Dear alums and friends of the Colorado School of Mines Physics Department,
Let me first introduce myself. My name is Dr Fred Sarazin. I joined the department in 2003 as a young assistant professor. Over the years, I have built a successful research program in fundamental nuclear physics and cosmic-ray physics. I am still very research-active with a research group currently comprised of two postdoctoral fellows and six PhD students. Throughout my time at Mines, I have always been very invested in the life of the department (and the institution), so when it came time to find a new department head, and after getting a few nudges, I agreed to put my name forward. With the support of the faculty and staff, I took over the helm of the Physics Department in July 2021.
I am sure you will be pleased to hear that the Physics Department is still a model of excellence on campus and continues to steadily gain national and international recognition. Our regular faculty are top-notch and extremely productive. The total number of faculty has remained relatively steady over the past few years (17 tenure-track faculty, 8 teaching faculty). We do anticipate some vacancies that will need to be filled in the next two years or so.
As of today, there is not a single tenure / tenure-track faculty that does not hold at least one federal research grant. The breadth of funding sources is simply outstanding: Air Force, DARPA, DOE, Keck Foundation, NASA, NIH, NNSA, NSF, State of Colorado, and various national laboratory subcontracts for the larger grants. Our latest calendar year research expenditure is over $6.3M and expected to rise further in 2022. The faculty are involved in areas of condensed matter, quantum, optical, renewable energy, and subatomic physics. The most recent change in our research directions started about 5 years ago and has been a shift away from photovoltaics into quantum engineering, which holds considerable promise. In this context, the physics faculty spearheaded the creation of a new interdisciplinary graduate program in Quantum Engineering, one of the first of its kind in the nation.
Our teaching faculty remains very much a reference on campus. They consistently get some of the best student evaluations and are lauded for their innovative approach to teaching by always putting students first. The past two years have shown the largest increase of incoming students on campus. The Department has responded by expanding the room hosting the introductory physics sequence studios. Dubbed “Physics Central”, the expansion also comes with a study area that will be staffed over 40 hours per week with faculty and undergraduate TAs to support student learning. The teaching faculty are currently looking at ways to maximize the benefits of Physics Central and enhance the student signature experience in introductory physics. At the end of this letter, I have included a slideshow documenting the process of Physics Central becoming a reality!
We remain one of the largest undergraduate physics departments in the country, although our student enrollment dropped in the past few years (smallest graduating class of 40 last year). There are probably multiple reasons to explain this. Starting last year, we have made a more concerted effort to advertise the benefits of an engineering physics degree to first- and second-year students. Beyond better explaining the pros of acquiring a strong foundation in physics and in engineering, we outlined the many opportunities that our students have to branch out through one of our sixteen 4+1 combined programs, by far the largest combined program offering of any Mines departments. I am happy to report that this effort is bearing fruit. Our current junior class has over 70 physics majors!
Last February, Mines became a R1 institution (doctoral universities – very high research activity). This was long overdue in my opinion, and it cements Mines reputation as a top institution in the country. Mines remains a relatively small institution, which does not benefit from the economy of scale of large universities or the endowment of prestigious private universities. As a result, we are also facing unique challenges, which we need to address as an institution. The institution’s strategic plan, Mines@150, has a set of ambitious goals to meet by 2024. Physics is well-positioned to achieve those goals despite limited resources.
To all of you, it is my hope that we will find ways to connect more regularly. We are hoping to organize more events where current students have the opportunity to interact with some of you. Events such as “PhysicsFest” have already allowed for such interactions. Finally, to those of you that have chosen to donate to the department, I would like to personally thank you for your contribution!
Please feel free to contact us if you are planning to come for a visit!