Department News

Jul 30, 2019 - OU physicists awarded European Physics Society prize

The CDF and DZero collaborations, the latter of which includes several current and former OU physicists, were awarded the 2019 High Energy and Particle Physics Prize from the European Physical Society for "the discovery of the top quark and the detailed measurement of its properties."  This prestigious prize is awarded every two years for outstanding contributions to the field.  OU made substantial contributions to the DZero experiment, without which the discovery would not have been possible.  Faculty members Brad Abbott, Phillip Gutierrez, Patrick Skubic, and Michael Strauss oversaw the work of seven PhD students, six postdoctoral research associates, and a research scientist (Horst Severini) on the DZero experiment.

The discovery of the top quark was announced jointly by the CDF and DZero collaborations in 1995.  At the time, the top quark was the only remaining matter particle predicted by the standard model yet to be observed.  Discovery was made challenging by the large mass of the top quark, which necessitated careful analysis of billions of high-energy proton-antiproton collisions produced by the Tevatron at Fermilab in Illinois.  The large mass of the top quark is also what makes it so fascinating; it is the heaviest of all known fundamental particles, with a mass at the electroweak scale.

In addition to discovering the top quark, the CDF and DZero experiments performed a number of important measurements of its properties.  The top quark mass was measured with a precision of 1%.  The cross section for production of a top-antitop pair was measured with a precision of 10%.  The production of a single top quark is much rarer, being mediated by the weak interaction.  However, the CDF and DZero collaborations also later observed this production mode, thanks in part to significant work from an OU postdoc (Supriya Jain)

The OU group continues to study top quark properties today, using collisions produced by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  Recently, Phillip Gutierrez and postdoc Muhammad Alhroob published the first 3-sigma evidence for the production of a single top quark in association with a Z boson, which is also mediated by the weak interaction.  Along with graduate student Dylan Frizzell, they are now finalizing a publication with incontrovertible >5-sigma observation of this process.

For more information, see:

Jul 29, 2019 - Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

CUWiP, also known as Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics, is an annual conference series that has been running since 2006. Since its start, conference participation has been growing non-stop. In January 2020, twelve different sites across the US will be hosting CUWiP; the Department of Physics and Astronomy at OU’s Norman campus will serve as one of these host sites. A thirteenth conference will be hosted in Canada at the same time.

Being coordinated under the umbrella of the American Physical Society, all host sites share the same goals and mission. During the three-day conference there will be one national keynote speaker that will be live streamed to all thirteen sites. The remainder of the conference program is being developed independently by each of the thirteen local organizing committees.

Conference Website:

Donations are gratefully accepted!! Thank you!

May 23, 2019 - Schwettmann wins NSF Career Award

OU Physics Professor Arne Schwettmann is the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development Program) Award for research on ultra cold atoms.

Collisions between atoms in gases happen all around us, for example in the air that we breathe every day. At room temperature, the collisions are random and very difficult to control. By cooling a gas to ultracold temperatures near absolute zero (below minus 273 degrees Celsius) and trapping it in the center of a vacuum chamber, collisions can be controlled and used to develop new technologies such as quantum-limited sensors for impurities. An ultracold gas behaves like a single quantum mechanical object, a matter wave. Collisions still take place in the matter wave, but they now happen in a predictable fashion. In a sodium matter wave, the collisions can be controlled precisely via microwave radiation. The colliding atoms behave like small magnets with magnetic north and south poles determined by the direction of their atomic spin. During collisions, atoms experience each other's magnetic fields and change their spin directions. As they change directions, the atomic spins become correlated with each other at the quantum level, a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement is useful when atoms are used as sensors. All entangled atoms react to external influences in unison, increasing the sensitivity of a sensor. This research project will use controlled collisions in sodium matter waves to study quantum-enhanced sensing and other quantum technologies. This project will study the role of impurities and will also explore differences and similarities compared to experiments with entangled beams of light. The research will improve our experimental understanding of quantum technologies based on matter waves under realistic conditions, in the presence of loss and impurities. This has practical applications for development of robust quantum-enhanced sensors, for development of quantum-enhanced probes for ultracold gases, and for improving our understanding of how we can control spin in matter waves at the quantum level.

The initial award is $311,908. This is a continuing grant expected to total $500,000 over five years. For more information, go to

May 22, 2019 - CAREER: Matter-wave quantum optics in spin-space in ultracold sodium gases

Dr. Arne Schwettmann has been awarded $311,908 by the National Science Foundation. This is a continuing grant expected to total $500,000 over five years.

May 01, 2019 - Professor Kaib to Record Planetary Radio Live with Bill Nye

OU astrophysics professor Dr Nathan Kaib will be taking part in a recording of Planetary Radio Live with Bill Nye on May 8 3-4:30pm at the Science Museum Oklahoma.  Seating is first come, first served.  Additional details about the event can be found here:

Apr 25, 2019 - Brad Abbott Named Presidential Professor

OU physics professor Brad Abbott has just been named the recipient of the 2019 Brian and Sandra O'Brien Presidential Professorship  Presidential Professors inspire their students, mentor their undergraduate and/or graduate students in the process of research and creative scholarly activity within their discipline, and exemplify to their students (both past and present) and to their colleagues (both at OU and within their disciplines nationwide) the ideals of a scholar through their endeavors in teaching; research and creative scholarly activity; and professional and university service and public outreach.  Congrats Brad!!

Mar 01, 2019 - Theory-Experiment Team Observed Quantum Mechanical Two-Body Collisions One at a Time

To better understand atomic collisions, Qingze Guan of the University of Oklahoma in Norman and colleagues from  Heidelberg University developed a way to watch two atoms crash together. For more information, view Physics - Synopsis: Watching Atoms Bang Together.

Jan 18, 2019 - Branch Awarded Chambliss Astronomical Writing Award

Physics & Astronomy emeritus professor David Branch has been awarded the AAS' Chambliss Astronomical Writing Award, along with J. Craig Wheeler, for their advanced university-level textbook Supernova Explosions.  News about the award can be found here:   Congrats David!!

Jan 08, 2019 - Young Planets Orbiting Red Dwarfs May Lack Ingredients for Life

A team of astronomers led by OU's John Wisniewski have used the Hubble Space Telescope to trace giant blobs of material being cleared out from AU Mic's young circumstellar disk.  Read more here:

Jan 02, 2019 - Kaib wins NSF Career Award

OU astronomy professor Nathan Kaib is the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development Program) Award in the amount of $521,258.  It is thought that protoplanets, the bodies that eventually gave rise to planets, formed by a process known as accretion during the early life of our Solar System. This process cannot, of course, be studied directly. Little is known about how accretion proceeds at different distances from the Sun. Professor Kaib's work will address questions of Solar System development by using sophisticated computer modeling techniques. His team will also reassess the development of the giant planets and the Kuiper Belt of the outer Solar System. He will establish astronomy and planetary science education programs at the Sam Noble Museum, Oklahoma's state natural history museum. He will design classroom programs for visiting school groups as well as adding to the museum's catalog of Discovery Kits, which can be loaned free of charge across the state.

Professor Kaib will use a GPU-accelerated N-body code to directly simulate the construction of rocky protoplanets via runaway and oligarchic growth. The same code will be used to build a self-consistent model of the dynamical evolution of the early outer solar system. Finally, he will use a new N-body algorithm to understand the interplay between planetary and triple star dynamics within the Alpha Centauri and other multiple star systems.


Congrats Nate on a well deserved honor!

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