• Space News: The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

    NASA announced last month that their upcoming infrared observatory project had been named the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Today, we’re going to take a brief look at this project, Dr. Roman, and the role of physics in astronomy.

     NR-WFIRST spacecraft modelNR-WFIRST primary mirror assembly

    Nancy Grace Roman (1925-2018) was the first Chief of Astronomy for NASA, and the first woman ever to hold an executive-level position there. A graduate of Western High School in Baltimore, and later of Swarthmore College and the University of Chicago, she began her career in astronomy research specializing in the emission spectra of stars.

     spectrum of Oxygen - image credit McZusatz

    Spectroscopy is the study of the spectrum of light, the individual frequencies and colors that make up the light we see. Every element and compound emits its own distinctive pattern of frequencies of light, based on the structure and energy of the electrons within the atom. By analyzing the light from stars, we can use these distinctive patterns as a kind of fingerprint to identify the chemical makeup of distant stars and planets. Our demonstration collection at UMD Physics has many demonstrations about spectra and spectroscopy; be sure to click here and check them out!

     Not all light is visible to our eyes; lower frequency light is below the range that we can see, in infrared wavelengths. Space telescopes are often valuable for observing this invisible light without interference from our atmosphere, just as they are in the visible spectrum.

     Dr. Nancy Roman with an early satellite model

    Despite her skill as a researcher, the widespread discrimination against women in the sciences made it difficult for Dr. Roman to advance her career in academia. Eventually, she moved to working in government instead, first joining the Naval Research Laboatory and then NASA. She essentially created the astronomical science program at NASA, plotting its course for decades to come. She was a key player in the development of many of NASA’s research satellites, including Uhuru, the first X-ray astronomy satellite; and she was a leader in the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope. She advocated that NASA science should be for everyone, and ensured that their research and data were publicly available.

     Nancy Grace Roman in 2015

    Dr. Roman retired from NASA, and began a second career in scientific computing. She learned programming at Montgomery College and went on to work as a contractor specializing in scientific data management, eventually returning to NASA as a contractor to manage the Astronomical Data Center at Goddard Space Flight Center.

     Dr. Roman worked hard to inspire more women to become scientists and leaders in science, and we can hope to follow in her footsteps.

  • STEM News Tip: #BlackInAstro Week 2021

    #BlackInAstro is a project to celebrate the work of Black space scientists and engineers. The online event #BlackInAstroWeek will be held June 20-26. The calendar of events will be announced soon, watch their website and the tag on social media for more. Meanwhile, check out the website for profiles and resources for students and postdocs.

    Read more at 

  • STEM News Tip: AIP Foundation & TEAM-UP Report

    • The American Institute of Physics is launching the AIP Foundation, a charitable organization to support education and historical programs. The foundation will be officially introduced this Thursday, November 19, in a virtual event at 6:00PM EST. Speakers will include our own Prof. John Mather and astronaut Ellen Ochoa.

    You can read more and register for Thursday's event here:


    • This year the AIP’s National Task Force to Elevate African American Representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy (TEAM-UP for short) released their report on the experiences of African-American physics students. The task force has been hosting a series of webinars on their work. This Friday, November 20, they will host a webinar at 2:00PM EST to discuss implementation and their recommendations for the physics community. The event will be hosted by Dr. Kate Kirby and Prof. S. James Gates, who recently retired from our department.

     Read more, view previous webinars, and sign up for this Friday’s event here:


  • STEM News Tip: AIP TEAM-UP Webinar With Dr. Jami V Miller & Prof Kelly Nash

    Tuesday 22 June, AIP’s TEAM-UP Project will host a new webinar, Belonging: African American Women in Physics & Astronomy. Presenters will include Professor Kelly Nash of UT San Antonio, science communicator Jessica Harris, and Dr. Jami Valentine Miller of African American Women in Physics, Inc. The program will explore the racialised and gendered experiences of Black women in physics and astronomy, as part of the projects discussion of factors affecting African American student success in our field.

  • STEM News Tip: Black In Physics Week 2021

    Physics Today magazine has published a series of articles in honor of #BlackInPhysics Week. They explore issues of anti-blackness and racism, burnout and mental health, and community building.




  • STEM News Tip: Native American Physics & Astronomy

    Recognizing and including diverse viewpoints in an important part of the scientific endeavour, albeit one often neglected. Fortunately, inclusion is coming to be more widely seen as an important part of physics and physics education. Today we're looking at one particular community, Native Americans/First Nations in 

    Canada's The Walrus magazine had a recent feature article on First Nations astronomy - both on the traditions of the study of the stars in their history, and on First Nations people and understandings in academia today. There is increasing support for bringing multiple approaches to understanding into the classroom; read more about it here. Also, check out the upcoming Indigenous Star Knowledge Symposia.

    Several organizations are working to expand the role of Native peoples in the sciences; visit their sites to learn more

  • STEM News Tip: NMAAHC on Experiences of African Americans in STEM

    The National Museum of African American History and Culture is hosting a series of programs on Arfican Americans in STEM. The next presentation in the series, with aquaculturalist Imani Black, is this Friday, May 21. This will be followed by astronaut Jessica Watkins on May 28.


    You can join in, submit questions for the discussions, and see recordings of past events on their website at

  • STEM News Tip: Physics Today on Physicists & Mental Health in the Pandemic

    UMD’s own Dan Lathrop was quoted in a new article in Physics Today on the experiences of physicists in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the toll of both the stress of the illness itself, and of the changed work environments, on our mental health. It’s important that we take care of ourselves, and of one another, in these difficult times – both individually and as institutions. We’ve compiled a few helpful links below.

     Read More:


    And don’t forget, for the duration of the pandemic, the Physics Today archive is free to read. Find it at

  • STEM News Tip: Three New Articles In Science Education

    Three recent articles related to science education may be of interest to our readers.

    • The first, an article in The Physics Teacher by Andrew G. Duffy of Boston University, introduces his collection of new simulations for use in teaching physics. Many of these have been indexed in our own Directory of Simulations as well, and it is very much worth checking out his collection site and given the article a read to learn more about their development.


    •  The next article, in Physics Today, is a collaboration by Brad Conrad of SPS, AIP research fellow Rachel Ivie, and Patrick Mulvey and Starr Nicholson of AIP’s Statistical Research Center. They explore the latest results on how COVID-19 has impacted undergraduate physics students, and steps we can take to support them. They note that the impact has been greatest on already underrepresented groups.



  • Women Nobel Laureates in Physics

    Earlier this month, Prof. Donna Strickland, along with two other physicists, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work with lasers. She is the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in over 100 years of it being awarded. (Irene Joliot-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, though she was primarily a physicist by profession by our modern standards.) Let's take this opportunity to look back at these three women (and hope that this list gets longer soon!)

     Nobel Prize Medal - image public domain in US

    Marie Skłodowska Curie is perhaps the best known woman in the history of physics. She shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their research on radiation. She later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, for her work on radium and polonium.


    Maria Goeppert-Mayer won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for her development of the nuclear shell model, sharing the prize with Eugene Wigner and Hans Jensen. Her work provided the first clear explanation for the stability or instability of different atomic nuclei, by showing that the nucleus could be modeled as a series of shells of nucleons with coupled spins. She is the only woman to win the prize for theoretical rather than experimental work.


    This year, 2018, Donna Strickland won the Nobel Prize in Physics for her development of chirped pulse amplification in lasers. This is the method used in most modern high-powered laser research installations to increase the energy available in ultrashort bursts.


    This is an appallingly short list for over a century of work, and provides an excellent opportunity to talk with our classes about the history of physics and about the challenges and discrimination women still face in our field. Consider: What can we as scientists and educators do to make our field more welcoming and inclusive?



    Some resources:

    UMD Women in Physics

    APS Women in Physics

    The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903

    The Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963

    The Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018

    Nature: Donna Strickland on her work and on the under-representation of women in physics

    Particles for Justice