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A Letter from the Department Chair,

Dr. Mike Roth

Dr. Mike Roth

It is a privilege to offer you greetings as Chair of this diverse and talented department! In this first year that I've been here, my colleagues have extended a very warm welcome to me and reciprocally I have come to learn and appreciate what a rich and far-reaching academic life our faculty here has. I'm proud of our many accomplishments and look forward to growing through and finding out where we will be as time goes on.

Of the many changes we went through in the last year, one that hangs in the forefront of my mind is our name change to the Department of Physics, Geology and Engineering Technology. There is a lot in a name, and this important change is a tangible reflection of our identity as a group who forms a wonderful confluence of the pure and applied science of physics, the sciences of astronomy and geology that tend to be photogenic, mixing disciplines and draw us in with questions of our past and origins, and the applied field of engineering technology that involves creation, application and optimization of devices and relies heavily on industry partnerships.

In physics we have been doing research involving our undergraduates, spanning General relativity theory and cosmology, computational modeling and simulation of atomic and molecular systems, numerical modeling of impacts on the Martian surface, modeling of solar system formation and experimental high energy particle physics and measurements of nanoscale structures. Our physicists have garnered considerable external funding for their research. We've also been able to work with a new CINSAM-provided Lab Coordinator Jonathan Wright who brings new ideas to the table and is a very dynamic individual that supports our efforts along many lines. And, like I, he likes his coffee hot, early and strong. We continue our successful Pre-Engineering program which will help us as we synergistically work with other departmental disciplines to move forward with thinking about new programs. The greatest challenges Physics faces is  retention and we are doing research to understand the problem better and are working on pre- and in- program solutions.

Our astronomy faculty have good reason to be excited this past year with the construction and opening of our new Schneider Observatory atop Founders Hall. The building will be used for teaching, research, community outreach and support of our new Astronomy minor. The building has been over a decade in planning and Charles Hawkins was instrumental in garnering support for the project, conceptualizing the project, working with the donors who made the dream come true and seeing the details of the construction through. We were able to honor Dan Spence (our recently tired planetarium director having the 28 years of service here) and brought on a very dynamic and forward-thinking Planetarium Director (Christa Speights) who (among other things) is working on a partnership with our performing arts people to reach out to the Greater Cincinnati area with shows involving paid actors and music. As I see it, the greatest challenge Astronomy faces is recruitment and growth of the minor, and we are off to a strong start thanks to the work of our faculty.

Our geology people have done a splendid job of involving students in the field experiences necessary for their academic growth and success. We've taken students on diving expeditions to coral reefs and on trips to explore caves.  We've also supported student trips to Utah on dinosaur digs and have areas of expertise in ancient marine reptiles; most recently we’re in the process of excavating a Barosaurus skeleton. We are continuing our courses and efforts in geophysics, leading in developing and offering online and hybrid geology and geophysics courses and providing students with industry connections and field opportunities. I have done numerical simulation of groundwater contaminant transport and I will have the opportunity to work on a project with a colleague and student in this area. We are finding that our geology graduates have strong prospects for employment in a wide range of settings, which is one of the highest measures of success in a program. The greatest challenge Geology faces is space and NKU is working with us to provide and envision support in this area.   

Our Engineering Technology faculty have been very busy supporting the in-house programs we offer, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Technology and Electronics Engineering Technology. Our Engineering Technology disciplines depend heavily on industry connections and partnerships that provide co-ops and internships to our students. We have also been forging new relationships with local companies and articulation agreements with universities to provide our students many opportunities for pathways to new degree completion as well as post-baccalaureate opportunities. Moreover our Engineering Technology faculty have been involved in student mentorship and the scholarship of research involving MEMS, electromechanical devices and nanoscale/microscale structures as well as program development. Our greatest challenge in Engineering Technology is supporting the large number of international students that came from the program growth that took place before I arrived. We have made significant progress this last year, working with many persons at NKU to streamline our students’ academic path.    

Then there’s our Academic Coordinator Diana Estep and EGT Secretary Pam Kremer who I refer to as the dynamic duo. They, along with three former Chairs (Scott Nutter; John Filaseta; Chuck Hawkins) have offered countless hours of support and advice to me and without their contributions my first year would have been a very different experience. Diana is the one who has to put up with my sense of humor on a daily basis and she has a “certificate” on her office wall to prove it. 

In this year we've seen our share of growth and progress, and have had our challenges. Faculty and staff have retired or moved on and we’ve had new ones join us. At the end of the day, what matters is that we moved forward together. Again, it is a pleasure to Chair NKU’s Department of Physics, Geology and Engineering Technology and I invite you to check out our newsletter in detail.