funk (also Math Major), Ph.D. in Math at Rice

Afton Geil (also Engineering Science Major), Ph.D. in Engineering at U. California at Davis

Andrea Katz (also Astronomy Minor), Ph.D. in Applied Physics at Cornell

Ulises Pastran (also Engineering Science Major), Master's in Engineering at U. Sheffield (UK)

Paurakh Rajbhandary (also Engineering Science Major), Ph.D. in Engineering at Stanford

Awards, publications, grants

Dr. Kelvin Cheng continues work on a large National Institutes of Health grant to explore the effectiveness of different physics lab pedagogies. He published a paper on the calorimetric behavior of certain lipid bilayers in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B in 2012.

Dr. David Hough was awarded a Small Research Grant from the American Astronomical Society in 2011 to support his research with Honors Thesis student Gareth Jones, who worked on determining velocity fields in quasar radio jets and attempting to put some constraints on jet X-ray emission mechanisms.

Dr. Gordon MacAlpine, Zilker Professor Emeritus, and his students Tim Satterfield (2010), Andrea Katz (2011), and Adam Sibley (Dec. 2012) had their paper "Element Distributions in the Crab Nebula" featured on the COVER of The Astronomical Journal (one of the top two international astronomy and astrophysics journals) in July 2012!!!

Dr. Nirav Mehta was awarded a Trinity Summer Research Stipend in 2012 for his quantum theoretical studies of few-body ultracold atomic systems. He also mentored Noyce Summer Intern Paulses Kollie in 2012.

Dr. Daniel Spiegel and his student Santona Tuli published "Transient Diffraction Grating Measurements of Molecular Diffusion in the Undergraduate Laboratory" in the American Journal of Physics in 2011. And in 2012, Dr. Spiegel received his third NSF-RUI grant - in a third different area - for "Molecular Diffusion Measurements within the Biomixing Generated by Swimming E. Coli" for $151,695. Students in physics and biology will work with Dr. Spiegel on this grant.

Dr. Jennifer Steele received one of only two Multi-Investigator Cottrell College Science Awards from the Research Corporation in 2011. Dr. Bert Chandler in Chemistry is her collaborator on this grant. The award is for $75,000 over two years for a project entitled "Surface plasmon enhanced Förster resonance energy transfer in fluorescent molecules using metal wire gratings." Up to five summer students will be participate in this work. And in 2012, she received a $250,000 Keck Foundation grant, along with Diane Smith and Michelle Bushey, for "Seeing at the Nanoscale: Exploring the relationship between function and structure". New scanning electron and atomic force microscopes (SEM and AFM) are being purchased and set up for use in interdisciplinary nanoscale teaching and research.

 Dr. Dennis Ugolini had a note on "Discharging fused silica test masses with ionized nitrogen" published in the Review of Scientific Instruments  in 2011. Trinity students Quentin Funk and Timothy Amen (both 2011) are co-authors. Also in 2011, Dr. Ugolini received his third consecutive grant from the NSF to support his research efforts on behalf of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). This most recent grant is through the Research in Undergraduate Institutions program, and is for $127,000 over three years to conduct "Further Optical Charge Studies with the Trinity University Kelvin Probe". Finally, Dr. Ugolini is co-PI with Michelle Bushey and Wilson Terrell on a 2012 NSF-FASTER grant to provide financial aid and summer research funding for eligible STEM majors.