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Ph.D. in Physics Placements

Our graduate students continue to work in researchboth in teaching and in lab positions at universities or in the industry.  Here are a few of our alumni stories.   Add your story to this page.

Ph.D. Alumni Stories

  Daniel Kidd ‘18

Director of Research Data Science at Spring Venture Group

Dissertation: Accelerated Time Propagation in Time-Dependent Density Functional Theory
Adviser:  K. Varga




Jorge Salas ‘17

Consultant & Developer Vanderbilt University

Dissertation: Stochastic variational approach to interaction of atoms and strong external fields
Adviser:  K. Varga




Jordan Hachtel ‘16

R&D Associate, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN

Dissertation: “The Nanoscale Optical Properties of Complex Nanostructures”
Adviser: Sokrates T. Pantelides

Jordan had a unique and very rewarding experience for his doctoral research. In principle, he pursued a joint theory-experiment program. After initial training in theoretical/computational research while at Vanderbilt, he moved to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) where at the time, as Distinguished Visiting Scientist, he maintained a group of theory post-docs embedded in the electron-microscopy group led by award-winning microscopist Stephen Pennycook, who was among the pioneers of scanning transmission electron microscopy. Jordan continued some theoretical research, but he quickly became an avid microscopist, being mentored in experimental work by a team of expert ORNL microscopists and by Vanderbilt Professor Richard Haglund on optical aspects of STEM-based cathodoluminescence and having access to superb, world-class facilities. Jordan’s Ph.D. thesis received a “Springer Publishing Outstanding Ph.D. Thesis Award” in 2017. He was hired as a post-doc in the ORNL group and then as a staff scientist. He has since received several microscopy awards.

Arthur Russakoff ‘15

Research Engineer at I. M. Systems Group Inc. (IMSG)

Dissertation: The Interaction of Small Molecules and Short Intense Laser Fields
Adviser:  K. Varga




Junhao Lin ‘15

 Associate Professor, Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, Guangdong, PR China

Dissertation: “Revealing structure-property correlations in 2D layered materials using synergistic combination of electron microscopy and atomic-scale calculations”

Adviser: Sokrates T. Pantelides

“I spent nearly six years at Vanderbilt to purse my Ph.D. degree. My adviser Sok is knowledgeable and professional in the field of condensed matter physics. He gave me rich ideas whenever we discussed, and also lead me to the right track of independent research. The faculty members in the physics department are very helpful and friendly to each student and offer help to all students whenever they need it. The Vanderbilt campus is wonderful, and I will always be grateful for having my graduate study at Vanderbilt.”

Sarah Crews ‘14

Technical Staff Scientist, MIT Lincoln Laboratories

Dissertation: “Mechanics of Drosophila embryogenesis and heat-shock induced developmental defects”
Adviser: M. Shane Hutson

“Graduate studies in the Vanderbilt physics department taught me to think at a system level to scope and define a problem, and then pull together interdisciplinary ideas and techniques to find a solution. The ability to see the big picture and identify where to dive deep for an innovative technical solution has been invaluable for my career.”

Ken Lewis ‘13

Board certified (DABR) Diagnostic & Nuclear Medical Physicist
Board certified (CHP) Health Physicist
Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Dissertation: “Coherent scatter computed tomography (CSCT) – a Monte Carlo simulation study”

As a Medical Physicist, his focus is on clinical image quality, patient dosimetry, imaging protocol development, and radiation safety. As an educator, he participates in teaching courses for both the VUSM Doctorate of Medical Physics program and the Radiology Residency training program.

Brandon Cook ‘12

Acting group lead for the Programming Environments and Models group at NERSC.

Dissertation: Ab initio methods for quantum transport in nanomaterials
Adviser:  K. Varga

Brandon is the acting group lead for the Programming Environments and Models group at NERSC.  He works on understanding and analyzing performance and productivity on a system, workflow and application level, developing future benchmark suites, analyzing future architectures, developing tools to help NERSC users/staff be more productive and exploring future programming language features and programming models.

Holley Lynch ‘12

Associate Professor of Physics, Stetson University

Dissertation: “Investigating Cell and Tissue Mechanics During Drosophila Embryogenesis Using Laser Microsurgery”
Adviser: M. Shane Hutson

“My experiences at Vanderbilt prepared me for my current position, which emphasizes both teaching and involving undergraduates in research. I entered Vanderbilt knowing I wanted to be a teacher-scholar and the resources both in the physics department and at the Center for Teaching helped me get there.”

David Pigg ‘12

Research Scientist,  Siemens Healthineers

Dissertation: “Coupled-Cluster Solution of the Time-Dependent Schrodinger Equation for Atomic Nuclei”
Adviser: Sait Umar




Timothy Pennycook ‘12

Assistant Professor,  University of Antwerp (Belgium)

Dissertation: “Understanding Materials through Scanning Transmission Electron
Microscopy & Density Functional Theory”
Advisor: Sokrates T. Pantelides

Professor Pennycook develops scanning transmission electron microscopy for material science.



Joe Driscoll ‘11

Principal AI and Embedded Engineer at AutonomouStuff\

Dissertation:  Electron field emission in nanostructures: A first-principles study
Adviser:  K. Varga




Ryan Hatcher ‘07

Vice President of Engineering & Innovation, Ultra Intelligence & Communications, Austin, TX

Thesis title: “Dynamic response of electronic systems: an implementation and application of time-dependent density-functional-theory”
Adviser: Sokrates T. Pantelides

Ryan studied physics as an undergraduate at Wake Forest University but had a strong bend for computational work. He got a master’s degree in computer science at Vanderbilt and then wanted to pursue a Ph.D. degree in computational physics. He had an interest in expanding his research in time-dependent density functional theory and got excited about writing a new computer code from scratch. He did, working closely with then-post-doc Alan Tackett. His thesis research addressed a long-standing problem, the calculation of the so-called stopping power for energetic ions injected in materials, and the results were published in the premier journal Physical Review Letters. He also had an opportunity to work on radiation-induced displacement damage in semiconductor devices with a post-doc, which enriched his physics knowledge. Upon graduation, he quickly secured a job doing computational materials research at Lockheed-Martin, advanced to the position of Senior Research Scientist, joined Samsung Electronics in Austin, TX as Principal Scientist, returned to Lockheed-Martin as Principal Scientist, where he currently works.

Ricardo Ruiz ‘03

Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Director, Center for High Precision Patterning Science

Ricardo Ruiz, Ph.D. 2003, Staff Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Director, Center for High Precision Patterning Science (CHiPPS,

Fellow, American Physical Society, 2016 (Citation: For outstanding contributions to the fundamental understanding of directed self-assembly of block copolymer films).

Szabolcs Márka 1999

Walter O. LeCroy, Jr. Professor of Physics at Columbia University and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. 

His long term astrophysics research is focused on the effort to directly detect gravitational waves of cosmic origin, which will allow us to study cosmic processes and objects unreachable through conventional methods based on electromagnetic observations. His present interest is in multimessenger astrophysics and in enhancing the astrophysical reach and reliability of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). His recent interest in biooptics research is focused on insect neural systems, their connections to the insect’s genetic makeup, sensory signal processing pathways, and locomotion.

Alan C. Calder 1997

Associate Professor, Stony Brook University

Dissertation: Multidimensional Simulations of Core Collapse Supernovae using Multigroup Neutrino Transport
Adviser: Sait Umar



Mehmet Cem Guclu 1995

Professor, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey

Dissertation: Monte Carlo Calculations of Lepton-Pair Production in Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collisions.
Adviser: Sait Umar


Mario Affatigato 1995

Fran Allison and Francis Halpin Professor of Physics and Chair, Coe College.  Fellow, American Ceramic Society.

American Physical Society Prize for Research in an Undergraduate Institution, 2013 (Citation:  “For high- impact research on optical and structural properties of glasses, stewardship of professional societies and journals, and extensive international collaborations, melded with energetic, compassionate supervision of undergraduate research participants.”)


Jack Wells 1994

Scientific Program Manager, Nvidia.

Before joining Nvidia Jack was the  Director of Science, Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility.





David Dean 1991

Deputy Director for Science at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Laboratory (Jlab).

David previously was the director of the Quantum Science Center of ORNL, and Associate Laboratory Director for Physical Sciences of ORNL.




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