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Physics student leads UTB Team Ocelot to win prestigious ACM ICPC contest

UTB's team “Ocelot”, led by physics undergraduate student Ali Amir Aldan, has won the prestigious International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) sponsored by IBM, beating 56 other teams including Rice University, UT Austin, UT Dallas, Texas A&M and others. The two other members of the team are Physics major Satzhan Sitmukhambetov and Computer Science major Raynaldo Rae. The team has been coached by Dr. Liyu Zhang, an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department at UTB.

Team Ocelot will now participate in the World Finals to be held at the Ural Federal University in Russia ( in June 2014. Twenty one teams from North America including MIT, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University etc. along with UTB will participate in the World Finals (

Professor Bakhyt Matkarimov, a visiting professor from Kazakhstan at the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy (CGWA), has been coaching Ali Amir Aldan and Satzhan Sitmukhambetov since their high school years at Kazakhstan before they were recommended to join UTB Physics department under the mentorship of Dr. Malik Rakhmanov, Assistant Professor in the department of Physics and Astronomy.

Dr. Matkarimov is a Member of the International Scientific Committee for the International Olympiad in Informatics, which is one of the most challenging competitions for students. He is also been appointed Chairman of the Jury of the Kazakhstan sub-region of the Northeastern European Regional Contest of ACM ICPC.

Professor Matkarimov has trained many of the current UTB physics students over the years. Darkhan Tuenbayev (currently a Doctoral student under Dr. Malik Rakhmanov’s supervision in the UTB-UT San Antonio cooperative Ph. D physics program) had won the Middle Asia of ICPC in 2007 and participated in the ICPC World final at Tokyo, Japan, the same year.

Ali-Amir Aldan had earlier won the Bronze medal, International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) in 2011 (Canada) and the Silver medal in 2012 (Thailand). Satzhan Sitmukhambetov had won the Gold medal at the Kazakhstan National Olympiad.

The department wishes the team all the very best for a successful performance at the World Finals!

Undergraduate student discovers 10th binary neutron star system

Jose Guadalupe Martinez, an ARCC Scholar in the physics department at UTB discovered the 10th double neutron star system known to man. This unique astronomical phenomenon was discovered in the Arecibo All-Sky 327 MHz Drift Pulsar Survey on August 10, 2012. When it was first discovered it was not easily distinguished as a double neutron star system but a few parameters gave enough information to suggest the probability of being one. A proposal was sent in at the end of the same month to the Arecibo Observatory for a years worth of following up,with the purpose of identifying what class of pulsar it was. After observing it for some time, and noticing the change of the pulsar's period over several days during observation, it was confirmed that the pulsar was indeed in a rhythmic dance, orbiting with another star. Shortly after, the orbit of the system was preliminary solved giving an estimate of the companion mass star orbiting the pulsar, resulting in the same mass of a neutron star. After this discovery was made another proposal was sent in to Arecibo for a week's straight follow up time. Which gave enough time to have a full orbit observation, the period of the orbit's system is 4.07 days. These observations were led by ARCC scholars on-site at the Arecibo Observatory. After having all that data, the system was solved confirming it as the first asymmetric double neutron star system with precise mass measurements. As the double system started yielding its secrets, it became clear Jose Guadalupe Martinez had discovered a double neutron star.

The Annual Meeting of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society takes place at UTB

This year the Physics Department hosts the 2013 Joint Meeting of the Texas Sections of the APS, AAPT, and Zone 13 of the SPS. This is the first time UTB was selected by the Texas Section of APS to host the meeting. The Conference will take place on campus at UTB and will begin on October 10th. Approximately 200 participants will attend the meeting which includes nine topical sessions covering all areas of physics, the plenary and the poster sessions, and the workshop for students called "Industrial Careers for Physicists." Invited talks will take place Friday and Saturday morning. Among the guest speakers are Robert Curl (Nobel laureate, Chemistry 1996), Barry Barish (Director of the International Linear Collider), and Ray Baughman (Director of the MacDiarmid Nanotech Institute). The schedule for the conference can be found here.

Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy to Celebrate 10th Anniversary

The Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at The University of Texas at Brownsville will commemorate 10 years of research with the CGWA Science Festival from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12 at the Student Union. “Science festivals are designed to engage the community through inspiring celebrations of the fascinating world of science and technology,” said Dr. Joey Shapiro Key, Director of Education and Outreach for the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy. “The community is invited to participate in fun events and interact with scientists and engineers showcasing art and science collaborations and innovative ways to communicate science topics. We want everyone to have access to the exciting science work that is happening right here in our community.” For more info...

UT System proposes research partnership with SpaceX in Brownsville

The University of Texas System proposed Brownsville as the site of the “first designated research unit” for the Valley’s new university in partnership with SpaceX, according to a recently release August letter. For more info..

REU/RET Program draws to a close

Nine students from all over the country performed research with UTB physicists this summer as participants of the Physics Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Five UTB students also participated in this program that is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Mario Diaz, professor of physics and director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, is the Principle Investigator of the grant and Robert Stone, a Faculty Associate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, directs the program. The Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program ran concurrently with the REU program. The RET program provides local high school science teachers with an opportunity to work with UTB physicists. The teachers gained insights into the research performed here, and they can now share these insights with their students. Summer 2013 marked the second year of the program that is funded for three years. In 2012 there were 25 applications for the program, but the number of applications skyrocketed to 180 this past year. The students and teachers worked in a variety of fields, including biophysics, astronomy, and nanoscience. Participants from outside UTB were Catie Raney, University of Oklahoma, Nicole Gagnon, Duke University, Sam Passaglia, University of Pennsylvania, Shane Mitchell, Dickinson College, Kyle French, Illinois Wesleyan University, Peter Chi, Rutgers University, David Garza, UT-Pan Am, Justin Tervala, University of Maryland, and Adan Anchondo, UT-El Paso. UTB participants were Erin Ferrell, Francisco Lozano, Wahltyn Rattray, Jaime Romo, and Shangir Siddique. RET participants were Alan Hendrick from Veterans Memorial HS, Anthony Lehmann, Jr. from Harmony Science Academy, and Julio Sada from Brownsville Early College HS.

NSF supports the development of an astronomical observatory in the northwestern mountains of Argentina

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the UTB Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy a grant titled: “USA-Argentina collaboration: developing an astronomical site for Multimessenger astronomy in Cerro Macón, Argentina”. The NSF Office of International Science and Engineering made this award under a funding opportunity called “Catalyzing new international collaborations”. The goal of this project is to establish a partnership between American and Argentine astronomers to build and operate an astronomical facility in Cordon Macon, a mountain located in the Atacama highlands of Northwestern Argentina. The Atacama plateau is the driest place in the world, making it ideal for astronomical observations. This facility would be dedicated to observe and study astronomical phenomena like explosions of massive stars and the collision of pairs of neutron stars (very compact, old and distant stars). These rare cataclysmic collisions are most likely associated with the emission of very energetic particles called gamma ray bursts and could well be the origin of the production of heavy elements found only in small amounts on earth like gold. The radioactive glow of these explosions could be detected as what astronomers have called a “kilonova” and also be a source of gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of space caused by these collisions) that could travel far away and be detected on earth with very powerful lasers detectors like the LIGO observatories. Observatories like these could be helpful to make simultaneous observations of these events with different instruments and confirm gravitational wave detections. The grant will pay for travel to Argentina by scientists and students from The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas A&M University, the American institutions partnering in this collaboration with Argentine astronomers.

Press Release

For more information contact Mario Diaz, CGW director and PI of this award at:

Physics undergraduate students perform impressively in prestigious programming contest

The Physics and Astronomy's team "Prelude" participated in the 2012 International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) which took place at Baylor University, Waco TX. The team took the stunning 6th place following Rice and UT Austin and leaving behind more than 50 participating teams which represented all major universities and colleges in the South Central region of the United States. The team consisted of three undergraduate students from UTB's Department of Physics and Astronomy: Ali-Amir Aldan, Satzhan Sitmukhambetov, and Johnathan Aguilar, who were accompanied to the contest by their coach Dr. Malik Rakhmanov, Assistant Professor in Physics. The ICPC contest is universally regarded as one of the most prestigious programming contests in the world and its winners receive invitation for job interviews at major high-tech companies, including Google and IBM --- the official sponsor of the contest.

Physics Students Win First Place At Symposium

At the fifteenth annual UTB research symposium, Physics students Francisco Lozano and Jose Puente orally presented on the topic of "Mapping Magnetic Fields in 3D Space Utilizing Commodity Hardware." The students, under the supervision of their faculty mentor, Dr. Cristina Torres, managed to win the top spot in the undergrad division, scoring a big win for the physics department, and further advancing the goals of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy.

Department of Defense Research Grant Awarded to Physics Professors

Dr. Malik Rakmanov and Dr. Volker Quetschke were awarded a $623,860 dollar grant to perform research in collaboration with Dr. Xu of Rice University. The research will focus on the area of nano-photonics and to study light at the nanoscale for telecommunications and computation. The grant will enable a postdoctoral research assistant and a graduate student at the university to work alongside the professors. The students working on the research will travel to Rice University to fabricate micro toroidal resonators using E-beam lithography instruments. Much of the work will occur in the university's Optics and Nanophotonics Lab in the Science, Engineering and Technology Building at The University of Texas at Brownsville.

Our department is always encouraging research, said Dr. Soma Mukherjee, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The more we expand into newer areas the more opportunities it opens up for our students and for emerging and new kinds of research.
For more info...

Physics Alum Awarded NSF Graduate Fellowship

One year after receiving his BS in physics from UTB Sergio Cantu was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship will provide Sergio with a three-year annual stipend of $30,000 and $10,500 for tuition and fees. He currently attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but the fellowship will allow him to do his research at any accredited US graduate institution. Click Here to Know more.

Graduate student named Outstanding Female International Student

Congratulations to physics graduate student Liliana Ruiz-Diaz for being named the Outstanding Female International Student by the Office of Global Engagement. She was awarded a plaque and scholarship on March 8 as part of the International Women's Day observance. Liliana was chosen from among 17 women who were nominated by faculty members.

“I feel really happy for this recognition because I am representing a very narrow group, foreign female students working in the physical sciences. I think that this type of award encourages women to exceed expectations,” said Liliana. She continued, “I am very grateful to the Office of Global Engagement for this award and also to my advisor, Dr. Malik Rakhmanov, for nominating me.”

Dr. Rakhmanov, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, observed, "Liliana doesn't just study to get a degree -- she wants to become a scientist.” He believes that Liliana’s accomplishments can serve as an example to other students. “I would say the important point here is to believe in your own abilities. I often tell the students that they can always succeed if they really want something. Liliana's award is yet another a proof of this point,” he noted.

Liliana received her BS in physics in spring 2012 at UTB. During her time here she has participated in research internships at MIT and The University of Texas at Austin. Throughout her time at UTB she has been very active in the Society of Physics Students and in departmental outreach activities in addition to performing cutting-edge research in the department’s Optics and Nanophotonics lab.

Dr. Matthew Benacquista publishes Astrophysics book.

Dr. Matthew Benacquista has published a book titled 'An Introduction to the Evolution of Single and Binary Stars'. The publisher is Springer. The book features an introduction to the Evolution of Single and Binary Stars. Concepts of astronomy, stellar structure and atmospheres, single star evolution, binary systems and mass transfer, compact objects, and dynamical systems are covered in the text. The book in targeted at advanced undergraduate students in physics and astronomy.

Formal Presentation of Experimental Labs

The Optics and Nanophotonics Laboratory and the Advanced Nanoscience Laboratory have transformed the physics research that takes place at the University of Texas at Brownsvil le. The impact of these facilities was emphasized in a formal public ceremony that took place on April 25th in SETB. The College of Science, Math, and Technology Advisory Boa rd and members of the community toured the labs as part of the ceremony.

Touhami Receives NSF Grant to Purchase Research Microscope

The National Science Foundation has awarded an equipment grant to a professor working in the recently opened Biomedical Research and Health Professions Building II. Dr. Ahmed Touhami received a $276,233 grant from the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program for the acquisition of a top-of-the line microscopy technique. Touhami, the grant’s principal investigator, will acquire a multi-functional Integrated Fluorescence/Atomic Force Microscope to measure biophysical, chemical and physical properties at the nanoscale for single molecules. For more info

Physicists at UT Brownsville Go to Extreme Heights in Pursuit of Exotic Astronomy

The Center for Gravitiational Wave Astronomy (CGWA) at the University of Texas at Brownsville is pursuing astronomy around the globe. Two CGWA faculty, Dr. Mario Diaz and Dr. Cristina V. Torres along with a CGWA graduate student Samanta Fuentes Tapia are currently on an expedition in the Argentinian Andes with several collaboration partners from Texas A&M.

High School Students Expand Their Universe

Several local high school students had the opportunity to expand their universe during the 9th annual 21st Century Astronomy Summer Ambassadors Academy that began on June 10. This popular summer program allows students to become involved in relevant real-world research during the three-week program.

Students Are Inducted Into Physics Honor Society

Congratulations to UTB's inaugural members of Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society. UTB and UTPA physics students were inducted in a ceremony on May 3rd at UTPA's Coastal Studies Laboratory on South Padre Island. for more information.

Monday Night Physics Returns with 'Escher Part II: Playing with perception'

Dr. Joe Romano will present the talk Escher Part II: Playing with perception at Monday Night Physics, which will take place on April 29, 2013 in BRHB 1.222 at 7:15pm. This is the second of two lectures about mathematics, perception, and the art of M.C. Escher. The community is cordially invited to attend. Contact Robert Stone (

Monday Physics is Back

Monday night physics is back for 2013 Comes Join us with Dr. Joseph Romano, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He will deliver a public lecture titled Learning math from the prints of M.C. Escher on January 28 as part of the Monday Night Physics Lecture series. The lecture will take place at 7:00pm in BRHB 1.222. The community is cordially invited to attend. Contact Robert Stone ( for more information.

Spacecraft tracking facility on horizon for Brownsville

STARGATE, which stands for “South Texas Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission,” has a 90 percent chance of becoming a reality, according to Fredrick Jenet, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Texas at Brownsville and director of UTB’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy. STARGATE is Jenet’s concept for a radio frequency technology facility that would give students and faculty access to cutting-edge equipment with commercial as well as academic applications, including satellite and spacecraft tracking. For more information.

Dr. Richard Price named 2012 AAAS Fellow.

Dr. Richard Price stands before some of his work.

On November 30, 2012, Richard Price of the Department of Physics and Astronomy was named one of the new Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. According to the AAS "Election as a Fellow of AAAS is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers. Fellows are recognized for meritorious efforts to advance science or its applications."

Throughout the country, there were forty-nine Fellows named in Physics. Price, and a professor from Texas A&M were the only physicists in Texas to be named. Price is also the first member of the UTB faculty, in any field, to be given this honor.

The department proudly congratulates Dr. Price! For a more in-depth article please read more ....

Mkhitar Hobosyan awarded a Graduate Student Presentation Award at the TSAPS Fall 2012 Presentation Award competition.

Congratulations to our second year M.S. Physics student, Mkhitar Hobosyan! His presentation "Self-Assembled Nano-energetic Gas Generators based on Bi2O3 " has earned him the *Texas Section of American Physical Society's (TSAPS) award at the Fall 2012 conference. The photo shows Mkhitar presenting his work. Mkhitar will be receiving a cash award from the TSAPS in recognition of his honor. Nanoenergetic Gas-Generators are formulations that rapidly release a large amount of gaseous products and generate a fast moving thermal wave. They are mainly based on thermite systems, which are pyrotechnic mixtures of metal powders (fuel- Al, Mg, etc.) and metal oxides that can generate an exothermic oxidation-reduction reaction referred to as a thermite reaction. A thermite reaction releases a large amount of energy and can generate rapidly extremely high temperatures. The intimate contact between the fuel and oxidizer can be enhanced by use of nano instead of micro particles. The contact area between oxidizer and metal particles depends from method of mixture preparation. A link to the abstract can be found here... Mkhitar's advisor is Associate Professor Karen Martirosyan, Ph.D., who leads the nanoscience group.

Congratulations are also extended to University of Texas at Dallas student Joseph Coleman, a participant in the 2012 UTB Research Experiences for Undergraduates program who also won an award at the TSAPS meeting. Joe's poster, titled Resonant Circuit Simulation and Development for LIGO Lasers, was based on work he did at UTB with Assistant Professor Volker Quetschke, Ph.D.

Jose McKinnon named one of the top winners of the NASA University Research Center Virtual Poster Session

Congratulations to graduate student Jose McKinnon, who was named one of the top winners of the NASA University Research Center Virtual Poster Session on November 2. Four winners and a runner-up were chosen from 40 entries submitted from 11 different universities. Jose's poster entitled Mapping the Milky Way Galaxy with LISA was the top winner in the Human Exploration and Operations category.

Jose's poster was based on research he has been doing at UTB with Dr. Matt Benacquista, as well as work he did this past summer as an intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland. At GSFC Jose worked with Dr. John Baker, Dr. Jeffrey Livas, and Dr. Tyson Littenberg. His research involves making models of the Milky Way galaxy based on the gravitational-wave signal distribution of white dwarf star binary systems.

Dr. Volker Quetschke receives Patent for Low-Noise High Power Electro Optical Modulator

Volker Quetschke was awarded patent no US 8,279,511B2, Method and Apparatus for Modulating Light. The patent arose from the research geared towards developing instrumentation for the next generation Gravitational Wave detector Advanced LIGO (aLIGO). Advanced LIGO, as it is currently being installed, challenges the limits of detection by currently available instrumentation. Laser metrology and many other scientific applications of high-power laser beams require the modulation of the laser field. Especially the high laser powers used by aLIGO while maintaining the strictest limits towards thermal lensing and generation of residual noise made the development of new electro-optic modulators necessary. Previous commercial phase modulators were incapable of handling laser powers in excess of a few watts without distorting the laser beam.

The newly developed electro-optical modulators (EOM) can handle more than 200W of continuous laser power with little to no beam degradation. The new design was also shown to reduce the spurious polarization and amplitude modulation of phase modulators by several orders of magnitude while eliminating the very strict alignment tolerances of earlier modulators. This allows for completely new applications in high resolution metrology, sensing, or ranging in many different environments.
A schematic of the new aLIGO modulator is shown below. The wedges in the crystal separate the two polarization components, which reduces the spurious amplitude and polarization modulation by orders of magnitude. The three electrodes shown allow modulation of the crystal with multiple frequencies simultaneously, greatly reducing the number of crystals. These modulators are already installed at the LIGO Hanford and LIGO Livingston detectors (see below) and await the completion of the aLIGO installation.

The Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy recieves the CREST grant

CGWA Students support by CREST award

The Department of Physics and Astronomy celebrated the awarding of a $5 million Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology grant from the National Science Foundation at a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 4 at the Education and Business Complex's Salon Cassia. The grant is a continuation of funding from November to October 2017 for the department's Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy.Read more.

Dr. Rick Jenet is awarded the Houston Endowment Chair in Science, Mathematics and Technology

Dr. Juliet Garcis posing for award photo with Dr. Rick Jenet Associate Professor Rick Jenet was recognized for his numerous achievements by University President Dr. Juliet Garcia as she presented him with the Houston Endowment Chair in Science, Mathematics and Technology. Dr. Jenet's contributions to his field, to the university and to the local community led to this distinctive honor.
Dr. Jenet received his undergraduate degree from MIT and his PhD From CalTech. He is one of the co-founders of NANOGrav, a world-wide scientific collaboration of scientists and students that seeks to measure gravitational waves using pulsar signals. He has been an author on more than 40 scientific papers, and he has been a PI or co-PI on grants totaling $20 million. He was the recipient of the NSF CAREER award which “offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations” according to the award description.
With the CAREER award he established the Arecibo Remote Command Center (ARCC) at UTB. This was the first site that had the capability of remotely directing the Arecibo radio telescope, and the ARCC has provided university students and high school students the opportunities to perform cutting-edge research. He also established the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at UTB, and he is creating a radio observatory called the Low Frequency All-Sky Monitor with sites in Port Mansfield, Texas, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Green Bank, West Virginia.
Dr. Jenet has provided dozens of students financial support through the ARCC Scholars program, and he is a co-organizer of the 21st Century Astronomy Summer Ambassadors Program for high school students.

Most downloaded papers in American Journal of Physics

Although publishing a paper is a sign of progress, the real test of the importance of that progress is whether the paper gets read. Departmental professors R. Price and J. Romano have no doubt that their papers are being read. Price and Romano published a paper that appeared in April, and another that appeared in May, in the American Journal of Physics. In both months their papers were the most popular papers, the papers most frequently downloaded. The editor of the Journal offered the following comment to Price and Romano: "AJP is probably the most well-read physics journal in the world. The fact that you have two articles in back-to-back months that are the most downloaded says multiple things about these papers. .. this is no small feat." The two articles are:
Joseph D.Romano and Richard H.Price,``Why no shear in `Div, grad, curl, and all that'?," American Journal of Physics, 2012 and Richard H. Price and Joseph D.Romano, `In an expanding universe, what doesn't expand?" American Journal of Physics, 80, 376 2012.

Future Scientists Learn at 21st Century Ambassadors Academy

The 21st Century Astronomy Ambassadors Academy at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College was a way for high school junior Estival Rivera to observe the skies through the eyes of an astronomer and better understand the forces at work in the universe around him.
“This program helped me understand what it was like to be an astronomer, to see what it is that they do,” said Rivera, 17, of Pace High School in Brownsville. “My teacher suggested I apply because I want to be an electrical engineer and this program dealt with a lot of the kind of radio wave work I want to do.”
Rivera was one of eighteen high school students from the Brownsville Independent School District and surrounding areas that were given the chance to delve deeply into the topic of astronomy as well as assist and learn about the scientific research being done on campus and abroad. Read more

Department of Physics and Astronomy Announces New Degree Opportunity

The department of Physics and Astronomy will offer a Five year Integrated Masters in Physics starting Fall 2012. In the new program, students can graduate in 5 years with both a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree.

The program is rooted in the exceptionally strong research program in the department conducted by the worldðclass faculty members. The research areas span cutting edge programs in Gravitational Wave and Radio Astronomy, Applied Optics and Lasers, Nanoðsciences, Computational Physics and Biophysics. The department has established remarkable high standards in education by incorporating undergraduate research into the curriculum right from the beginning. There are six state of the art laboratories in the department that house some of the most powerful lasers, remote control access to worldùs largest radio telescope, atomic force microscopes, cryogenic materials research devices and very powerful computer clusters. The department has a cooperative UTB-UT San Antonio Ph. D Physics program.

For more details contact Department of Physics and Astronomy (, 956-882-6779)

Graduate Student publishes in high impact journal


Graduate student Meysam Heydari Gharahcheshmeh is the first author on a paper that appears in the June 15 edition of Materials Chemistry and Physics. His work on the corrosion behavior of zinc alloy electrodeposits such as Zn-Ni, Zn-Fe, Zn-Co and Zn-Cr using DC and pulse currents is described in the article “ Pulse electrodeposition of Zn-Co alloy coatings obtained from an alkaline bath”. The article can be viewed at Major points of the research include a morphological study of the Zn-Co alloy electrodeposits using pulse current and an alkaline bath, a study of the corrosion behavior of the Zn-Co alloy electrodeposits using a potentiodynamic polarization test, and the determination of the optimum cobalt content in the coatings for maximum corrosion resistance.

New NSF award for gravitational wave research


Physics faculty members Dr. Joseph Romano (PI), Dr. Soumya D. Mohanty (co-PI) and Dr. Soma Mukherjee (co-PI) have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for the development and implementation of novel data analysis methods for gravitational wave searches. The award amount is $450,000 for the period 2012-15.
The proposed research will enable the study of gravitational waves from astrophysical sources such as gamma ray bursts, supernovae and stochastic background in the advanced detector (a-LIGO) era. The grant will support several graduate students at the Masters and Ph. D level. Romano, Mohanty and Mukherjee have received continuous support from the National Science Foundation since 2006 for their research in the area of gravitational wave data analysis.

C2i Gaming Challenge award for Soumya Mohanty


Dr. Soumya Mohanty, Associate Professor in the department of Physics and Astronomy, has received an award in the "C2i Gaming Challenge: Developing New Ways to Use Game-Based Learning to Help Students Achieve,” sponsored by the National Education Association Foundation (NEAF) and Microsoft Partners in Learning. This has been organized on the U.S. Dept. of Education Open Innovation Portal.
The award has been given to Dr. Mohanty for his innovative idea of using commercial video games to learn physics. A panel of experts selected 10 innovators across the nation from a pool of over 150 submissions. Read more.

Director of Arecibo Radio Observatory speaks to Physics students at UTB

20120516_dr_robert_kerr Dr. Robert Kerr, Director of Arecibo Radio Observatory addressed an audience of Physics students from the department of Physics and Astronomy, UTB and also from various schools from the Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) on May 11, 2012. The lecture was a part of the celebrations to mark successful graduation of the first batch of ARCC students. ARCC (Arecibo Remote Command Center) is a unique NSF supported program led by Dr. F. Jenet, Associate Professor in the department, that combines research with undergraduate education. These students not only meet the high standards of academics, but also perform cutting edge research that they present at important national conferences. Five ARCC students, Rossina Miller, Frank Ceballos, Alejandro Garcia, Jesus Rivera and Louis Dartez, received felicitations from the President of UTB, Dr. J. V. Garcia on their successful completion of the B.S. Physics degree. While Miller, Rivera and Ceballos will be moving to prestigious Ph. D programs across the nation, Garcia and Dartez have decided to continue pursuing the UTB Physics and Astronomy graduate program with world class faculty members of the department. In his lecture, Dr. Kerr led the audience through the history of Arecibo Observatory and its contribution to current science. Addressing the students, he stressed on the need to take valuable lesson from life's hardships and on the fact that there is no limit to one's own educational goals and achievements. He inspired to students to study Astronomy to unravel the mysteries of the universe and added that the ARCC program was one of the most significant contributors to astronomy education in the nation.

The Radio Astronomy group led by Dr. Jenet has signed an MOU with the Arecibo Observatory to further scientific collaboration between the two institutions.

Click here to listen to Dr. Kerr's lecture

UTB Professor gives invited talk at Texas Section APS Opening plenary

Professor Cristina Torres was asked to give the opening plenary session talk on behalf of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration on the future of the gravitational wave astronomy at the Joint Spring 2012 Meeting of the Texas Sections of the APS and AAPT and Zone 13 of the SPS. Her plenary addressed the future direction of the Advanced LIGO detectors and what the expected implications are for gravitational wave detections.

Frank Ceballos Earns Award at National Conference


Physics senior Frank Ceballos won second place in the physics category for his poster entitled Observing SNe Ia Progenitors with LISA at the Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM held in Atlanta February 23-5. According to Frank's mentor, Dr. Matt Benacquista, “In it, he describes our work testing the ability of LISA (the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) to detect white dwarf binaries from a simulation of the Milky Way galaxy. He was looking at the detection of a particular class of binaries that will lead to Type Ia supernovae.”

High School Poster Contest winners are announced

The Department of Physics and Astronomy High School Poster Contest took place on March 2. After much deliberation the judges decided to award a three-way tie for first place to the following students:

  • Ed W. Alvarado, Hanna High School. His poster was entitled Magnetic Nanoparticles for Cancer Therapy and Imaging. His mentor was Dr. Karen Martirosyan.
  • Quentin Hale, Harlingen High School. His poster was entitled LIGO, and his mentor was Dr. Volker Quetschke.
  • Edward Yao, Mathematics and Science Academy. He was mentored by Dr. Ahmed Touhami, and his poster was entitled Molecular Recognition Forces between Immunoglobulin G and a Surface Protein Adhesin on Living Staphylococcus aureus.

Each winner will receive $200, a certificate, and a letter of recommendation from each of the mentors. The Poster Contest provided local area high school students with an opportunity to work with faculty members from the Department of Physics and Astronomy on cutting-edge research. The students then created scientific posters that showcased their work, and researchers from the department served as contest judges. The contest is intended to promote enthusiasm and interest in science for local high school students, and to encourage students to consider a career in science.


While the judges deliberated the high school students had the opportunity to interact with current physics undergraduates and hear about research, coursework, scholarships and travel opportunities. Part of the undergrad panel is shown here answering questions.

Ben Frost named NASA Student Ambassador

Congratulations to physics major Ben Frost who was recently named a NASA Student Ambassador. This appointment is an honor given to “top interns who have participated in various NASA Education projects and have a broad understanding of the NASA mission" according to the NASA Student Ambassador Program Overview.


Ben, seen here holding the award with his mentor Dr. Malik Rakhmanov, performs research in the Optics and Nanophotonics group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He joins a cohort comprised of undergraduates from across the nation who will work together to support NASA's science goals. The Ambassador duties include participating in NASA education and outreach events. Additionally, the Overview states that “Student Ambassadors will lead and facilitate discussions on current NASA events and research programs via instant messenger, message boards and real-time polls" in order to reach out to other college students in the areas of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

In order to be named a NASA Student Ambassador Ben's application was supported by Dr. Rakhmanov, Dr. Mario Diaz, Director of the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy (CGWA), and by administrators in NASA's Astrophysics Science Division located at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He is the first physics major from UTB to be named a NASA Student Ambassador.

REU deadline extended


The deadline to apply for a Research Experience for Undergraduates has been extended. The program takes place from June 3-August 10 and includes a $5,000 stipend, lodging and travel support. Freshmen, sophomore and junior students majoring in physics, astrophysics, astronomy, chemistry, engineering, and computer science are encouraged to apply. Please visit for details.

Drs. Natalia Guevara and Juan Guevara, Jr. have been awarded grant from General Medical Studies Institute


Drs. Natalia Guevara and Juan Guevara, Jr. have been awarded a three-year grant from the General Medical Studies Institute of the National Institutes of Health to investigate the role of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, a.k.a. "bad cholesterol" particles) in the transport of human DNA. The grant, entitled Mechanisms for cell uptake of LDL/DNA complexes, will provide nearly $263,000 to support their research in the Biophysics Research Laboratory. The project builds on previous work of Drs. Guevara where nucleic acid-binding sites were identified in apo B100, the major protein of LDL. By its ability to bind and transport nucleic acids into the cell and cell nucleus (capacities typical of viruses), LDL represents a natural gene delivery vector that may function as such in several human diseases including atherosclerosis and cancer, as well as viral infections. Nuclear translocation and expression of DNA delivered via LDL-mediated mechanism implies an endosomal escape for the nucleic acid. The mechanisms for cell entry and endosomal escape of the LDL/DNA complexes are unknown. Research conducted under this project may elucidate the factors essential for cell entry, endosomal escape, and nuclear translocation of the nucleic acids.

Professor Benacquista publishes Astrophysics book

Professor M. Benacquista has published a book titled "An Introduction to the Evolution of Single and Binary Stars" (published by Springer). The book introduces the physics behind stellar evolution without any explicit assumption of prior astronomy knowledge. The book fills the niche between preliminary and advanced books available on the topic. The book is aimed towards beginning graduate students.

According to Dr. Benacquista, "When I started teaching Astrophysics here in 2007, I couldn't find a book that was the right level of sophistication that also assumed no prior knowledge of astronomy. I first taught the course using bits of 3 or 4 different books. The lecture notes turned out to be about 100 pages of LaTeX, so I figured that I would slowly refine it while using the notes as the course textbook for the subsequent times I taught astrophysics. I also wanted to produce a book for gravitational wave astronomers who should know some of the astrophysics behind the population models of potential gravitational wave sources."

When asked about the task of producing a book he added, "For the most part, I have enjoyed the process of writing. I have been approached by other editors to propose additional books, but I think one book at a time is enough. I may think about writing another book in a few years."

Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy gets $600,000 from DoD


The DoD has awarded the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy a 600k grant to build the Low Frequency All Sky Monitor (LoFASM). This instrument will search for short time scale radio transients of astrophysical origin, as well as study radio interference mitigation techniques. This work will be done in collaboration with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). UTB students will be directly involved in the construction and operation of this facility, making it an ideal tool to train our students in modern radio technology.
LoFASM will be made up of three independent stations each consisting of 14 antennas identical to those being used by the existing Long Wavelength Array (LWA) project, thus allowing us to leverage the years of low-frequency antenna design and development preformed by NRL researchers. The wide sky coverage of the LoFASM design makes it well suited to perform all-sky monitoring for radio transient events. The transient sources of greatest near-term interest are the merger of inspiralling binary neutron stars. Such sources are of particular interest to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project and may prove instrumental in the first detection of gravitational waves. LoFASM will also be used to investigate radio frequency interference (RFI) and ways of mitigating its effects. This RFI work itself will provide immediate benefits to modern communication technology. For this and other reasons, the technology of LoFASM is of explicit interest to the Office of Naval Research.
The LoFASM project would rely heavily on the contributions of undergraduates, and would use the very successful model established by the Arecibo Remote Command Center (ARCC). The practical training our undergraduates would obtain by working on LoFASM would be springboards to immediate technology careers or could serve as excellent preparation for graduate school in a number of science or engineering specialties.


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