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NASA Webb telescope engineer to headline Texas physics conference at ACU


ACU engineering students conduct an experiment.

Physicists, students, researchers, science teachers and even a NASA engineer will converge on the Abilene Christian University campus March 11-12 for a joint meeting of the Texas sections of three major physics professional societies: the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Physical Society and the Society of Physics Students. Mike Menzel, the NASA mission systems engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope, will speak to ACU students Thursday and give the keynote address at a Friday evening banquet.

Menzel will speak with a group of ACU students at noon on Thursday. He’ll also speak at a banquet Friday at 7 p.m. in Hunter Welcome Center about his work on the James Webb Space Telescope, launched Dec. 25, 2021.

The Webb telescope, NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, is designed to observe “first light” objects in the nascent universe, the evolution of galaxies over cosmic history, star birth within our own galaxy, planet formation and evolution, and recently discovered exoplanets. Menzel’s presentation will give an overview of the science and systems design behind the JWST.

Other plenary speakers include:

  • Dr. Matthias Perdekamp, head of the Department of Physics and director of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Program for Arms Control and Domestic and International Security
  • Dr. Caleb Brooks, associate professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Dr. Steven Biegalski, chair of the Nuclear and Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics program at Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Dr. Israel Portillo, lecturer at the University of Houston and coordinator of the NuSTEAM program
  • Kenric Davies, physics and astronomy teacher at Liberty High School in Frisco ISD

The conference begins Thursday evening and concludes mid-day Saturday. For more information, visit

ACU’s Department of Engineering and Physics emphasizes undergraduate research and experiential learning with small class sizes and strong faculty mentoring. In addition to two major research groups – the NEXT Lab and the U.S. Department of Energy-funded nuclear research group called Atom Smashers – the department offers industry-sponsored senior clinic projects where students work directly with companies to complete a project. Learn more about the department.

— Wendy Kilmer

Mar. 9, 2022

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