Skip directly to: Main page content

Department of Physics

Alumni Testimonials

To have your own testimonial displayed here, email it to Professor Lloyd Knox (  Or, visit our Connect with Physics page and be sure to check the 'Write an alumna/alumnus testimonial' box.

Helen Craig

Helen Craig
UCD Physics Class of 2009

My experience with UC Davis physics started with a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program working under a particularly brilliant professor, a very positive exposure both to the department and to physics in general. A year later, I was set upon a degree in physics and ready to transfer from my community college, American River College in Sacramento. But where to?

My most favored options were UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis with UCB and UCSB as my best choices if I was looking at rankings. But UCSB and UCD offered the best financial aid. I debated between the two up till the bitter end yet when it came right down to it, I just did not feel easy going to a school I had never visited and so far away from my Sacramento home. I knew the atmosphere at UC Davis and knew that it would be a comfortable second home for me for the next two years.

In the end, I am very happy that I did not let rankings steer me away from UC Davis. Why? UC Davis has professors that can both practice physics and teach it (which I am appreciating more and more as I grow older and wiser). The professors enjoy lecturing, enjoy interacting with students and enjoy working through homework sets with students. I am very grateful for the amount of time and effort my professors put into my education. UC Davis physics strikes a healthy balance between academics and research.

UC Davis is a particularly good school to transfers. About half of my class was transfer students. I was a little fearful of not having the right background material as everyone else or just being that one weird transfer student. But with so many transfer students with a diverse set of knowledge, this was not at all true. Transfer or not, there was always a group of people in the library ready to do homework together or just talk physics!

My education at UC Davis and the connections that I formed there have opened many avenues for me, first in the form of summer research opportunities and later as a springboard to an excellent graduate program. Of course, lots of hard work and stressing out went into my two years at UC Davis (that time I stayed up all night to study for a mechanics exam, that time the electronics lab final project was assigned during dead week, etc. ) but going to UC Davis for my physics degree was one of my best decisions. Physics at UC Davis is a great program made up of great people!

Josh Burkart

Josh Burkart
UCD Physics Class of 2008

I came to UC Davis as a declared physics major, and never had the slightest thought of switching (although I added a double major later on). I started out in the fall quarter of my freshman year in the 9 honors series, my very first class of college, which lasted for five quarters (most of my first two years). I can't speak highly enough about this track of courses--small classes, challenging material, early introduction to various advanced concepts and techniques, interactive and collaborative discussion sections, provocative lab work, experienced TAs, and great professors. The quality of education one can expect in one's first two years of physics at UCD in the honors series is second to no other university on the planet.

In terms of community, there is an active physics club at UCD, which fosters among physics majors the friendly, collegial environment that UC Davis in general is so well known for. The club organizes trips, lab tours, social meetings, and lots of other fun stuff. Over the course of my undergraduate career, I made lots of interesting friends with other physics majors--a diverse group!--and it was never difficult to find people to study and work on homework with.

In terms of undergraduate research, many professors are open to hiring undergraduates in their labs; there is also a very useful class aimed at helping physics majors to find and apply for summer research programs offered at many locations throughout the country. For example, I worked in fusion research in San Diego near UCSD the summer after my sophomore year, which gave me a great head start into research and which even got me published. Not to mention it was lots of fun!

I decided to pursue the graduate school track, and am now a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley; I think that UC Davis gave me great preparation for my current work as a graduate student. However, a UC Davis B.S. degree in physics is a very versatile credential, and can easily be brought to bear in many other fields of science. Davis is a wonderful place, with wide swaths of parks and greenbelts, lots of great restaurants and bars, and many fun things to do; spending your undergraduate career there is a decision you won't regret.

Kenneth Wong
UCD Physics Class of 2007

As an incoming freshman at UC Davis, I was in the majority of students who were not sure what they wanted to do with their careers. I started out as an engineering major since I was pretty good at math and science, but I didn't have any idea of my long-term goals or plans after graduation. At some point near the end of my first year, I realized that I was just going through the motions and not really satisfied with where I was headed. I decided to make a switch to physics, since I had always been interested in astronomy, though I had never eally considered making a career out of it. Needless to say, I fell in love with it and knew within the first quarter after making the switch that it had absolutely been the right decision.

I owe a lot to the physics department at UC Davis for fostering a strong academic environment that gave me many opportunities to get involved and pursue activities outside of classes. I became involved in research with Chris Fassnacht after taking an intro astronomy course with him. I highly recommend that students who plan to pursue post-graduate study get some research experience at some point during undergrad. When I started out, I knew almost nothing about how astronomy research was done at the academic level, but the experience and knowledge I gained from my undergrad research proved to be absolutely invaluable in grad school. The professors I interacted with were all very supportive and understanding, and I did not find it at all awkward or intimidating to talk to them.

The department has very active physics and astronomy clubs that I recommend students get involved in. It was fun to be able to interact with other students who were as interested and excited about physics and astronomy as I was. Those with a particular interest in astronomy should also look into becoming roof helpers, where you can gain teaching experience (particularly valuable if you plan to go to grad school where you will have to teach at some point) and learn about some of the more fundamental aspects of amateur astronomy that you may not necessarily learn in class. Though I spent many cold nights up on the roof of the physics building, I loved every bit of it and am extremely happy that I had the opportunity to do something like that.

As far as coursework and the academic curriculum go, I believe that UC Davis is right up there with the top schools in terms of the knowledge you can get out of the courses. As a grad student at Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, I find that I have been well prepared for the graduate courses I have had to take, and that I can very much hold my own in comparison to other grad students who came from institutions such as Cornell, UC Berkeley, Harvard, and other excellent programs. Though UCD physics may not have the reputation of some of the top schools, I feel that the quality of the education is every bit as strong, and is a fantastic department in which to spend your undergrad career.

Brian Ellis
UCD Physics Class of 2004

My story is a unique one, because when I started at UC Davis in the fall of 1999 I’d never once considered being a Physics major. At first I chose to major in Geology and began taking all the introductory classes, which included Physics. By a stroke of fortune, in the quarter I needed to take Physics 9 the only section offered was an Honors 9 class. Walking into that class, I had no idea how much it would change my future plans.

The Physics 9 Honors (9H) classes are one of the greatest perks of a Physics education at Davis. The classes are intended for Physics majors and are much smaller than the normal Physics 9 course, which is a large lecture class mostly filled with Engineering students. When I took it, Physics 9H was piloting an innovative new curriculum that, coupled with my classmates’ interest in the subject, really showed me the beauty of Physics. I remember in the first class I took (Physics 9HB I think) we studied special relativity, a topic that is usually left for later courses. Studying Einstein’s elegant theory about time and space captured my imagination and showed me the power that Physics has to challenge our preconceived notions about the universe.

After completing the Physics 9H series, I changed my major to Physics and started down the path of upper division courses. I was very impressed with my professors, who were supportive but kept the classes extremely rigorous. I appreciated that for the first time in my educational career I had to join a study group because I just wasn’t able to figure everything out on my own. My Physics study group grew very close, until we actually became roommates our final year.

I met some great friends and great challenges as part of my Physics education at UC Davis, and I am thankful for both. The benefits didn’t end there, however. I was also able to get invaluable hands-on work in research and teaching, first for credit and later for a part-time salary. I worked in the lab of Dr. Rena Zieve building equipment for studying superfluid helium vortices on and off for my last two years. I was also invited to be a paid Teaching Assistant (TA) for the Advanced Physics Lab class after doing well in it my Senior year. In the summer between my 4th and 5th years, I worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with UC Davis researchers studying galaxy clusters. I was lucky enough to go on an observing run at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona for 5 nights, working from dusk till dawn inside the giant Mayall Telescope. All these experiences were important to me as I considered my career options after graduation. I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching, and that while I didn’t have the patience or practicality to be a careful experimenter, I liked being involved in research.

After graduating I took a job with the California Energy Commission in Sacramento as a contract manager for climate change research projects. My interviewers told me that my Physics degree and research experience were key factors in my hiring. They liked that I’d had a rigorous science experience as an undergraduate. In my opinion,  it was easy to find challenging and meaningful jobs and internships in the UC Davis Physics department.

Bringing my story to the present, I only stayed at the Energy Commission for two years before deciding to give teaching a try. As soon as I stepped into a high school classroom and began teaching Physics, I knew I had found my passion in life. Physics is an easy subject to make relevant to high school students. They love (although they may not outwardly show it) having their preconceived notions challenged when studying mysteries like inertia or magnetism.  If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to be a TA in the UC Davis Physics department, I don’t know if I ever would have considered a career in teaching.

In closing, I was very lucky to land in the Physics program at UC Davis. I highly recommend it to any undergraduate with an interest in math or science, even if like me you have never considered Physics before!

Melissa Eitzel

Melissa Eitzel
UCD Physics Class of 2003

When I came to UC Davis, I had no idea what I would major in. People ask me why I majored in Physics, and sometimes I'm not quite sure what to tell them. I even spent a few quarters as an Art Studio major! It may be that part of the reason I ended up in the Physics Department was that I had taken lower division Astronomy in my first quarter as a freshman, and therefore knew a few people in the department already when it came time to seriously think about what program to undertake. In addition to recieving a Bachelor of Science in Physics with Highest Honors, I completed a minor in Psychology.

The Physics Department at Davis was a very friendly, warm place for me. The difficulty of the junior level physics classes led to bonds with fellow students which made the time pass more pleasantly, and as we continued through the courses, I formed friendships with faculty and grad students as well. I was one of two girls in one of my senior classes; but I never felt treated any differently than the male students. That women are not treated equally in the hard sciences is a common fear, since so few women pursue degrees and careers in those fields. I can safely say that this was not the case for me. I worked as a student assistant with my honors thesis advisor at Davis, and then over the summer following graduation at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), and I never felt unwelcome or treated differently than my male counterparts. On the contrary, I felt quite at home both at Davis and at LBNL.

I have now been admitted to the Geological Sciences PhD program at UC Santa Barbara, and I seek to use the incredibly strong base that I built in physics to attack geophysical problems. In fact, my strong background in both mathematics and in computational science will serve me quite well in my new endeavor. I became involved in computational physics after taking a computer lab which was required alongside Classical Mechanics, and I found that I enjoyed the use of computers to bridge the gap between theory and experiment. Experimentalists need computers to analyze their data; theorists need them to create models which are too complex to be solved analytically. Computational science reaches from one extreme to the other, and I for one enjoy that flexibility. I plan to continue in this vein in my new program at UCSB, possibly in the areas of seismology or plate tectonics.

So, as an argument for majoring in physics in general, I think that physics offers great rewards for those who are willing to work hard on concepts and mathematics: an understanding of the most fundamental observations and theories about matter and energy and the world around us; a rigor in approaching any problem and a fearlessness about plunging into possibly difficult mathematics or concepts ("It can't be any worse than Quantum Mechanics!"); and mathematical and analytical skills which serve one well later on in physics or in other fields, such as geology or engineering. Why one would want to major in physics at UC Davis, well, simply because the deparment is a great place to spend an undergraduate career! There are many opportunities for undergraduate research, and a great deal of support for undergraduates in general. The department is a friendly place, and you must watch out for some of the faculty when playing volleyball or soccer at the annual department picnics! I enjoyed my time in the department very much and miss it now that I've moved on. My years at Davis were very rewarding, and I hope that others may have the same opportunities that I had there.

Luke Donev

Luke Donev
UCD Physics Class of 2001

We all know that the UCs are a great educational deal, but which UC to attend? A lot of people choose Berkeley, for physics and other fields. I chose Davis, and have been very happy with the results.

The professors, staff, and students of the UC Davis physics department are incredibly helpful and welcoming. Within the first year, I recognized the faces and felt part of the community. Davis offers an honors physics track that allowed me to jump right into classes that I was most interested in; along with other students sharing my excitement. The result socially were friendships that continue to graduate school and beyond. Academically, it gave me a jump start on higher level concepts and classes, and allowed me to move right into research.

I started work in Professor Zieve's research lab at the end of my freshman year. I didn't know anything about superfluid helium when I started, but after working with it throughout my time at Davis, I graduated with highest honors and received the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for my thesis on quantized vortices. My UC Davis classwork and research were excellent preparation for graduate school. I was accepted to several universities, and went to Cornell University with a two year fellowship.

Even after graduating from Cornell with a Ph.D., my time at Davis still affects and guides me. While at UCD, I was active in the local Society of Physics Students chapter, and with the support of the department helped start the now annual Physics Department Picnic Day Show. Since earning my doctorate, I've returned to public physics education. I now work at the Connecticut Science Center as a staff scientist. Doing informal education at a science museum means it's my job to make lightning, blow stuff up, and do hands-on activities with kids to spark their interest in science. My years at UC Davis helped me discover my passion for making learning exciting and entertaining. That's what was modeled for me, and I'm happy to share it.

I'm incredibly grateful to the UCD physics department in general, and Professor Zieve in specific, for the incredible opportunities and support they gave me.

Ivan Rankenburg

Ivan Rankenburg
UCD Physics Class of 2001

When I first accepted admission to Davis, I believed they had no real reputation for good physics. I have learned I was wrong. I am currently on the east coast, and even here, alomst everybody knows of UC Davis. It has the same name recognition value as UC Berkeley or Stanford, but it is a much smaller school. The professors, I believe, are much more humane and personable. Many of them I even know in a personal manner. I have heard horror stories about physics classes taught at bigger schools where there are 300 students taking a class, and the teacher never learns, or cares to learn, any of the students' names. This is not done at UC Davis.

The quality of education there is very high. After taking the standard physics classes, I took the physics GRE and did wonderfully as a result of my physics training. Furthermore, when I continued taking graduate physics classes here at Cornell, the transition was very smooth. In fact, for the first few months here at Cornell, classes were not hard at all, since I was basically relearning what the professors at Davis had already taught me.

When I decided it was time to do undergraduate research, it was very easy to find a group at Davis. I walked into the office (always open) of one of my favorite professors, and said, "I would like to do some physics research." She told me of the many projects she had and I simply chose one. It was that easy to find a group to work for. It was a fun project, and I learned much about how a physics lab operates, and it perfectly prepared me for graduate research at Cornell.

Besides the school, I find the town of Davis very likeable. It is small and flat, with a lot of blue skies. It has a farmers market, dance clubs, bike trails, and parks. I like the town and school so much, after getting my PhD here on the east coast, I intend to apply for a faculty position at Davis.

Nancy Robets

Nancy Roberts
UCD Physics Class of 1990

Materials Engineer, Staff
Lockheed Martin Space Systems
Contracted Research and Development (CRAD)

I just received a request from Dr. Knox to compose this testimonial.  For the past 5 minutes, I’ve been pondering this request…the most significant challenge…distilling content of such epic scale down to a few paragraphs.

UC Davis Physics seems multiple lifetimes away, and indeed I can now use the plural form of decade when referring to my time at UCD Physics.  Upon reflection, and with the added benefit of abstraction that comes with time and experience, I can state with no uncertainty that my favourable station now is absolutely a direct result of my time at UC Davis Physics.

I entered UCD as a pre-med chemistry major.  Physics wasn’t even on my radar.  Quite early on, I discovered that the physics curriculum satisfied my desire to understand systems down to fundamental first principles.  In stark contrast and to my surprise, however, I discovered the chemistry curriculum was unfortunately quite lacking in this regard, ultimately driving my transfer over to the physics department.  This singular event has unexpectedly played a critical and hugely beneficial role in my professional career. 

I started out at Coleman Research Corporation characterizing non-linear IR sensitive materials and writing proposals for DoD Innovative Research solicitations.  Upon winning a few awards, as principle investigator, I was transferred out of the laser lab and into the chemistry lab where I began formulation and synthesis work.  At that point, it became clear that my strong physical background drove my successes in materials development and characterization.

The beneficial aspects of my physics background were more fundamental than any curriculum subject matter material.  The most advantageous take-away was the tenacity, drive, and work ethic to achieve as penetrating an understanding as possible of any material/process/system.  These characteristics, I’ve unfortunately discovered over the years, are not as common as one would imagine and I believe are critical for demonstrating real competencies, taking an individual above and beyond the ocean of mediocrity.

Over the past two decades, I have found my niche in satisfying a great industry wide need to bridge the chasm separating chemistry and physics, ultimately mirroring my original UCD transfer from years past.

In closing, a few suggestions for the students,

  1. Get the Richard Feynman Lectures – OMG, I wish I had these when I was in school – Feynman is exceptionally lucid in his explanations of…well…everything.
  2. Spend as much time in your department as you can…physics club, with profs, TAs, fellow physics students, just hanging out…some of my most enlightening discussions happened on a whim, just because a handful of us happened to be around…you have a great department, take advantage of it.
  3. Ensure the highest integrity in your work without compromise…I’ve seen folks really succeed or really crash solely on credibility and ethics.

Steven Guggenheimer

Steven Guggenheimer
UCD Physics Class of 1987

Vice President - Small Business and SMS&P Operations
Microsoft Corporation

I graduated from UCD with a B.S. in Applied Physics in 1987. My experiences as a UC Davis student in the Physics Dept. have played a major role in my own career path. Based on my career since leaving Davis I am a strong advocate for the value and broad utility that an undergraduate education in physics provides and of UCD as the place to get that background.

During my time at Davis I was able to get practical experience working both within the Physics and Applied Engineering Departments as well as an internship at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Based on my degree and work experience I was able to get jobs after college first with a research firm and then with the world's largest laser manufacturer, Spectra-Physics Lasers. While working at Spectra Physics I became interested in the business side of things and returned to Stanford to get a Masters in Engineering Management. Once I graduated and completed my time at Spectra-Physics I joined Microsoft, where I have been very happily employed for 11 years.

It was during my graduate courses that I realized that the analytical abilities, honed on physics problems at UCD, were exactly what I needed to attack the broad range of business case studies that were part of the graduate curriculum. Across Spectra-Physics, Graduate School and Microsoft, the one common element in all work is problem solving, the most applicable background for problem solving is Physics.

Overall Davis provided a great environment for learning, the Physics Department provided the background in problem solving that has helped me throughout my career, and the town of Davis was just a fun place to go to live for a few years.

Greg Spooner

Greg Spooner
UCD Physics Class of 1985, Ph.D. 1992

The family rushed at my team as we walked through the corridor of the eye hospital.   My Spanish wasn’t as good that winter in 1996 as it is today, so I relied on the surgeon we were collaborating with to make sense of what they were saying as they mobbed us and grabbed our arms.  “They’re thanking us for making their mother see again”, Dr. Q explained.   Apparently, this was the family of one of the patients we treated some weeks ago with a prototype experimental laser instrument that my team had just completed.  We weren’t supposed to be identified to patients or their families, but in my visits to Mexico City, I had become used to things working differently than back in the States.  Overwhelmed by this unexpected display, we gently disentangled ourselves and headed for the surgical suite at the Sanchez Hospital for the Prevention of Blindness in Mexico City.  We had another day of surgery scheduled and had to scrub and get the laser system ready…

How did I get here?  What experiences led me to this place, leading this team?

Thinking back to my education and training in the UCD Physics Dept, I had little experience with lasers.  But I did develop a solid foundation in electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and solid state physics.  I also had years of hands-on experience with optical instruments in the lab of my advisor, Professor Larry Coleman.   Learning how to design a laser was something I was prepared for, even if I didn’t know how to do it when I accepted a job designing lasers.

I also didn’t learn anything about biology, medicine or ophthalmology in my physics training.  But I did learn how to learn new disciplines or research topics at Davis. 

The other members of my team were better engineers than I was.  EE’s, ME’s, software engineers, etc.  But I ended up in charge of the team.  That was partly because I had learned at Davis how to analyze problems, to think critically, to present scientific results, to communicate technical information and to improvise.

I had no idea when I was in the Physics department that I would someday be helping blind people see.  If you’re reading this testimonial, it’s probably because you suffer from mild vision-impairment about your own future.

And today, years after that episode in the corridor of a distant hospital?  In my medical laser consulting business I’m still relying on my experimental and lab skills, my broad knowledge of thermal physics, materials science and optics.  I use the technical writing and reading skills every day that I sharpened in the Physical Science library and the basement of the Physics Building.  And tackling big and complex projects doesn’t rattle me as it might have before I completed graduate studies at the UCD Department of Physics.

Kevin M. McLin
UCD Physics Class of 1985

I came to UC Davis to study physics somewhat by design and somewhat by default. I grew up in Davis, so staying here for college was an affordable way for me to get an education. It turned out to be a very fortunate circumstance because in the physics department at UCD I not only learned a lot in my courses, I also had many opportunities that I would not have had at most other large universities.

Almost from the time I arrived on campus I was given the opportunity to teach. I worked as an astronomy "roof helper" for the introductory astronomy labs, and also as a "grader" for introductory physics courses. Both of these jobs allowed me to teach, because in addition to the standard grading duties they entail, I also found myself teaching recitation/help sessions for pre-med physics courses and astronomy lab sections. Teaching has continued to be a prime focus for me, and it is something I still enjoy making a living at.

One aspect of studying physics at UC Davis that I did not fully appreciate at the time was the opportunity to interact with faculty and graduate students. As I have learned during my graduate studies, such opportunities are not common for undergraduates at large research universities. I have friends who went to college at another UC school, and they said that they almost felt anonymous in their department.

Such was not the case at UC Davis. Undergraduate participation was vital to several research groups in the department. For instance, I had the opportunity to help build components for experiments at Fermi Lab and SLAC. I was also able to visit these labs and see where all my and my classmates' efforts were going to be used. Some of our work was mere manual labor, but some of us, with special knowledge and skills, were active in the design and testing of fabrication methods for these detector components. I had other friends who worked on campus at the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory, in some cases gaining experience that led to employment following graduation.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at UC Davis and would highly recommend studying physics there. The department is relaxed and welcoming to undergraduates. It affords them many opportunities to participate in department life and research that I have not seen at other places. The curriculum is rigorous and has served me well in my graduate studies. A student would have a difficult time finding a better place to begin studying physics.

Brian Fies

Brian Fies
UCD Physics class of 1983

I was decidedly not one of the brilliant young lights of the UC Davis Physics Department circa 1978-83. Partly, that was because I had many interests outside of Physics competing for my attention, including Art, English (in which I earned a minor), and my future wife. I did find a nice, nurturing niche in Astronomy working as a laboratory teaching assistant, running public viewing at the observatory, and doing independent study with Dr. Glen Erickson. Mostly I stuck with Physics because at least once per quarter I could count on having one stunning insight into how the universe actually works that I never experienced anywhere else. That euphoric jolt made it all worthwhile.

Paradoxically, I think my indifferent performance as an undergrad makes me a more interesting example of a graduate. I did not go on to grad school, research or academia. Nevertheless, my UCD Physics education has enriched every job I’ve had, whether it was related to science or not.

As a journalist, my Physics degree distinguished me from my liberal-arts colleagues and gave me professional opportunities that paid off in unexpected ways years later. As an environmental chemist, my understanding of the physics underlying trace metals analysis (specifically, atomic absorption and emission spectroscopy) made me more than a technician putting samples into one end of a box and taking numbers out the other, which led to promotions and opportunities to help develop new national standard methods. Physics helped me get in the door of Paramount Studios to pitch story ideas to the producers of the “Star Trek” television programs, where I sold nothing but learned a lot. For the past 12 years I’ve been a self-employed science writer specializing in the energy industry, writing reports and articles on solar power, wind power, hydrogen-powered fuel cells, energy efficiency and more. It’s an ideal career that allows me to work at home, set my own hours, accept only work that interests me, and have time to pursue other interests—including a second career as an award-winning graphic novelist, which has also been enriched by my Physics education.

That’s my message for prospective or current students: you don’t need to be a brilliant young light, go to graduate school, or work as a scientist or professor for your UCD Physics education to make a vital, life-long contribution to everything you do. Physics isn’t just a catalog of formulae; long after you’ve forgotten how to solve a wave equation, you will still know how to attack a problem, evaluate evidence, question assumptions, and consider the critical difference between theoretical and actual performance. Indeed, you may find that Physics underpins who you are, how you think, how you live. It is a solid foundation.

Chris Couper

Chris Couper
UCD Physics Class of 1980

Distinguished Engineer

I came to UC Davis in the spring of 1976 as an Aeronautical Engineer transfer student.  I had finished my lower division education with the exception of rhetoric and statics and thought it would be good to get some early experience at the university with a light schedule one quarter before the full pressures of my junior and senior year.  My experiences in engineering were not what I expected.  It was at best a cattle herd, low-touch process with limited exposure to the technology and resources that should make up the university experience. The community college I came from in southern California and was much more progressive and hands on.  I really enjoyed that experience and was hoping my university experience would be the same.  Not finding it in engineering I enquired what UC Davis Physics could offer. I found it to be the perfect environment of small class sizes, access to professors, unlimited technology in terms of state of the art computers, the cyclotron and a part time job.  So my destiny switched from engineering to physics. 

UC Davis Physics was so progressive at the time that while most universities were focusing grad students to either theoretical or experimental, UCD Physics actually worked with me to develop an emerging Applied Physics discipline.  I was even able to spend my senior year starting my PhD research at Crocker Lab and had access to all the resources I needed, in addition I was getting paid to be there as a Research Assistant and then a Research Associate.  How could I do any better?  My wife was going to veterinary school at UCD so the department allowed me to continue my doctoral research even though I received my undergraduate degree from UCD.  After three years the basic research for my PhD was complete.  Due to personal reasons I did not complete my goal of obtaining a PhD in Applied Physics but the skills and knowledge I developed during my time at UCD were very marketable in the technology industry. 

I started my career at IBM in a field office as a computer engineer (much of my research and RA work was computational).  Over time I have worked in research, development, consulting and design working on some of the most important problems in healthcare, public safety, energy and the environment.  I am currently a Distinguished Engineer with IBM which is a technical executive position.  Only 1% of 500,000 IBM employees have such a title.  I have access and work directly with people from all disciplines and cultures.  My experiences in physics at UCD definitely were an important factor in shaping my abilities and allow me to be a valued partner with IBM and their customers worldwide. I feel that no other science than physics and the wide variety of skills that I learned at UCD could have prepared me for this life. 

Horace Hines

Horace Hines
UCD PhD Class of 1977

Chief Scientist
Philips Nuclear Medicine

I started my graduate studies at the UC Davis physics department in the fall of 1970 after completing my BA in physics at Auburn University.  I chose Davis since it had an active physics department and a medical school to prepare me for a career in medical physics.  I did my research at the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory working with Neal Peek, Ph. D., Gerry DeNardo, M.D. and Jim Harrison, Ph. D.  My physics studies provided basic knowledge and a scientific approach to understand the medical disciplines.  I also took chemistry, biochemistry and physiology courses to provide valuable background information. These studies and research prepared me for a very successful career in nuclear medicine.

The studies in physics provided me with a methodology to solve problems in my job as the medical physicist at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.  It provided me with the background and terminology to rapidly understand the complex problems that can arise when using medical equipment to image patients.

In my work at ADAC Laboratories, I started in the Advanced Development Group.  I subsequently lead several development projects and became the Chief Technology Officer.  This growth was enabled by the experiences and background I gained as a student at UC Davis.   I was able to guide product development in directions that helped make the company successful.  A vital component of setting these directions was understanding the imaging physics, the clinical needs and the market place.  I have found the scientific method of developing a model or hypothesis and then testing my observations against the hypothesis an exceedingly valuable way to develop insights in physics as well as these other areas.

Nelson Pass

Nelson Pass
UCD Physics Class 1973

Physics at Davis was the natural choice for me in 1969.  I had a strong aptitude for it, it was the pinnacle of natural sciences, there were interesting things to be discovered, wonderful ideas to ponder and lots of very cool hardware.  The people in the department were smart, open-minded and enthusiastic – three essential (and different) qualities, and they shaped much of my adult outlook and career.  I thought they were just great, and if you enter the program, you should get to know some of them well.  I regret only that I didn't make even more effort to do that.

Ultimately I designed linear amplifiers for a career, a physicist doing entrepreneurial engineering.  It's a narrow field, but full of things that would keep a physics major interested.  I took a couple courses in EE at Davis, but it was Tom Cahill in the Physics department who stood up at the blackboard and said, “Here are the things you will need to know about electronics.”  Funny, but in an hour he taught me more about my field than any individual previously or probably since.

Physics was the place to be, and likely still is – the fractal zone between the applied science of something like Engineering and the total abstraction of Mathematics.  I look around at successful people in all sorts of fields and I see that a remarkable number of them have degrees in Physics.

Today I am semi-retired and I don't need the money, but I'm still having a lot of fun designing linear amplifiers.  I read just about every popular book on Physics that comes out, including the biographies.  There is no end to it if your curiosity is still sparked.  Thanks for that, Physics.