Although many of the profiles are of our own alumni, some physicists from other schools have been included using information from their APS Profiles. All UMN alumni profiles are labeled as such next to their names.
The profiles are organized alphabetically by last name.
Jennifer L.B. Anderson (UMN Physics, Astrophysics, and Geophysics BS)
Professor of Geoscience, Winona State University
Jennifer has always been interested in teaching science and wanted to help teach future science teachers even as a high schooler. At the U, she studied astrophysics and physics. She soon added geophysics as a third major after taking a geology course.
“As an astrophysics major, I took Physics my first year at the U and I absolutely fell in love with it – Physics seemed a perfect way to look at and investigate our natural world. I loved the mathematics involved and the simplicity of things like gravity. ”
Jennifer attended Brown University for a PhD in geosciences. While there, she started her research with NASA to understand the processes of impact crater formation through experiments. She is now a professor at Winona State University, where she teaches geoscience, education, and general education majors.
“I will never tire of seeing the world through the beauty of physics. Physics allows me to look at our solar system and planet in a very interdisciplinary way, combining ideas from astronomy and geology, physics and chemistry together to see our Earth as one unique planetary system among many. I love teaching my geoscience students, my education majors, and anyone who will listen to me about the incredible beauty of our Universe.”
Scott Anderson (UMN Physics BS)
Yoga and Meditation Instructor, Blue Mounds, WI
"As a child, I was curious about how the world worked. I took things apart, and sometimes got them back together again.
During his freshman year at the U, Scott was looking for a major that would satisfy his curiosity about the world. He enjoyed his first semester physics class and chose that as his major. As he studied physics, Scott also became interested in the human body and mind, making his first forays into meditation and yoga.
After graduations, Scott says "I did the most logical thing...I launched a career in teaching meditation and yoga." He has since opened several studios.
"Every step of the way I use my physics degree, as navigating self-employment, teaching, and exploring are basically variations on the same theme - problem solving."
Proving that it's never too late to go back to school, Scott began a PhD program when he was 50 years old. He studied the physiology of exercise and meditation. His physics degree prepared him well for graduate school.
"Other than regulating attention, problem-solving is one of the most important skills that a student can learn. Majoring in physics prepared me to solve problems quickly and efficiently."
Richard Ballintine (UMN Physics BS, MBA)
Retired Colonel in the Air Force
Retired CFO at Rosemount Inc. in Shakopee, MN
Richard first became interested in physics after experiencing fascinating physics experiments in high school. He signed up for physics courses at the U as soon as he could.
“I was really intrigued by all the principles you could learn about the universe using physics.”
Although he planned to go to graduate school (doing physics), he was scheduled to be drafted to serve in Vietnam, so instead he signed up for graduate education with ROTC. Earning an MBA, Richard joined the Air Force, where he was a project manager for technical and financial systems
Richard served 6 years on active duty and a total of 25 years leaving as a colonel. After active duty he went to work at Rosemount Inc., a measurement instrumentation manufacturer in Minnesota.
“When I was in product reviews, my physics education gave me the technical background to understand how the products worked and enabled me to ask technical questions. It was an excellent and unique complement to my business education.”
Jacqueline Benitez (San Francisco State University Physics BS)
Distance Learning Educator, California Academy of Sciences
Although Jacque was fascinated by astronomy, she struggled with physics throughout high school and college. But instead of quitting, she decided to try one more physics class in college. This time, it started to click, and Jacque realized the difference a skilled instructor could make.
"It was all about just wanting more knowledge about the word around me and about astronomy," she says.
After graduating, she found an internship position at the California Academy of Science Education Department involving virtual interactions.
As a distance learning education specialist, Jaque spends most of her morning during the school year facilitating science learning over Zoom, teaching a range of subjects. Using her physics training, she has developed interesting engineering techniques and hands-on experiences for her classroom.
"For me, it's all about giving [students who] wouldn't get to come here to the Academy of Sciences a taste of what it's like to be a scientist," she says.
Kalven Bonin (UMN Physics BS)
Medical Physicist Assistant at Radiation Physics Consultants, Duluth MN
Kalven chose to study physics in college because he really enjoyed his high school physics class. He knew he was interested in medical physics and radiation therapy, and a physics degree was the next logical step on his path to a career in that field.
"A degree in physics is more than just a piece of paper which states 'you are qualified for this job.' The problem-solving skills that I acquired throughout the process of obtaining my degree have helped me tremendously."
After graduating from the U, Kalven got a job as a medical physcisist assistant at Radiation Physics Consultants, traveling around the Midwest performing quality assurance and safety inspections on X-ray equipment. He credits his undergraduate physics education for providing the resources he needed to suceed.
"My research experience at the U as an undergraduate has helped my career because employers value candidates who are excited to develop new ideas."
In the future, Kalven plans to attend graduate school, earn a PhD, and complete a Medical Physics Certification program so he can move into the radiation therapy side of medical physics.
Chien Chung (Didi) Pei (Harvard Physics BA)
Architect and Co-Founder of Pei Partnership Architects
As a physics major at Harvard, Didi also took some art and architectural history courses. With his background in physics, and an interest in art and design, he decided to pursue a Masters in architecture.
Didi's approach to architectural design merges science and art to produce award-winning structures. Studying physics has given Didi a sense of practicality and logic that you don't usually learn when studying the arts.
"A lot of architects would like you to think that architecture is about being an artist, and you can do anything. But you have a responsibility as an architect...so having a logical thought process is useful," says Didi.
Didi has contributed to designs all over the world, including the Grand Louvre in Paris.
"I had acquired really rigorous training in the scientific method. There aren't many architects who had that, and it's been very useful to me throughout my career."
Anthony Day (Norfolk State University Physics BS)
Detector Development Scientist at Pacific Northwest Laboratory
Anthony was a curious kid, always wondering how things work. Physics tied everything together.
"In high school I was interested in applied science, computers and electronics," Anthony says. "[My physics instructor] expanded my interest even further. Then he showed me how physics could relate to those interests."
Today, Anthony works in the Radiation Detection & Nuclear Sciences Division at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He designs and builds radiation detection devices used in ultra-low background particle detection, and nuclear treaty monitoring.
Anthony advises students to expand the background that physics gives you by being open to a variety of scientific areas and working with scientists in other disciplines.
"Having a varied toolbox of skills helped me to support amazing collaborations...fostering new and exciting career opportunities."
Greg Edlund (UMN Physics BS)
Signal Integrity Engineer, IBM System Z
Greg's high school, Anoka Senior High, had a top-notch math and science curriculum. He got a jump start on subjects like calculus, physics, chemistry and computer programming before heading to the University of Minnesota for college to pursue a degree in physics.
"I was a first-generation college student without much direction from the previous generation [of my family]. Physics was the degree that seemed most likely to satisfy my persistent curiosity."
After graduating, Greg was hired as an electrical engineer at a start-up company, Supercomputer Systems Inc., that built the world's fastest supercomputer. His job was characterizing transistors, simulating and measuring random access memories, and designing analog integrated circuits: pioneering the discipline that would later be called Signal Integrity. He later moved to IBM to continue working as a Signal Integrity Engineer.
"When people ask me what I do for a living, I say: 'We keep the ones ones and the zeroes zeroes."
A signal integrity engineer uses software that simulates electromagnetic field propagation, and test equipment capable of measurements up to 50 GHz. Greg finds his job to be challenging, but very satisfying.
"It's rewarding to know that when someone uses an ATM, there is a good chance they are activating circuits I helped design."
Bryant Grigsby (UMN Physics BS)
Vice President of Operations and New Product Introductions at Lumenetix
Bryant first considered a business major, but found it lacking in technical challenges. He switched to engineering, but having taken a physics intro class, he was drawn to physics because it provided a little bit of understanding of everything.
"I expected that getting a job as an engineer or scientist would be easy, but it wasn't. Perhaps having an advanced degree or minoring in Electrical or Mechanical Engineering would have made it easier."
Physics gave Bryant the broad background necessary to lead a multidisciplinary science and engineering team dealing with electronic design, optics, thermal and stress analysis, statistics and software.
"When you lead a large engineering team, you are asked to make decisions that will greatly affect what you are designing, often in an area that you've never worked in. A BS in physics gives you a broad enough understanding in everything such that if you have any decent problem solving skills, you can interpolate and come to a sound decision."
Tobey Haluptzok (UMN Physics BS)
Graduate Student, UMN Department of Biomedical Engineering
Tobey has always been interested in mathematics. In early high school he decided he wanted a career in the physical sciences, where mathematics is applied to real world situations. He initially planned on going to medical school but found he preferred the level of mathematics offered in physics courses. Tobey eventually decided he wanted to work in the field of medical physics/imaging.
“I started looking for possible career paths similar to MDs, where I would be able to help sick patients get better, but in more of a research-based setting, like ‘how do we know people are sick’.”
When looking into graduate programs, Tobey realized that biomedical engineering also offered a way to work on medical imaging devices while offering a more flexible program in line with his research interests. He currently is a graduate student in the UMN Department of Biomedical Engineering, where he works at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research. After graduating he hopes to continue to working with medical imaging, either in industry or in academia.
“I chose physics because I had a passion for it. The level of understanding you get from physics is unmatched. I think this is the reason people say that physics is such a versatile degree, because the methods and way of thinking you learn from a physics degree is easily transferable to many other fields.”
Thomas Hefner (Appalachian State University Physics BS)
High School Physics Teacher at Eastern Guilford High School in Gibsonville, NC
Thomas took a year off after high school, and found himself working a "mindless job" with a lot of time for self-reflection. He decided to pursue a degree in physics and secondary education because he wanted a challenging, meaningful career.
"I always had an interest in the sciences and I wanted to have a career that gave something back to society."
Now, Thomas is a high school science teacher. He teaches various levels of physics, but also teaches other science classes. Thomas says that his physics background gave him the fundamental knowledge and logical thinking skills that make him so versatile.
"I have found myself having an easier time teaching other fields and being able to draw links back to the foundation of...science, which is physics."
Zahra Hussaini (Arizona State University Physics BS)
Site Reliability Engineer at Google
At Arizona State, Zahra began as a premed major, because her family pressured her toward a carrer as a physician or lawyer. She soon switched to materials engineering, but still felt that she was not gaining the deeper understanding of the world that she desired. So she switched again, this time to physics.
After graduating, Zahra got a job at NIST, but soon learned that she was not interested in a research career, deciding that she wanted to work for a tech company instead.
"My motivation was just that I didn't want to be...the best programmer in the room. I wanted to be around people that could teach me and where I could learn," she explains.
Zahra eventually found a job as a software engineer at Google, working on satellite imagery. Now, she is a site reliability engineer, focusing on the reliability and maintainability of large systems.
"I think physics is an awesome degree because it teaches you a way of problem solving that is applicable to so many different fields."
Paul Kelley (UMN Physics BS)
Program Manager - Hardware Technologies at Apple
Paul decided to major in physics because he wanted to understand how things worked, and expected that the concepts being taught would provide the explanations.
After graduation, he got a job at 3M measuring the optical properties of components for consumer electronics. Later he worked as an application engineer.
"It seems strange to say but getting my first job wasn't that hard. I was lucky to have some connections with friends at 3M, which has many other physics majors in various divisions. In 2009, I moved to CA to work for Apple, contributing to the iPod, iPhone and Apple Watch projects."
Paul excelled in some physics classes (Quantum Mechanics), others he found tough (Thermodynamics); he wasn't a 'straight A' student.
"Some students are discouraged by getting low grades in physics classes; some think they are not smart enough. I encourage those interested to stick with it, and enjoy the satisfaction of understanding the principles of how things work. Physics has been the foundation for my career in product development."
Mark Madland (UMN Astrophysics BS)
Manufacturing Process Engineer at Medtronic
Mark always liked to figure out how things worked. Enjoying all sciences, an outstanding senior year high school physics experience led him to an astrophysics major in college.
"A technical foundation in physics and ability to comprehend complex problems allowed me to get a job that wasn't asking specifically for a physicist."
As an engineer making medical devices, Mark gets to determine and improve upon how they are made. He also uses data gathering and critical thinking to get at root causes of manufacturing issues and to improve the processes.
"The projects I work on are sometimes like my undergraduate physics laboratory classes. Hypothesize, experiment, report. Almost every day I use skills I learned in school such as how to take, analyze and report data."
December Martin (UC Davis Physics BS)
Senior Project Manager in Biomedical Technolgy at Stryker in Kalamazoo, MI
December calls her start in physics a "happy accident"; she was accepted to a rigorous, all-scholarship high school in the Philippines, studying science and math every day.
She found a job at a biotech startup straight out of college. She traveled to several countries to teach science and English, and to support humanitarian work.
"The biggest driver I have every day is being able to make [a meaningful] connection out in the world to the work that I do," she says.
Now, December is a project manager working on a device to treat brain aneurysms and strokes. She loves being able to help people, and is invigorated by the scientific community she works in.
"[Scientists and engineers] never say 'when am I ever going to use this'...This mentality is one I love and know I share with people in science."
Patrick McLoughlin (UMN Physics BS)
Nuclear Reactor Operator, Duke Energy
Patrick has been interested in energy issues since high school. This drove him to initially study engineering at the U. He soon found that he enjoyed the fundamental physics principles he encountered in his classes, and he switched to physics.
“I realized that what I really enjoyed was the fundamental physical principles underlying [engineering problems] and chose to major in physics with an engineering emphasis.”
Energy issues continue to motivate Patrick’s career to this day. After graduating, he served in the Navy as an instructor at the Nuclear Power School. He currently works as a reactor operator at Duke Energy.
“The next stage of my career involved applying what I'd learned in physics to studying and teaching nuclear power fundamentals in the U.S. Navy and later in the commercial industry.”
Mary Lee McJimsey (UMN Physics BS)
High School Physics Teacher at North Central High School in Spokane, WA
Attend Mary Lee McJimsey's high school physics class, and you may be surprised! Rather than delivering a long lecture at the board, she would be leading students in a hands-on exploration of how physics principles appear in everyday situations.
In addition to teaching, Mary Lee works with a physics education researchers who collects data on how students learn in her classes.
"It's important for teachers to be well-versed in physics education research," she says. "My understanding of this research informs the methods I use in my classroom."
Coleman Rollins (UMN Physics BS)
Software Engineer, DRW Trading
Coleman grew up interested in math and science. He started college at the U in engineering but soon switched to physics. In his free time he loved playing with computers, so in junior year he took a software internship at Pearson.
“I learned a couple things at that internship: that I wanted to write code, and that I didn't want to write code at a huge corporation in a cubicle. Seven years later I'm writing code for a trading company in Chicago, using my problem-solving skills and working with other really smart people. As it turns out, a physics degree is highly desirable for this industry [software engineering], so if you're interested go for it!”
Coleman has been a in the software industry ever since and currently is a software engineer for a Chicago based trading company. He still uses the problem-solving skills he gained studying physics in his current position.
“As someone who was naturally drawn to math and science, it made sense to give physics a try. Despite being a bit up in the air with a career path in college, studying physics gave me problem solving skills that few other degrees could. I was able to take those skills into my career as a software engineer, as well as a deep understanding of how the world works.”
Mickey Rush (UMN Physics BS)
Hydrologist, United States Geological Survey
Mickey came to the U intending to major in biology but ended up enjoying the introductory physics courses so much that he became a physics major. After graduating he took a technical marketing position with a medical device manufacturer. Eventually, he decided he wanted to do something else with his career and chose to go back to graduate school.
“I learned that I don’t like to spend my days thinking about blood and heart failure, so I decided to go back to graduate school.”
Mickey enrolled in a civil engineering program at CU Boulder where he studied hydrology and had the chance to work as a Fulbright scholar in Chile. After graduating, he took a position as a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey California Water Science Center in San Diego. He builds groundwater models for the city of Santa Monica and communicates this information in both English and Spanish.
“My physics degree gave me the mathematical foundation, technical background, and research experience to explore a variety of environmental science applications.”
Maggie Seeds (Appalachian State University Physics BS)
Associate Consultant at Clarkston Consulting
Maggie was always a stargazer, and that interest in astronomy drew her to study physics in college. She had researched young solar analogs, distant stars similar to our own sun as it formed, long ago. Maggie also enjoyed the satisfaction of finding an answer to complicated problems.
"My physics background helped train my brain to think analytically, and persevere through tough situations."
Today, Maggie is an associate consultant for a management and technology consulting firm. She plays many different roles depending on clients' needs, ranging from technical to strategic plans regarding how raw materials make their way into a finished marketable product.
"I wanted a career that allowed me to use the critical thinking skills gained from my physics studies to solve complex business problems."
Peter N. Steinmetz (UMN Physics BS)
Chief Scientist, NeurTex Brain Research Institute
Peter had always been fascinated by the way things work at a fundamental level. After taking college level courses in his last year of high school, he decided he wanted to spend his life studying the human brain and the origins of consciousness. As a chemistry major in college, he found his quantum chemistry to be too imprecise, prompting a switch to physics.
“In late high school I realized that two great problems, which were essentially taking the ghost out of the machine, fascinated me: at the nuts-and-bolts level how does life really work? And how does our consciousness come to be?”
After spending a few years running a computer design and consulting company, Peter returned to his original goal, and applied to joint MD/PHD programs in neuroscience. He eventually took a post-doctoral position performing single neuron recordings in the brains of epilepsy patients. In 2015 he began running the Neurtex Brain Research Institute, studying the recordings.
“Even to this day the training in mathematics and physics which I received as an undergraduate in physics forms the basis of my daily research activities.“
Kelly Stifter (UMN Physics BS)
Physics Graduate Student at Stanford University
Kelly came to the University of Minnesota intending to major in astrophysics. She was always captivated by stars and the universe. But partway through her studies, she switched to experimental physics, and, among other things, helped build hardware for detectors at the European CERN accelerator.
"I found that the part I enjoyed most was tinkering with all of the hardware. I like to build things, especially when these things are used to discover how the universe works at the most fundamental level."
Serving as a teaching assistant, Kelly also found that she enjoys teaching and sharing physics with others, and decided to continue as a graduate student, which may lead to an academic career.
"Physics is my passion. It is incredible that I will be paid to live this dream every day. I look forward to working with different groups at Stanford while I find my future plan."
Jeff Trinh-Sy (UMN Physics Alum)
High School Teacher at the Blake School in Minneapolis
After several on-the-spot job offers, before he even earned his degree, it was clear to Jeff that the mindset and perspective that physics offers is incredibly valued by various fields of the workforce. After two summers working with students, though, he found that teaching is a path that brought him fulfillment and meaning.
"Every day I get to play with, study, and teach physics. More importantly, though, I get to give people a glimpse of how I see the world and beyond. That opportunity to see those sparks of light is absolutely invaluable."
As an educator, Jeff has the freedom to develop curriculum, and even entire classes, that resonate with him. He sees powerful connections between physics and other fields of human endeavor.
"It's all about taking the never ending life lessons that I pick up everyday and teaching them through the language of physics, math, and science in general. It doesn't take long for students to see how limitless they are."
Brent Wouters (Graceland University Physics BS)
Executive Vice President at IO Data Centers
Growing up in Iowa, Brent felt that math and science always came easily to him. Once in college, he chose to major in physics because of its versatility.
"[Physics] would provide a technical foundation that would allow me to pursue whatever I wanted," he says.
Aftger graduating, Brent got his MS in Aerospace Engineering and embarked on quite a journey, working as an aircraft engineer at Lockheed Martin, earning an MBA, and eventually becoming CFO and CEO of Cirrus Aircraft, a company that builds planes.
Today, as Executive Vice President of IO Data Centers, a corporation that manages computer data centers for companies all around the world, Brent attributes his sucess in so many different areas to his physics training:
"You've got to recognize that your career will take you in a host of directions," he says. "Physics [will open] a tremendous number of doors."
Ian Young (UMN Physics BS)
Engineering Physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
Ian became interested in physics while attending Minneapolis Community and Technical college. He transferred to the University of Minnesota, and worked with particle physicists on building a new accelerator, and then as an intern at a small industrial manufacturing company. Having completed his degree, he joined Fermi Lab.
"I work with physicists, engineers and technicians to design, create and implement automation for various systems, such as cryogenic controls and oxygen safety. I also work on many other aspects of the diverse array of experiments conducted here."
Ian wasn't sure whether he wanted to stop at the bachelor's degree, or continue with his studies. He expected his physics major studies to be challenging as well as rewarding, but he was nervous about his job prospects if he didn't continue beyond the BS.
"But I found out that there are plenty of opportunities for employment with a physics degree. It seems that majoring in physics is a very focused degree, but in fact it allows you to be extremely versatile in your career choice. My studies gave me the mathematical, critical thinking and never-give-up attitude to tackle every task."