November 2016 Newsletter: SJSU Faculty Eligible for Grant to Redesign Courses

Course RedesignThe California State University Chancellor’s Office will be offering grants to faculty members who are interested in redesigning bottleneck courses with proposals due Feb. 15. Formerly known as the Proven Course Redesign and Promising Practices Grant, the grant has been renamed to Course Redesign 2025.

CSU Chancellor’s Office team members Kathy Fernandes, director for Learning Design and Technologies in Academic Technology Services, and Jean-Pierre Bayard, director of Systemwide Learning Technologies and Services, hosted an informational session at SJSU on Nov. 3 for faculty members interested in applying for a grant.

“We are focused on student success and graduation, and we are teaching 21st-century learners,” Fernandes said. “Student surveys say the option to have a learning community is important, but the pedagogy needs to drive the curriculum redesign.”

The grant is open to lecturers, tenure-track or tenured faculty who can apply for up to $15,000. Those who receive awards will participate in a summer institute that brings together faculty from throughout the CSU system and will participate in regular online meetings with their discipline cohort throughout the year. At the end of the grant year, professors have the option to create an e-portfolio to showcase their practices so that other faculty can adopt proven techniques.

“We are hiring a lot of new faculty so it’s a perfect time to transform teaching and learning,” Bayard noted.

Katherine Chilton, a lecturer in the College of Social Sciences Department of History, worked with colleagues Laura Guardino and Rob Cirivillieri in her department to redesign a general education course, “Essentials of U.S. History.” During the informational session, she shared their experience and e-portfolio with colleagues.

“We realized we were not just part of a department, but part of a campus,” she said. “We came together to learn – to see what works and what doesn’t.”

The professors focused on incorporating active learning while emphasizing skills such as reading, writing and analysis in teaching content to students. The courses incorporated active learning, online textbooks, iPads and in-class polling.

“It’s not just a matter of memorizing facts, but the curriculum is more relevant to student’s personal identity,” Chilton said. “We used the same techniques as we would in an upper division seminar, but found ways to do it in lower division (courses.)”

In spring 2016, the team saw an increase in the number of students with passing grades between the redesigned and non-redesigned courses, with 77 percent of students receiving an A or B grade in the redesigned course, compared to 64 percent in the non-redesigned course.

College of Science Releases “The Scientist” Newsletter

Biological sciences majors Bianca Opara, left, and Dania Abid share their findings at the College of Science Student Research Day.

Biological sciences majors Bianca Opara, left, and Dania Abid share their findings at the College of Science Student Research Day.

The College of Science released the 2016 edition of its “The Scientist – Science in Our World and Beyond” newsletter. The newsletter includes articles on student, faculty and staff activities in each of its departments as well as news about research grants, faculty awards and progress on a new interdisciplinary science building.

Read the full newsletter online: The Scientist 2016 (PDF)

SJSU Professor Adds to Understanding of Massive Star Eta Carinae

San Jose State University’s Thomas Madura, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, helped to develop wind collision models to understand activity in Eta Carinae, a massive, bright stellar binary system. Madura worked with an international research team led by Gerd Weigelt from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany. The team studied Eta Carinae for the first time using near-infrared interferometric imaging techniques.

In the central region of the binary, the powerful stellar winds from both stars collide at speeds up to 10 million km per hour. The team obtained unique images of the wind collision regions between the two stars. These discoveries improve our understanding of this enigmatic stellar monster. The observations were carried out with the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Read the full press release and see images online.

September 2016 Newsletter: Development Efforts Support Student Success

Photo by David Schmitz Students in the Spartan Scholars Program gather with a peer mentor after class. The Koret Foundation gave $2 million to SJSU to support student success initiatives, including the Spartan Scholars Program.

Photo by David Schmitz
Students in the Spartan Scholars Program gather with a peer mentor after class. The Koret Foundation gave $2 million to SJSU to support student success initiatives, including the Spartan Scholars Program.

As Student Affairs and Academic Affairs staff and faculty launch initiatives to support student success, two recent gifts to the university are specifically earmarked to fund such efforts. University Advancement received a $15 million gift from Lupe Diaz Compean and a $2 million gift from the Koret Foundation last spring.

Compean’s gift will support student success initiatives and scholarships. The donation will also support the maintenance of SJSU’s newly renovated and expanded Student Union, and the many activities housed in this structure located in the heart of campus.

“San Jose State has been in conversation with the Compeans for the past two decades,” said Vice President for University Advancement Paul Lanning. “Throughout this time, Lupe Diaz Compean has been crystal clear that her motivation in making the gift was to benefit students, honor her family and her late husband by naming a facility, and demonstrating that by working hard and getting an education, anyone can achieve what she has in her lifetime.”

The new student union was dedicated in honor of her and her late husband on Sept. 1. The facility is now known as the Ramiro Compean and Lupe Diaz Compean Student Union.

In addition, SJSU received $2 million from the Koret Foundation as part of a multi-year $50 million initiative to support higher education at a dozen institutions in the Bay Area. SJSU’s funding will be used to create a new student information analytics system that will improve advising; support the Spartan Scholars Program, a newly launched summer bridge program that is aimed at increasing retention and graduation of underrepresented students; and provide scholarships for students with the most need.

“This is a significant start to our efforts to seek funding to support student success initiatives, and it will be complemented by what will ultimately be the $8 million Compean Endowment for Student Success Initiatives once that fund matures,” Lanning said.

The goals of the gifts are in line with SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan, which is focused on college readiness, advising, student engagement and clearing bottlenecks.

“The Koret Foundation is proud to fund this initiative that builds on and expands our longstanding commitment to these important Bay Area academic institutions,” said Michael Boskin, President of the Koret Foundation. “This program is designed to be a catalyst for new approaches to optimize student success, improve completion rates, and bolster career advancement opportunities, particularly among underserved populations.”

In support of the campus priority, Lanning created a new position in University Advancement to continue fundraising efforts around student success. Emily Lane, hired in August, is the new director of development for student success.

SJSU’s Research on Quantum Simulation of Fermi-Hubbard Model published

College of Science Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami had research published in September 2016.

College of Science Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Ehsan Khatami had research published in September 2016.

San Jose State University College of Science Assistant Professor Ehsan Khatami’s research on ultracold atomic gasses has been published in Science, “Observation of Spatial Charge and Spin Correlations in the 2D Fermi-Hubbard Model,” released on Sept. 16. The article is a collaboration between Khatami and other researchers at five universities.

“If you bottle up a gas and try to image its atoms using today’s most powerful microscopes, you would see little more than a shadowy blur,” according to a press release from MIT on the work. “Atoms zip around at lightning speeds and are difficult to pin down at ambient temperatures. If, however, these atoms are plunged to ultracold temperatures, they slow to a crawl, and scientists can start to study how they can form exotic states of matter such as superfluids, superconductors and quantum magnets.”

The Hubbard model is the simplest theoretical model of interacting quantum particles hopping around on a lattice, effectively simulating electrons in the crystal structure of atoms in solids. Only in certain situations can properties of the model be calculated. In other more interesting situations, e.g., when it is relevant to superconductivity (the phenomenon of zero electrical resistance), not even the most powerful computers in the world can solve the model. So, the experimentalists are trying to simulate it using ultracold atoms.

Khatami said the improved understanding of the Hubbard model in two dimensions will help scientists uncover the mysteries of high-temperature superconductivity and other exotic phases of matter.

“It moves us forward in the direction of material by design, using strongly-correlated materials that hold the greatest promise for future technology, transportation and energy applications,” Khatami said.

In the past decade, scientists in the Atomic, Molecular, and Optics (AMO) community have been trying to cool down (to only slightly above absolute zero temperature) and study clouds of thousands of atoms they have mastered to confine in a small region of space, typically several microns wide, using optical traps, potential wells created by lasers. They also impose an “optical lattice,” created by crisscrossing laser beams to mimic the lattice structure in the Hubbard model.

“The long-term goal of experimental efforts in this field is to cool down the atomic cloud to even lower temperatures and find out whether the theoretical Hubbard model can describe the superconducting phase,” Khatami said.

Khatami and his colleague at Pennsylvania State University Dr. Marcos Rigol had published a numerical solution of the two-dimensional (2D) Hubbard model in 2011 that piqued the interest of Dr. Martin Zwierlein, of MIT. The trio worked with seven other researchers from five universities.

“Dr. Zwierlein was wondering if we could use the same numerical method (NLCE-the numerical linked-cluster expansion) to calculate new properties they had measured in their experiment so that they could compare with their results and characterize their system,” Khatami said. “One of the surprising findings has been that lattice sites with pairs of atoms seem to be ‘bunching’ together with empty sites. “

The current article follows another related work by Khatami and his collaborators published in the March 2015 issue of Nature, “Observations of antiferromagnetic correlations in the Hubbard model with ultracold atoms.” In the article, researchers described how long-range magnetic correlations of ultracold atoms in three-dimensions were observed in optical lattices for the first time. The paper was deemed a “hot paper” by ISI in March as one of the top .1 percent of papers in its academic field due to the number of citations it received.

Khatami said for his parallel numerical calculations, he extensively used a computer cluster he put together last year using startup money provided to newly hired tenure/tenure-track faculty, and with support from the Physics and Astronomy Department and the College of Science. The cluster, called Teal, has four nodes, 54 cores, and more than 760 GB of RAM.