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Society of Physics Students

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) is a professional association explicitly designed for students. Membership, through collegiate chapters, is open to anyone interested in physics. The only requirement for membership is that you be interested in physics. Besides physics majors, our members include majors in chemistry, computer science, engineering, geology, mathematics, medicine, and other fields.

Within SPS is housed Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society, which elects members on the basis of outstanding academic achievement. This unique two-in-one society operates within the American Institute of Physics, an umbrella organization for ten other professional science societies.

Regular Meetings are held on Wednesdays at 12PM in Rusteberg 205.

In Memory of
Dr. Cristina Torres

Research Assistant Professor

(April 10, 1977 - March 9, 2015)

Watch moments from
Cristina's life


UTB Physics students participate in Texas Undergraduate Research Day

Isaiah Diaz,Forrest Shriver, Dr. Volker Quetschke, Texas Undergraduate Research Day 2015

UTB physics students Forrest Shriver and Isaiah Diaz participated in the Texas Undergraduate Research Day with poster presentations about their research on real-time Digital Signal Processing and renewable energy. Forrest works on the development of a system to be used in analysis of signals with frequencies up to 100 megahertz under the supervision of Dr. Volker Quetschke, and Isaiah works on technologies to harness ocean wave energy under Dr. Yingchen Yang mentorship. Read more

UTB Physics Faculty collaborating on NANOGrav award of $14.5 million from NSF

(Mar. 2015) UTB Physics faculty are members of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) collaboration that has been awarded $14.5 Million by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create and operate a Physics Frontier Center (PFC). This PFC will aim to detect low frequency gravitational waves by observing pulsars with the use of radiotelescopes such as the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and NRAO’s Green Bank Telescope. Read more

Remembering Dr. Cristina Torres

(Mar. 2015) Dr. Cristina Torres, Research Assistant Professor in the department of Physics and the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy passed away on March 9 evening in Brownsville. We deeply mourn the loss of our dear colleague and friend whose rich contribution to science and to the community has left a lasting touch. Cristina will forever be remembered by her innumerable students, colleagues and friends across the Americas and the world. Her dedication to work, commitment to the students and her ability to reach out to people will remain an inspiration. Our deepest condolence goes out to her family. Cristina will live in our hearts always.
President Fannin's message
Brownsville Herald

High School Research Poster Competition

(Feb. 2015) The 2015 UTB Physics and Astronomy High School Research Poster Competition included 13 high school students participating from 5 different high schools with 7 physics department faculty mentors. Student research posters were presented on Saturday, February 21 in Cavalry Hall at UTB to 3 judges from the physics department. The top project was presented by Tanya Llanes from Pace High School on NANOGrav: The Detection of Gravitational Waves Using Pulsar Timing. Competition details.

MOU launches STARGATE and NRAO collaboration to spur innovation

(Feb. 2015) The Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at The University of Texas Brownsville and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Friday, Jan. 23 in Charlottesville, Va. The purpose of the MOU is to lay the groundwork for the two entities to collaborate on new initiatives and frontier radio astronomical technologies. Read more

Faculty and students are engaged in fundamental research in relativistic astrophysics, gravitational wave astronomy, biophysics, nanoscience, and optics.

Publications by department faculty members:

Fall 2012 - Summer 2013

Fall 2011 - Summer 2012


We describe an alternative approach to the analysis of gravitational-wave backgrounds, based on the formalism used to characterize the polarization of the cosmic microwave background. In contrast to standard analyses, this approach makes no assumptions about the nature of the background and so has the potential to reveal much more about the physical processes that generated it. An arbitrary background can be decomposed into modes whose angular dependence on the sky is given by gradients and curls of spherical harmonics. We derive the pulsar timing overlap reduction functions for the individual modes, which are given by simple combinations of spherical harmonics evaluated at the pulsar locations. We show how these can be used to recover the components of an arbitrary background, giving explicit results for both isotropic and anisotropic uncorrelated backgrounds. We also find that the response of a pulsar timing array to curl modes is identically zero, so half of the gravitational-wave sky will never be observed using pulsar timing, no matter how many pulsars are included in the array. Read article.

Fermi-normal (FN) coordinates provide a standardized way to describe the effects of gravitation from the point of view of an inertial observer. These coordinates have always been introduced via perturbation expansions and were usually limited to distances much less than the characteristic length scale set by the curvature of spacetime. For a plane gravitational wave this scale is given by its wavelength which defines the domain of validity for these coordinates known as the long-wavelength regime. The symmetry of this spacetime, however, allows us to extend FN coordinates far beyond the longwavelength regime. Here we present an explicit construction for this long-range FN coordinate system based on the unique solution of the boundary-value problem for spacelike geodesics. More...

Nanoenergetic systems also known as metastable intermolecular composites (MIC) have various potential applications as propellants, explosives, and primers. The development of novel MIC systems, their design, synthesis and fabrication procedures are critical for national security and it was recognized as a significant addition to support of changing force structure for advanced weapons platforms. Our research at UTB focuses on developing a framework of principles for design and fabrication of nano-tailored highly energetic systems and nanoenergetic gas generators (NGG) for advanced energetic platforms. This involved a systematic study of physics based knowledge in energy release, shock waves and pressure discharge needed to enhance the performance and functionality of novel high density energetic systems.
Read article...

Galaxies appear simpler than before” by Disney et al. The image shows a montage of coloured images of a dozen galaxies (huge whirlpools of stars in space) drawn from our survey of the universe, which is the subject of the letter. As well as being very beautiful they have considerable scientific interest too because they show a wider variety of galaxies than it has been possible to portray before. Hitherto galaxies were found optically, and hence tended to look rather like one another. These, however, were picked up in a radio survey and imaged only afterwards. Consequently they exhibit a much wider range of colours, shapes and surface brightnesses. Intriguingly some of them, although close-by in cosmic terms, are almost, but not quite, invisible. We believe both astronomers and laymen will find them fascinating. Copyright belongs to one of the co-authors, Andrew West. Read article...


Although predicted by S. Rytov more than sixty years ago the experimental proof that radiative heat transfer can be exponentially improved by reducing the gap between two surfaces of different temperature was only recently demonstrated for macroscopic objects with a geometry that can be compared with theoretical predictions. The scientists from the University of Florida and the University of Texas at Brownsville demonstrated good agreement between theoretical prediction and measurement. When an “infinite” warm surface is separated from a cooler one by a vacuum gap, the rate of radiative heat transfer between the two shouldn’t depend on the size of the gap. According to theory, though, this picture doesn’t hold when the surfaces are sufficiently close. In the paper "Near-Field Radiative Heat Transfer between Macroscopic Planar Surfaces" (Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 014301, 2011), the scientists focused on a straightforward planar geometry. The heat transfer between two parallel square sapphire plates, each about two inches on a side, was measured for separations from a 0.1 mm down to only a few microns. A pronounced increase in heat transfer is seen as the gap between the plates is reduced following the theoretical predictions. In principle, near-field heat transfer could be used to control the temperature of an object without ever contacting it. This is an interesting possibility for cooling the sensitive mirrors in future gravity wave detectors.

Using recent data from the LIGO interferometers, LIGO scientists have been able to constrain the fractional energy density in gravitational waves to < 6.9 x10-6 (at 95% confidence) in a ~100 Hz band around 100 Hz. This number improves on indirect limits on the gravitational wave background obtained from the relative abundance of light elements in the very early universe (Big Bang Nucleosynthesis). The attached figure shows various limits on the gravitational wave background and predictions from three different models (inflation, pre-Big Bang cosmology, and cosmic strings). The indirect limits are from Big Bang Nucleosynthesis and the Cosmic Microwave Background; the direct limits are from the LIGO S4 and S5 science data (see attached paper), and from pulsar timing data. Projected limits from the advanced LIGO detectors, the CMB Planck satellite mission, and the proposed space-based interferometer LISA are also shown. More...

We study the fluctuation-induced, time-dependent force between two plates confining a correlated fluid which is driven out of equilibrium mechanically by harmonic vibrations of one of the plates. For a purely relaxational dynamics of the fluid we calculate the fluctuation-induced force generated by the vibrating plate on the plate at rest. The time-dependence of this force is characterized by a positive lag time with respect to the driving. We obtain two distinctive contributions to the force, one generated by diffusion of stress in the fluid and another related to resonant dissipation in the cavity. The relation to the dynamic Casimir effect of the electromagnetic field and possible experiments to measure the time-dependent Casimir force are discussed. More...

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