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New physics, astronomy chair starts Feb. 1

By Will Ferguson, College of Arts & Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – Brian Saam, an expert in experimental atomic physics, will become professor and chair of the Washington State University Department of Physics and Astronomy on Feb. 1.

He succeeds interim chair Sukanta Bose, professor of physics, and former chair Matthew McCluskey, professor of physics, who will return to their teaching and research activities.

He has conducted research and taught introductory and advanced courses for 17 years at the University of Utah, where he was associate chair of his department and associate dean of the College of Science.

“My number one priority as chair will be maintaining the size and academic reach of the department while keeping a strategic eye toward areas where we can grow the breadth of our research,” he said.

New lab to investigate magnetic properties of atoms

Saam is bringing his Optical Spin-Polarization and Magnetic Resonance Laboratory to WSU, where he will continue research into the magnetic properties of atoms and electrons. This field of study is leading to new advances in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other diagnostic technologies.

His work in experimental atomic and condensed-matter physics will add a new dimension to the WSU department, which conducts high impact research in areas such as gravitational wave detection and cold matter physics.

He said he attributes his love of working with students to growing up in a house with two teachers as parents. He looks forward to mentoring graduate and undergraduate students who become part of his research team.

Golf, beekeeping, baseball pastimes

Saam is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the University of Utah’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

A native of southern Michigan, he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and did graduate work at Princeton University. After a post-doc at Washington University in St. Louis, he joined the physics and astronomy department at the University of Utah.

In his free time, he is an avid golfer and amateur beekeeper: “Golf is therapeutic up to the point that I get angry,” he said. “Bees are therapeutic up to the point that they get angry. In either case, it’s always my own fault.”

A lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, he enjoys taking his 15-year-old twin daughters on trips to watch the team play in stadiums around the country. This summer, they’ll travel to Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and they “are looking forward to knocking off Seattle in the coming years.”


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