Four University of Michigan physics researchers and one biophysicist were elected to the American Physical Society, each from a different field within physics.

The APS Fellowship Program was created to recognize members who may have made advances in physics through original research and publication, or made significant innovative contributions in the application of physics to science and technology. They may also have significantly contributed to the teaching of physics or through service and participation in the activities of the society.

APS elects approximately 150-160 fellows per year—less than half of 1% of its membership. Fellows are elected by their peers across a broad set of disciplines within physics.

“These five new fellows from five different divisions speak to both the excellence and the breadth of our faculty,” said David Gerdes, chair of the U-M Department of Physics. “I am so proud of all of their accomplishments in research and in the classroom.”

Kai Sun, professor of physics, was elected for his groundbreaking and long-standing contributions to the theory of topological insulators and superconductors, and for applications to soft matter systems. Topological states of matter is a fast-growing area of physics research that involves extensions of geometrical concepts to classical and quantum mechanics. Sun is well known for his foundational contributions to this new program, and for work on many-body physics generally, including collaborations with experimentalists at U-M and elsewhere.

“I’m thrilled to receive this honor,” he said. “What brings me even greater joy is receiving this fellowship alongside my exceptional colleagues who have also been recognized this year.”

Christine Aidala, professor of physics, was elected for a series of experiments aimed at elucidating the flavor and spin structure of the proton in terms of the quarks and gluons of quantum chromodynamics. Quantum chromodynamics is the theory that describes the action of the strong nuclear force, one of the fundamental forces in physics. Her experiments were conducted at high-energy facilities in both the United States and Europe.

“I am honored to have my contributions to advancing our knowledge of quantum chromodynamics recognized by being named as an APS Fellow,” she said.

Sarah Veatch, associate director of U-M’s biophysics program, was elected for her foundational work in understanding the miscibility phase transition and associated phenomena in membranes. These types of transitions occur when membranes convert between well mixed and phase-separated states.

“Think oil and water in a salad dressing bottle,” she said. “The same type of phase transition can happen in the membranes that make up the surface of our cells, and we study how this phase transition helps cells sense their local environments.”

Veatch also was recognized for rigorously applying these concepts to biological processes.

“This recognition is especially meaningful because it comes from a scientific community that knows my work well,” she said. “It is also exciting to be a member of a growing cohort of fellows working at the interface of physics and biology, demonstrating the society’s commitment to interdisciplinary physics.”

Tim McKay, professor of physics, astronomy and education, was recognized for his tireless efforts to catalyze systemic change and make STEM learning environments equitable and inclusive, as well as for using data and technology to inform and improve STEM learning.

“It’s a great honor to be selected as an APS fellow by my fellow physicists,” he said. “Training the next generation of scientists is an essential part of our discipline, and this recognition is a sign of our community’s commitment to equity and inclusion in physics teaching.”

Marcelle Soares-Santos, associate professor of physics, was recognized for organizing and leading a team that co-discovered the optical kilonova counterpart to the first binary neutron star gravitational wave event from LIGO-Virgo.

“Receiving the APS fellowship is a wonderful recognition, and it is even more special to share it with five of my esteemed colleagues at the University of Michigan,” she said. “I am honored to be elected and proud to be in such a great company.”


Gerdes says, including faculty affiliates and faculty, this year’s inductees increase the department’s total number of APS fellows to 27.