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Success Stories

If you are a TCU physics & astronomy alumni, we would love to hear how you have been doing. Send your updates to and we will feature them in future success stories.


Tess Bernard

The physics of dance

The magnitude of Tess Bernard’s momentum makes her hard to stop

Andrea Hein, digital content/marketing coordinator

Tess Bernard photoA dancer and physicist, Tess Bernard ’08 chose to pursue seemingly opposite passions. A native of Phoenix, Arizona, she initially attended TCU to study ballet after receiving the Nordan Fine Arts scholarship, though she felt driven to study physics as well, an endeavor not for the weak in spirit.

The small class sizes and personable faculty members alleviated the stress associated with earning double degrees in unrelated fields, and she was encouraged to pursue her passions. Bernard graduated summa cum laude, with a 4.0 GPA, after four years of balancing both programs.

“I later learned that it would have been much more difficult to earn two such degrees at any other university,” she said. “At TCU, I was able to interact closely with the faculty members. They gave me positive feedback, which was very important in both fields, but particularly as a female pursuing a career in science.”

She says her accomplishments and experiences at TCU helped her learn about her personal strengths. They provided her confidence to take risks in her career, and prevented her from settling for an uninspiring job.

“After graduation, I danced professionally for two ballet companies for a total of five rewarding seasons and many successful performances. However, last fall I entered a Ph.D. program in physics at the University of Texas at Austin because I was seeking a greater intellectual challenge,” she said.

Bernard credits her preparation for graduate education to her career as a dancer. “I experienced many challenging situations, physically, mentally and emotionally. The perspective and patience I learned in those situations has been invaluable,” she said.

During her senior year at TCU, Bernard was able to use principles learned throughout her courses to complete her own independent research project under the direction of Bruce Miller, professor of physics. In the same year, she also choreographed two senior projects to fulfill requirements for her ballet degree.

“Both experiences challenged me, helped me discover personal strengths and increased my confidence as a scientist and artist,” she said.

The College of Science & Engineering faculty were supportive of her accomplishments, even in her dance courses and performances, and Bernard was grateful for this support when she chose to pursue a career in ballet instead of attending graduate school immediately. She later reconnected with her desire to be a scientist upon attending an Undergraduate Women in Physics Conference at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. There Bernard enjoyed the intellectual stimulation she had missed while away from the world of science and decided to return to school.

Bernard recently attended the Turbulent Mixing and Beyond Workshop at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, where she presented a contributed talk on her research in computational plasma physics.

“I believe my diverse background gives me a very unique perspective as a scientist,” she said. To current students she says, “Find what truly excites you, and then pursue it with your entire being. Do not be afraid to take risks and fail. The challenges you overcome make the successes that much sweeter.”

Vincent Jobando

JobDr. Vincent Jobando is a tenured physics instructor at Spokane Community College in WA State. He received his doctor of philosophy degree in physics at TCU in 2006 and eventually earned his spot as a physics instructor at the said college in the same year.

Apart from teaching, Dr.Jobando is engaged in both local and state annual high school science Olympiad.  Dr. Jobando’s main interest is in the renewable energy area.  He promotes this by engaging students in small projects involving solar cells and microbial fuel cells.

As an immigrant from Kenya, Dr. Jobando contributes back to his native local high and elementary schools which he started before coming to the US.  He has traveled back to Kenya to his undergraduate university to give talks on his research interests and also his doctoral work in positrons at TCU.

Sarah Hernandez

This article first appeared in the UT Arlington News Center on 10/14/14

Written by Traci Peterson

Sarah-HernandezA former Texas Christian University student who began her studies through a National Science Foundation-funded program to increase underrepresented groups in the sciences recently was honored at an international conference of plutonium experts.

Sarah Hernandez presented her research on the stabilization of delta phase plutonium by the element gallium at the American Nuclear Society’s Plutonium Futures – The Science conference in September. She took home the prize for best poster presentation on plutonium materials.

In addition, she was lead author on a paper published this summer in the Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter.

“I never once dreamed I would be sitting here at this moment. When I won that award I felt like a celebrity,” said Hernandez, who has a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University and master’s degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

A figure from the paper was also selected as the front cover picture for the June 11, 2014 printed issue.

Hernandez enrolled in the Ph.D. program in UT Arlington’s Department of Physics in 2010 with the help of the UT Arlington Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship, which provides up to $30,000 annual stipends for two years and intensive mentoring.  In the summer of 2011, she went on to win a prestigious Seaborg Institute Summer Research Fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Hernandez said her interest in the plutonium-gallium system blossomed while at Los Alamos. She decided to examine it further with encouragement and support from Asok Ray, a UT Arlington physics professor who died in 2013. Besides its use in weapons, plutonium is a valuable source for fuel in scientific missions such as NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

“Plutonium is arguably the most complicated element in the periodic table and it is due to the behavior of its 5f electrons,” said Hernandez.  In the low temperature phases of plutonium, the 5f electrons roam around and strongly interact with each other within the material. In the high temperature phases, individual 5f electrons tend to stay by themselves with little or no interactions between them. This dual behavior is the origin of the chemical complexities of plutonium.

“The delta phase of plutonium exists at high temperatures but the addition of small amounts of gallium to it stabilizes it to room temperature and no one seems to fully understand why.  I want to know why?” Hernandez said.

The Los Alamos Laboratory Directed Research & Development (LDRD) program currently supports Hernandez’s research. She hopes to graduate in spring 2015 and continue her research at the post-doctoral level.

Raymond Atta-Fynn, one of two faculty members mentoring Hernandez, says her current success is due in large part to a strong combination of self-motivation and intellectual curiosity. Muhammad N. Huda, associate professor of physics at UT Arlington, also mentors Hernandez.   Her mentor at Los Alamos is Tom Venhaus.

“Sarah works hard and is dedicated to her craft as a physicist,” said Atta-Fynn, who is a visiting assistant professor. “She’s also a source of inspiration to young women who are interested in science in general and physics in particular.”

Scott Williams

Williams_photoAfter graduating from TCU in 2007 with a PhD in physics, Scott Williams joined the faculty of the Department of Physics and Geosciences at Angelo State University. Recently, Scott was promoted to the rank of associate professor and was also awarded the Texas Tech University System Chancellor’s Council Distinguished Research Award.

My experiences at TCU definitely helped to prepare me in both teaching and research. While at TCU, many of the graduate classes that I took required students to prepare and present short mini-lectures over portions of the course material. This not only helped me develop as a teacher, but it also forced me to make sure that I really understood the material.

I was also very fortunate to work with an advisor, Dr. C. A. Quarles, who was both attentive and patient. Even now, I still contact him occasionally with questions related to research and he’s always very helpful. TCU’s graduate program was a very good fit for me.

Jackie Dunn

AstonMcDI am currently an associate professor of physics at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX.  I split my time between teaching, supervising students, overseeing labs, and research.  My research is in the area of dwarf galaxy evolution, primarily using optical and near-infrared imaging, along with spectra.

I completed both my undergraduate and graduate education at TCU.  I first worked as a teaching assistant as an undergrad.  I also worked on my first major research project as an undergrad, studying the near-infrared spectra of different stars.  At that point, I had decided this was the career path for me.

As a graduate student, I was given the chance to write both grant and observing proposals in support of my dissertation research on the effects of environment in dwarf irregular galaxies.   Doing this as a student under the direction of my advisor prepared me for writing proposals on my own later.  I was able to travel to observatories about 3 times per year as a student, giving me much needed experience in observing, as well as allowing me to establish contacts at the observatories that have helped in my current research program.  I had the opportunity to present my research several times at conferences throughout my time as a student at TCU.  I was also active in the TCU Graduate Student Senate, serving as the vice-president and then president of GSS, which provided my first experience evaluating grant proposals.  That experience improved my own grant writing capabilities greatly.

I think my experiences as a student at TCU gave the best preparation possible for my career in academia.

John Rhoads

A fluid transition from student to scientist

By: Andrea Hein, digital content/marketing coordinator

RhoadsJohnA man of many sciences, John Rhoads ’07 has never settled for average when it comes to exploring the vast world of physics. His experiences at TCU provided the foundation necessary to pursue further education at the prestigious Princeton University, where he followed his childhood dreams.

Rhoads desired a university experience that offered ample opportunity for research, focused studies and personal growth, while maintaining a sense of personal attention. As a graduate from a small high school near Wichita Falls, Texas, he had been interested in science from a young age.

“My visit to the College of Science & Engineering at TCU made my school choice very straightforward – I was impressed at how incredibly student-centric the environment felt,” he said.

While at TCU, Rhoads successfully balanced coursework to complete triple degrees in physics, engineering and mathematics in four years. Since then he has earned his Ph.D. in plasma physics after completing research focused on how a magnetic field alters the dynamics of turbulence and heat transfer in conductive fluids.

“As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to conduct student research in the lab and present my findings in the Student Research Symposium. This exercise, along with the many laboratory courses and the senior design program in engineering exposed me to many skills necessary for a researcher. My time at TCU was pivotal in determining my professional interests,” he said.

For Rhoads the most rewarding aspect of his undergraduate experience was the ability to grow professionally in multiple disciplines with the aid of simply exceptional instruction in each area – a close second was meeting his now-wife, an alumna of the College of Science & Engineering.

“All of my professors at TCU were commendable in bringing the material to life, rather than burying students in endless esoteric lectures. Their ability to convey the subject material inspired me to pour into my own education,” he said.

It was flexibility and small class sizes that allowed Rhoads to pursue multiple interests, which he says have served him well over the course of his career.

Rhoads worked for a small company serving the computational fluid dynamics industry before transitioning into the role of Aeronautical Engineer, Sr. at the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks facility in California.

Maria Baugh-Horstman

Graduate excels at NASA, wins Silver Snoopy Award

Gillian MacInerney, CSE fall communications intern

Maria Baugh-Horstman with her Silver Snoopy Award (courtesy photo)

Maria Baugh-Horstman with her Silver Snoopy Award (courtesy photo)

Maria Baugh-Horstman ’04 (physics & astronomy and film-TV-digital media) recently received the prestigious NASA Silver Snoopy Award. Presented by astronauts, this honor is awarded to less than 1% of NASA’s contractor employees for their professionalism, dedication and outstanding support that greatly enhances flight safety and mission success during the space shuttle program.

Growing up in Clear Lake City, Texas, Baugh-Horstman has always had a passion for space. Whether it was driving by NASA’s Johnson Space Center and its outdoor rocket display, or viewing photographs of dozens of astronauts who were the parents of her elementary school peers, she was determined to be involved in anything related to space.

Baugh-Horstman’s passion for the great unknown directed her collegiate career path as she enrolled at TCU. With a degree in both astronomy & physics, and film-TV-digital media, she felt ready to take on the astronautics industry, and quickly set her sights on NASA. After some initial research and networking, she landed her first and second interviews, ultimately leading to her acceptance of a full-time position for a NASA-affiliate.

Baugh-Horstman is a mission and program integration increment payload engineer for Barrios Technology, a sub-contractor for NASA. Working out of the International Space Station management center, her job consists of documenting and tracking research requirements to take place during a six-month International Space Station (ISS) mission.

“In this last increment spanning from March until September of 2014, we had over 150 research investigations going on at the space station at one time. We would track the investigations and make sure the astronauts had all of the resources they need,” said Baugh-Horstman. “There are a lot of different things that have to be coordinated from the payload perspective. Several people are using the same facilities for different investigations, and you have to figure out who can go first, based on the science they are performing, and when their results are needed.”

Despite the intense organizational skills required, Baugh-Horstman enjoys the privileges that come with her role. “It’s really nice because when you’re working on console for the ISS you’re there for six months. You’re in the thick of things. You are there when something breaks and you get to watch how it is fixed and how all of the engineering communities come together to solve the problem,” she said.

Solving problems in her field is exactly what got Baugh-Horstman recognized in her field, and ultimately led to her Silver Snoopy Award. She worked with the space vessel Soyuz: a crewmember transfer vessel that flies between the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the ISS. Six hours following its launch, the Soyuz docks at the ISS and remains there for up to 200 days. It then becomes a crew return vehicle when a new Soyuz is launched, and returns to Kazakhstan. The Soyuz also delivers cargo when it returns crew members.

“NASA is always there for the Soyuz landing because we ensure the crew gets safely back to the United States,” said Baugh-Horstman. “We have our guys out in the field retrieving hardware and cargo out of the vehicle to return with the crew on the NASA crew plane. The cargo consists of science samples that need to be back home very quickly so ground teams can start processing it – especially things like ambient blood samples, which have about a 72-hour window of viability. The need to get them back is strong, or it becomes a loss of subject or a loss of science for that sample.”

Baugh-Horstman’s development of a more efficient process of loading and unloading the Soyuz is what earned her the Silver Snoopy Award. “The Soyuz is small and has very small storage compartments. We wanted to use the astronauts’ crew time efficiently, and we also wanted to know how they were packing things so the teams on the ground could find it. We developed, over many flights, a process that works,” she said. “We’re at a good point now where our teams out in the field are finishing everything right away, and they’re able to get on their helicopter back to the airfield and get on the plane to bring the cargo back.”

The award is more than just a pin and certificate for Baugh-Horstman. “It means that NASA, my customer, recognized that I did a good job for them. It always feels great when people recognize you. Also, it’s such a prestigious award. Hopefully it will help me in future endeavors, especially in this industry. The recognition will show others within the industry that I do good work.”