Particle physics research

Physics department to expand faculty and research with $50 million alum donation

The physics and astronomy department last month received a $50 million gift from investor and Hopkins alumnus William H. “Bill” Miller III. This donation follows Miller’s 2018 $75 million donation to the University’s philosophy department. According to an email sent to Hopkins affiliates by University President Ronald J. Daniels, the donation prompted two anonymous donations totaling an additional $25 million.

According to Daniels, Miller’s gift will sponsor faculty appointments and fellowships and postdoctoral fellowships for new graduates in hopes of furthering the department’s research goals. Formerly named after Hopkins professor Henry A. Rowland, the department was renamed the William H. Miller III Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Timothy Heckman, Dr. A. Hermann Pfund Professor and current chair of the department, explained the impact of the donation on expanding the department’s research interests in an interview with The News-Letter.

“It’s a transformative gift…and it’s going to be mostly used for people,” he said. “In total, over the next five years, we will add 13 new professors, which will allow us to firmly establish ourselves in all the main fields of modern physics and astronomy.

The department currently focuses its research on four areas: condensed matter physics, astronomy and astrophysics, high energy particle physics and plasma physics. According to Heckman, the small size of Hopkins’ department compared to physics departments at peer institutions has limited the department’s ability to support research in other cutting-edge areas like biological physics. Heckman hopes the donation, which will create three endowed chairs, will change that.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Rosemary FG Wyse, the department’s former Centenary Professor, stressed the importance of branching out into emerging fields.

“There are all these extremely exciting areas where we’ve started to move, but we really need to build our strengths to be competitive,” she said. “We are very strong in the areas where we are — we have excellent postdoctoral fellows [and] excellent graduate students, but we are still in real competition with our peers.

Second-year physics student Stefan Arseneau said The News-Letter that while he has found research opportunities in his areas of interest, he hopes the donation will stimulate research opportunities in atomic physics.

“I would be interested in doing quantum computing, which Hopkins doesn’t do a lot. I don’t think we have anyone who does that,” he said.

Wyse shared that expanding the faculty will create new opportunities for undergraduate enrichment both in and out of the classroom.

“We expect the new faculty coming in to create undergraduate and graduate courses that will give students experience in these new areas of physics,” she said. “Of course, they will have their own… lab [and] they will invite undergraduate students to do research with them.

In an interview with The News-LetterSophomore physics student CJ Faulhaber shared that expanding faculty research will also benefit students.

“A big part of the philosophy for a lot of students is research because that dominates the field,” he said. “More faculty means more available and diverse research opportunities for undergraduates, which is a big plus for Hopkins overall.”

Faulhaber added that he hopes the faculty expansion will provide students with more undergraduate funding opportunities.

Miller’s gift also allocates funds for 10 graduate research fellowships. According to Heckman, students graduating from the department are generally required to work as teaching assistants for their first two years and may receive funding thereafter. Thanks to the new scholarships, selected graduate students will be fully funded in their first year.

Robert Leheny, professor of physics and new head of the department, explained the importance of these scholarships in an interview with The News-Letter.

“Through these Miller Graduate Scholarships, we will be able to provide people with the opportunity to come to Hopkins as a graduate student and have the freedom of not having to spend time as a teaching assistant. and get really involved in research right away. [and] have academic freedom,” he said. “If they have their own support, they can choose issues to work on [and] senior advisors to work with regardless of financial support.

Leheny hopes the scholarships will attract competitive doctoral students who might normally choose to attend schools that already provide similar funding.

Miller’s donation will also create 10 postdoctoral fellowships that Leheny says have been on the department’s agenda for decades.

Leheny highlighted the unique benefit of recruiting postdoctoral fellows.

“Time spent in postdoctoral positions…can be among the most productive times in a scientist’s career because they don’t have other responsibilities like teaching that come with a faculty appointment” , did he declare. “It will add to the fertility of the environment with the fresh ideas and energy that [postdoctoral fellows] to bring.”

The department has reviewed applications for postdoctoral positions and is publishing decisions for the first round of fellowships for fall 2022.