September 2022

In 2018 we implemented a new alumni award.  The award is given to a Physics Department alumnus for exceptional achievements and/or service. The award is not limited to physics but covers all areas in which our alumni excel.  This year we are pleased to announce that the Alumni Award is going to Professor Hanli Liu.

Professor Liu received her BS from Beijing Normal University in 1983, her MS from WFU in 1990, and her Ph. D. from WFU in 1994.  She and her husband Anqi Wu were the first two students to receive their doctoral degrees in Physics from WFU.  After a postdoctoral position at the University of Pennsylvania, she became a faculty member of the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Texas, Arlington in 1996 and is currently a full professor in that department.  She has received several prestigious awards including the Outstanding Young Scientist award at the Houston Biomedical Symposium in 1998, the Outstanding Young Faculty award (1999) and the Excellence in Research award (2008) from the College of Engineering at UT Arlington, and several other awards from UT Arlington including the Outstanding Research Achievement Award in 2004, a Distinguished University Professorship in 2013, and an Endowed Professorship by the College of Engineering Board of Advisors in 2021.  She became a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 2016, a Senior Member of the Optical Society of America in 2019, and a Senior Member of the National Academy of Innovators in 2020.  She has published more than 160 peer-reviewed scientific papers, advised more than 60 graduate students, and served as a reviewer for NIH grants in nearly 40 study sections.  Professor Liu is scheduled to accept her award and give a colloquium to the Physics Department on December 1, 2022.

If you can think of someone to nominate for next year, please send a letter to the Department Chair, Daniel Kim-Shapiro, or email ( describing why that person is a good candidate for this award. Please send nominations by 12/1/2022. Note that the award will have a modest monetary component.

Alumni News

Lynn (Neitzey) Rill, PhD, BA’91, MS’93 (advisor George Holzwarth).   My physics update is not recent. I have been on the clinical faculty at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Department of Radiology as a diagnostic medical physicist for the past 22 years. We also have a large medical physics graduate program and residency program.  My personal update is that my daughter Jordan Rill ’26 just started as a freshman at WFU! 

Chad McKee, PhD, BS’87, for the last decade, has worked for the Department of Defense at the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND).  His focus is radiation detection. While he doesn’t get to do research he does get to oversee research projects, influence what instruments are procured by DOD, and ensure the radiation detectors procured meet the specified criteria. 

Andrew Frey, PhD, BS’98, is going into his twelfth year as a physics professor at the University of Winnipeg. He says, “There is always a lot to do, but it would be great to reconnect with Wake physicists, so I welcome emails.”

Jeremy Ward, PhD’15, has recently transitioned from serving as an Advanced Development Team Leader within the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) to now serving as the Vice President for Products and Partnerships at a Dayton-Area startup that spun out of an AFRL program and is now working to serve both US Government/Defense applications as well as commercial markets. They are a health and safety technology company that protects and prolongs the lives of those at risk using wearable sensors, intuitive software, and contextual analytics.

Rhett Herman, PhD, BS’85:

 “I started down the semiclassical gravity road after taking a detour into medical school right after my bachelor’s degree. When I graduated from Montana State University, I came to Radford University, which was just starting to build a physics program. I was the second physicist here, in a location that was ripe for growth. I found a small, basically-unused old analog planetarium which was also full of possibility.

Over the next several years, I found that I could fill more and more seats in the intro physics classes by simply offering more sections. This leveraged into two MSU classmates working their way into positions here, and the number of majors started to grow quickly. We were initially the “and Physics” in the Department of Chemistry and Physics. But that gave us a chance to grow without having to be a standalone unit. Eventually, we evolved into our own department, with 7 faculty members. We have been averaging about 10 graduating majors per year.

I cobbled things together more and more in the old planetarium, expanding its offerings and numbers of visitors. This eventually became the anchor for a science outreach endeavor that I led here. After about 16 years of cobbling, a lot of duct tape and “don’t look behind the green curtain” jury-rigs, the natural sciences had an additional building built with a new, state-of-the-art digital planetarium. This is continuing to anchor science outreach events, large community space-themed “festivals” and big events, our astronomy classes and labs, and host several other academic events/meetings and fun presentations. More about the planetarium is here: 

My research has evolved to fit the students that we have (no graduate programs in the natural sciences). Soon after I arrived here, the geology department asked me if I would be interested in developing a geophysics class and perhaps program since I had taught astronomy, which includes planetary structure. Being all gung-ho I said “sure.” I figured that it was another application of the principles of physics, and I was right. This started to snowball, with the University (from the state) providing a lot of professional-level geophysical equipment for me to use in teaching and research projects. This effort supports both physics majors as well as other majors, especially the geology majors.

I also started teaching our Electronics class (well, I created it, so why not?). This, too, evolved. I modeled it originally from the electronic class that I had in the early 1980s from…Dr. Rick Matthews! That was one of my favorite classes ever, and I still recall the thrill of hearing my home-built radio bring in an AM signal down in the basement of Salem Hall. Over the years, this class has expanded from a simple lab-attachment to an intermediate E&M class, to a standalone 1-hour lab-only class, to its current incarnation as a 3-hour lab/circuitry class that has specifically gotten some of our majors jobs as electrical engineers right after they graduated.

This has also led me into the realm of microcontrollers, and showing students how to build their own microcontroller-based research sensors. This is now the method by which students who enroll in my year-long Arctic Geophysics Research Experience perform their research. Oh…I forgot to mention that, about 20 years ago, a student got me interested in studying the arctic, and its changes, and I said “sure, why not?” There’s a theme here.  But this started in earnest with the first research trip with one student for one week in early March, 2006 to Utqiagvik, Alaska, and has grown ever since. It’s now two weeks, with 12-14 students, a couple of whom stay the entire 2 weeks with me. This is always the week before, and the week of spring break, when the sea ice is thickest. The research is done on the sea ice since that is the canary-in-the-coal mine for the alarming warming of our planet.

In this every-other-year offering, students start by determining their own research question that relates to their future field of study/employment, and I become the “tech support” mentor who shows them how to build their own sensor equipment. This is really a dozen senior thesis projects every time I offer this course, and they work for much of the year to make these happen. They are immensely proud of their work, as they should be, since all of these are worthy of presentation at major meetings. In fact, most students who are not graduating seniors do present their work at the AGU meeting in December, following their Alaska research project. I have 5 students going this year, with 4 different presentations (two students combined their research and results).  More information about this program may be found here:  The next “Alaska cycle” is the 2023-2024 academic year.”

Do you have news that you would like to share in the newsletter? Look for an email from us in late August asking for your contributions.