Significant Changes Over the Past Year

Rick Matthews retired last summer after being at WFU for 41 years.  He came to Wake Forest from the Naval Research Laboratory in 1979.  He served as department chair from 1998 until 2007. In 2007, he was asked to join the university administration, first as Associate Provost and the following spring as Associate Provost for Technology and Chief Information Officer.  Rick returned to the Department in 2014 but spent half of his time in the administration as Director of Academic and Instructional Technologies for the College.  We wish Rick a happy and fulfilling retirement.

In the spring of 2019 we hired two new faculty members, Ilaria Bargigia and Ajay Srimath Kandada.  Ilaria came to WFU in January of this year and we are very happy to have her here.  Unfortunately, Ajay, who also planned to come in January has been held up and is still in Milan, Italy.  His arrival has been held up by ongoing travel restrictions related to the corona virus.  However, Ajay is co-teaching an online class on optics with Ilaria this semester.  

Ilaria Bargigia received her PhD in Physics from Politecnico di Milano (Italy) and, before joining Wake Forest, she worked as post-doctoral researcher in Politecnico di Milano (Italy), the Italian Institute of Technology (Milan, Italy), and the Georgia Institute of Technology (USA). She is very excited about this new adventure at Wake Forest and really enjoyed teaching for the first time Physics 113 and Physical Optics and Optical Design to Wake Forest students. Professor Bargigia is eagerly looking forward to establishing her group here: she is an optical spectroscopist by training, and her interest focuses on the study of conjugated polymers for biological applications. 

Ajay Srimath Kandada received his PhD in Physics from Politecnico di Milano, Italy and worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the Italian Institute of Technology, University of Montreal and Georgia Institute of Technology. He received the Marie Curie global fellowship from the European Commission while he was a postdoc. He was recently recognized as a Materials Emerging Investigator by the Journal of Materials Chemistry C. He is an optical spectroscopist with an interest in developing advanced optical tools to address pertinent questions in materials science. His teaching interests lie in introductory and advanced courses on Optics and Non-linear optical spectroscopy. While he is not yet in Winston-Salem due to the ongoing COVID travel restrictions, he is very eager to move to WFU and start his teaching and research duties.

Last winter we did a search for Rick Matthews’ replacement and we were very lucky to be able to hire Steve Winter shortly before the pandemic caused the University to put all of the courses online in March and to have most of the students spend the rest of the semester at home.  

Steve Winter received his PhD degree from the University of Waterloo (Canada) in 2014, completing research in the group of Richard Oakley in the area of strongly correlated organic materials. His thesis was selected for the Canadian Council of University Chemistry Chairs award as the top thesis in Chemistry by the Canadian Chemical Society. He subsequently moved to the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Frankfurt (Germany) as an NSERC postdoctoral scholar within the group of Roser Valenti and continued there as a Junior Project Leader. His research career has spanned a variety of topics in chemistry and physics, which has included a combination of synthetic, experimental, and theoretical efforts. Before joining the faculty at WFU in Fall 2020, he had coauthored over 45 papers in materials research. His current research interests include theoretical modelling of complex materials with coupled spin, charge, and orbital degrees of freedom.

WFU Physics Department Of course the pandemic has resulted in some significant changes as well.  As you have probably heard the University responded to the pandemic and to orders issued by the Winston-Salem mayor and later by the North Carolina governor by closing the campus to most faculty, staff, and students in mid-March and putting all classes online.  It was a challenging time, but the faculty, staff, and students all pulled together and we made it through the spring semester.  Over the summer things gradually opened up and the laboratories in Olin that had been shut down were able to start operating again.  Our usual summer school courses in physics were taught entirely online.  Those faculty members who did not teach summer school courses underwent two weeks of part time training in teaching online courses during the summer.  

Classes began for the fall semester in late August with a delay of just a couple of days.  Faculty were given the option of teaching face to face classes, blended classes with some students physically present and some attending online, and completely online classes.  In all classrooms everyone is required to wear a mask and observe social distancing at all times.  As a result many fewer students are allowed into a classroom than normal.  Therefore those physics faculty who prefer to teach with students present are teaching blended classes.  So far things have been going well.  Because of an uptake in the number of students infected with the covid 19 virus the University has changed its status from Yellow, which is the “new normal”, to Orange.  So far as teaching goes there are no changes, but there are changes in the daily lives of the students related to campus dining and the cancellation of some campus events.  The plan is to have the students here until the Thanksgiving holiday and then to have them not return.  Instead classes will again be online for the very last part of the semester.

The spring semester is scheduled to begin in late January with no spring break next year.  The plan in the Physics Department is to again have a mix of blended classes and completely online classes.