Vinod Saranathan ’05 (above), Senior Research Fellow at Yale-NUS College at the National University of Singapore, majored in physics at OWU, completed a capstone project under the guidance of Physics & Astronomy Professor Bob Harmon, and developed a lifelong interest in ornithology through his work with legendary OWU Zoology Professor Jed Burtt. He holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Yale University. Vinod is particularly interested in evolutionary photonics, a holistic understanding of the structures that underlie the color of organisms. In his recent research, he discovered how certain birds use complex nanostructures to produce their brilliant blue color.

A Few Physics & Astronomy Alumni

Ohio Wesleyan graduates in Physics and Astrophysics are conducting research at some of the world's leading universities and are enjoying successful careers in the public and private sectors.

Derek Shank ’18, Astrophysics

Senior Data Scientist at Highmark Health, Pittsburgh, PA
Derek Shank received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Notre Dame, after having spent a summer there doing a mentored research project in their Research Experiences for Undergraduates program while he was still an OWU student. At Notre Dame, his dissertation research focused on the study of galactic dynamics, using both observational and computational techniques to discover clusters of stars representing the smallest substructure in the Milky Way. He is now a Senior Data Scientist at Highmark Health, where he is currently using techniques and skills learned in his studies to assess healthcare needs across varying populations, building out products that address these issues. Derek said, “The rigorous studies at OWU were a welcome surprise. As a young astrophysicist I learned how to properly address problems and solve them at a high level. The professors are very approachable and extremely willing to help go through material, plan out a course load, or even discuss steps to take for applying to jobs or grad school. Without the physics department at OWU, I would not have been as prepared as I was to take on a Research Experiences for Undergraduates position and subsequently pursue a doctoral degree in physics.”

Alexandra Cook ’16, Physics, Biochemistry

Senior Research Engineer at Celgene, Summit, NJ
Alexandra Cook received her M.S. in chemical engineering from Columbia University. At OWU, she completed a 3-month internship at the Mayo Clinic, then returned the following year for a graduate research program, where she managed her own projects and conducted experiments on genetic mutations. She said, “I was very fortunate and very lucky to have great mentors every step of the way – at the Mayo Clinic, and at Ohio Wesleyan.”

Read about Alexandra’s Mayo Clinic Internship

Zeke Brechtel ’13, Physics

Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Prewitt Ridge, Los Angeles, CA
Zeke Brechtel received his M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. He is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Prewitt Ridge, a engineering software company. Prior to this Zeke spent 5 years working at SpaceX across a variety of engineering roles. Said Zeke, “OWU and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at OWU helped me develop a ‘first principles’ way of thinking that has been incredibly impactful in my career. The lessons I learned—from troubleshooting experiments in the Advanced Physics Lab course to fixing broken anemometers on the Juneau Icefield—have been invaluable in my roles as an engineer and leader.”

Nurul Taimur Islam ’13, Physics

Camera and Depth Sensor Architect at Apple, Santa Clara, CA
Nurul Taimur Islam received his M.S. in Electrical Engineering and Ph.D. in Physics from Duke University, where he studied quantum communication and sensing for his dissertation research. While at OWU, Taimur spent two years working on independent research in the field of nuclear physics, which started as a summer project as part of the Summer Science Research Program. In the summer of his junior year, he conducted research in experimental condensed matter physics at Purdue University. These research opportunities played important roles in his acceptance to the Duke Ph.D. Physics program. He now works at Apple as a Camera and Depth Sensor Architect, where he is developing sensing technologies for future products.

Tony Wong ’10, Astrophysics and Mathematics

Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY
Tony Wong received his PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Colorado Boulder, where his dissertation research quantified the value of different sources of hydrological data for improving models for how water moves throughout an ecosystem. After completing his doctorate, Tony was a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Earth & Environmental Systems Institute at Pennsylvania State University, after which he served as an Instructor at CU Boulder from 2017-19. He is now an Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where his research program involves using mathematical and statistical tools to characterize uncertainty in physical models, and how these uncertainties affect decision-making in settings such as mitigating dangerous climate risks like sea-level rise. Tony’s current research also examines disciplinary perspectives on Computational Literacy in science majors and uses data science tools to disentangle factors related to college student success and graduation rates. He said, “My time at OWU was really formative in terms of how I approach problems and dissect them. Dual-majoring in math and astrophysics gave me a great perspective on the tools to describe real-world phenomena (math) and how those phenomena actually work and affect other parts of a real-world system (physics). One of the most formative experiences that I had at OWU was an Astrophysics assignment where we used a spreadsheet model to represent the temperatures within a stellar atmosphere. I remember being amazed at how much power - pun intended – there was in even just using this simple program to model a seemingly impenetrable system. But in physics, we learn to break the system down into its component parts, and tackle these problems piece by piece. I loved that feeling, that no problem was too big to solve, as long as you were ready to break it down and work at it.”

William Kenney ’09, Physics

Environmental Supervisor at Ohio EPA Division of Air Pollution Control, Columbus, OH
William Kenney received his Ph.D. in environmental science at The Ohio State University. At the Ohio EPA, he supervises and performs data collection and analysis work with ambient air monitoring and emissions inventory programs.

Stephanie (Vasicek) Pugh ’08, Physics

Engineering Manager at Boeing, Seattle, WA
Stephanie (Vasicek) Pugh received her Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio State. While at OWU she spent a summer serving as a Research Associate at the NASA Glenn Research Center. Stephanie works at Boeing, where she has served as Design Engineer for interior components of the 787 aircraft, including her present role as Engineering Manager for the 787 Lavatories.

Rachael Roettenbacher ’08, Astrophysics and Mathematics

Research Scientist in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Speaking at OWU in 2014, she said, “My time at OWU was fundamental to getting me to where I am now. The opportunities available here, with the research opportunities and the support from the faculty, are just a huge asset to getting me to where I am. I still actively collaborate with Dr. Harmon, who was my science research adviser here.” She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and in 2021 she received a prestigious fellowship from the Heising-Simons Foundation, providing $375,000 for research over three years. She studies stellar activity, and her work is creating better methods for discovering other Earthlike planets.

Read about Rachael’s 2016 Return to OWU

Claire Ryu ’07, Biophysics, Microbiology, Chemistry, Genetics

Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Hematologic Malignancies Section of the Division of Blood Disorders at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, NJ
With a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and her M.D. from Columbia, Claire Ryu returned to OWU in 2015 to present “How Nuclear Physics Research Led Me on a Path to Become a Physician Scientist.” While she was a student at OWU, she was one of three students nationwide to receive the 2007 Outstanding Student Award for Undergraduate Research from the Society of Physics Students.

Department Contact Info


Schimmel/Conrades Science Center
Delaware, OH
P 740-368-3907
F 740-368-3999

Department Contact

Chair: Brad Trees
Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Schimmel/Conrades Science Center 139

Academic Assistant: Judy Arlington
Schimmel/Conrades Science Center 201