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Welcome to Physics and Astronomy

Welcome to the website of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Maine.
Located in the town of Orono along the banks of the Stillwater River, the University offers a strong traditional education at an affordable price. The state’s land grant and sea grant university and the flagship institution in the University of Maine System, UMaine is one of New England’s premier universities. Our students create success stories — with a wide variety of programs and opportunities — and we do so with world-class faculty members, internationally recognized research; first-rate facilities; a friendly, safe atmosphere; and easy access to some of the best year-round recreation sites in the nation. We are a department comprised of 15 faculty members, all dedicated to teaching and research in areas including, but not limited to, biophysics, nanophysics/surface science, physics and astronomy education research, statistical physics, spiral galaxies and galaxy clusters, and environmental/health physics; 30 Graduate students; and 80 undergraduate majors. We offer BA and BS degrees in physics and engineering physics and also offer minors in both physics and astronomy.


September 2014

Everyone is welcome to attend a Public Astronomy Talk at 7:30 pm on September 25th, in room 141 of Bennett Hall. Dr. Niel Brandt, Professor of Astronomy at Penn State will be giving a talk entitled “X-raying Active Galaxies: Exploring the Environments of Supermassive Black Holes.” All are invited to attend and admission is free! Hope to see you there!

August 2014

Welcome, Dr. Andrej Favia! Favia recently completed his Ph.D in Physics at UMaine and has been hired as an Assistant Professor (2-year fixed length) in the Physics Department. Congratulations Dr. Favia!

July 2014

Professor Michael Wittmann has taken over as Physics Department Chair after Dr. David Batuski retired from the position. Dr. Batuski chaired the department for 10 years and will continue teaching courses. He is currently on a much deserved sabbatical. Thank you and congratulations to both Dr. Batuski and Dr. Wittmann!

March 2014

If, during your travels on campus, you see a small object flying through the sky – don’t worry! There are a few of these “drones” on campus, which are being piloted by remote control, flying around campus and filming scenes as part of an outreach project. Physics professor, Sam Hess, is running the project and has uploaded video clips, taken by the drones, to YouTube. Enjoy watching these videos below!

Winter scenes of UMaine Campus, featuring Fogler Library, Stevens Hall, the UMaine South Entrance, the Collins Center, Bennett Hall, the Mall and Memorial Union, West Campus and the Stillwater River, East Campus, Hitchner Hall, the Bear Statue, the Engineering Science Research Building, Alfond Arena, the Alumni House, and a campus panorama.

The Emera Astronomy Center at UMaine, currently under construction, featuring a new observatory and planetarium.


Alan Davenport, Director of the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium, spoke with The Weekly earlier this month, concerning the new Emera Astronomy Center, currently being constructed on campus. The center is located behind the parking lot off of Rangeley Road, where the campus lighting won’t be an interference for stargazers. The new all-digital facility boasts a larger dome and a more powerful telescope. Davenport is excited about the new center which will be opening this fall, and was quoted, saying, “we’re creating kind of a Cadillac experience in planetariums.” The full article can be read here on the Bangor Daily News’ The Weekly website.

February 2014

Professors John Thompson and MacKenzie Stetzer have received a grant from the National Science Foundation in the amount of $599, 999. A new article written by Elyse Kahl, news writer in the UMaine Division of Marketing and Communications, details exactly what their research involves – studying courses that are similar across the physics and engineering disciplines to find differences and similarities, as well as student understanding of the concepts before and after taking said courses. Results of the research project will be used to modify current instructional materials as well as help to develop new materials to be used across the disciplines to better assist students and their understanding of concepts. The full article can be found here.

January 2014

Professor John R. Thompson has been chosen as a member of the Editorial Board for the science journal “Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research,” a position he will hold from January 1, 2014 until December 31, 2016. Congratulations and happy editing!

During the most recent elections Maine voters chose to favor state-bond funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) departments at the University of Maine. A portion of this funding will go toward renovating four first floor classrooms of Bennett Hall. Construction on rooms 101, 102, 115 and 124 will start during the summer session. More details will be added as the renovation plans take more shape.

Fall/Winter 2013

Several faculty members and students have recently had papers published in noteworthy Scientific publications! Congratulations on all of your hard work!

T.I. Smith, J.R. Thompson and D.B. Mountcastle, “Student Understanding of Taylor Series Expansions in Statistical Mechanics,” Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research 9, 020110 (2013).

“Precisely and accurately localizing single emitters in fluorescence microscopy: state-of-the-art and best practice,” Hendrik Deschout, Francesca Cella Zanacchi, Michael Mlodzianoski*, Alberto Diaspro, Joerg Bewersdorf, Samuel T. Hess, and Kevin Braeckmans, Nature Methods, accepted.

“Visualizing the Molecular Timing of a Physiological Decision at the Nanoscale,” Samuel T. Hess and Julie A. Gosse, Biophysical Journal 105:2617-8 (2013).

“Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy,” N.M. Curthoys*, M.J. Mlodzianoski*, D. Kim*, and S.T. Hess, Journal of Visualized Experiments (82), e50680 (2013).

“Bleed-through correction for rendering and correlation analysis in multi-colour localization microscopy,” Dahan Kim,* Nikki M. Curthoys,* Matthew T. Parent,* and Samuel T. Hess, Journal of Optics 15: 094011 (2013).

“Super Resolution Microscopy Reveals that Caveolin-1 is required for antiviral immune response,” Kristin A Gabor,* Chad R Stevens, Matthew J Pietraszewski, Travis J Gould,* Siew Hong Lam, Zhiyuan Gong, Samuel T Hess, Carol H Kim, PLoS One 8: e68759 (2013).

“Actin Mediates the Nanoscale Membrane Organization of the Clustered Membrane Protein Influenza Hemagglutinin” Manasa V. Gudheti*, Nikki M. Curthoys*, Travis J. Gould*, Dahan Kim*, Kristin A. Gabor*, Mudalige S. Gunewardene*, Joshua Zimmerberg, Julie A. Gosse, Carol H. Kim, and Samuel T. Hess, Biophysical Journal, 104: 2182-92 (2013).

“Optical Nanoscopy: From Acquisition to Analysis,” Travis J. Gould*, Samuel T. Hess, Joerg Bewersdorf, Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering, 14: 231-54 (2012).

* denotes current and former undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs from the Hess laboratory

November, 2013

The Physics and Astronomy Department has a new Facebook page!! Be sure to check it out for news, pictures and updates!

September, 2013


Department of Physics and Astronomy Annual Fall Picnic

Hosted by the University of Maine SPS Club


When: Saturday, September 21, 2013

 Raindate: Sunday, September 22, 2013

 Where:    University of Maine picnic area

                     Steam Plant parking lot, College Avenue.

 Time:      Arrive anytime after 1 pm.


Professors John Thompson and MacKenzie Stetzer are the recipients of a new research grant. “Research on learning and teaching at the physics-engineering interface: thermodynamics and electronics,” will be funded  by the National Science Foundation Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) program, Phase 2; John Thompson, Principal Investigator,  MacKenzie Stetzer, co-PI, W.A. Friess, D.B. Mountcastle, Senior Personnel; $599,999, 9/1/2013-8/31/2016.

May 2013

Several students and a distinguished engineer were inducted into the Francis Crowe Society this month. You can read about the new members and their accomplishments here.

Physics Professor and Director of LASST (Laboratory for Surface Science Technology), Robert Lad, has been named as the 2013 Distinguished Maine Professor in recognition of his outstanding achievements as an educator. Congratulations, Dr. Lad!

October 2012

Daniel J. Breton (2011 UMaine Ph.D.) a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College has recently published a paper.

Breton, Daniel J., Koffman, Bess G., Kurbatov, Andrei V., Kreutz, Karl J. & Hamilton, Gordon S. (2012) “Quantifying Signal Dispersion in a Hybrid Ice Core Melting System,” Environmental Science & Technology, doi: 10.1021/es302041k

The full paper can be read here:


During their September 24th meeting the Board of Trustees approved the name of the soon to be constructed planetarium and observatory facility at UMaine, which will be known as the “Emera Astronomy Center.” The facility will be named for Emera Inc., an energy company focused on providing cleaner energy, after their $1 million gift to the university for the building’s construction. This gift was in addition to a $3.2 million gift given by a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

January 2012

Dean Astumian, Professor of Physics,  has just been awarded the Foresight Institute’s 2011 Feynman Prize for Nanotechnology Theory!

Congratulations, Dean!


Approved!! Trustees approve new planetarium, observatory at UMaine
Bangor Daily News, July 18, 2011 Excerpt
BANGOR, Maine — The billions and billions of stars in the cosmos will be clearer and brighter in the new $5.2 million combined planetarium and observatory that the University of Maine System board of trustees approved Monday for the University of Maine campus.

The new structure will be built near Rangeley Road between the Hilltop parking lots and the Littlefield Garden. It is expected to be completed in about three years. Click on the link (above) for the “rest of the story”.

Congratulations! The Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium was listed in Yankee Magazine as one of Maine’s Best Bargains for 2011! For more information, click here.