DOE Physicists at Work
Profiles of representative DOE-sponsored physicists
doing research at universities and national laboratories
Compiled by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information
Dr. David Newman
David Newman knew he wanted to be a scientist from a young age, when he thought that looking at the stars was very cool. "However, after being given a telescope as a birthday present, I quickly discovered that experimental astrophysics, while being very cool...was in fact too cold (and required staying up too late!)," says Dr. Newman, Professor of Physics at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
So he decided that theoretical physics was more to his liking. "In fairness, this probably also had something to do with that fact that my father, Prof. Ted Newman, is a mathematical physicist who studies General Relativity," says Dr. Newman, who notes that it was during summers as a raft guide in Colorado, that he developed a love for turbulence and nonlinear complex systems, "which ended up being the area of physics that chose me."
David Newman was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he attended Taylor Allderdice High School. After receiving his BS in Physics and Mathematics in 1983 from the University of Pittsburgh, David married Uma Bhatt, who is now a Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at UAF. The couple spent the following two-and-a-half years serving as U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya at an altitude of 3000 meters.
"To paraphrase the old Peace Corps slogan, 'it was the toughest honeymoon you'll ever love,'" says Dr. Newman. "I loved the challenges and joys of teaching, building a water tank, and starting a tree nursery and library. Teaching physics in a rural developing country was a great experience; the students were wonderful, bright and hardworking."
After returning, he attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received his Ph.D. in Physics in 1993. Dr. Newman joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1993) as a Wigner Fellow and subsequently became a staff member in the Theory section of the Fusion Energy Division. At ORNL he worked on turbulence and turbulent transport in plasmas and was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Largely because he missed teaching, he joined the physics faculty at the University of Alaska in 1998. In addition to engaging in an active research program, he teaches classes from introductory undergraduate level up to advanced graduate classes.
Since 1987, Dr. Newman has had the pleasure of giving science outreach/education presentations to all levels of audiences, from kindergarten to Elderhostels, including a number of teacher training sessions. "There are few things as rewarding as seeing the smiling faces of kids (or adults) learning, and hearing the oohs, ahhs and ah-ha moments which tell you a love for science is developing," says Dr. Newman.
His love for complex systems, nonlinear dynamics and turbulence, combined with the urgent need for new energy sources stimulated by the Peace Corps experience in Kenya, made plasma physics and fusion an appealing topic to study in graduate school. "Plasmas can serve as the most incredible example of a highly nonlinear system that largely obeys, and can be used as a test bed for, classical complex dynamics," says Dr. Newman. "They have the benefit of exhibiting both really beautiful fundamental complex behaviors that have implications for our understanding of the universe as well as the practical goal of enabling controlled nuclear fusion as an almost limitless energy source here on earth."
When he has time to relax, Dr. Newman enjoys reading, hiking, skiing, and working around the house. He lives in Fairbanks with his wife, 2 dogs (Kodiak & Oook,) and hopes that an adopted child will be joining them soon. "Here," says Dr. Newman, "we enjoy the beauty of physics of an unusual environment - where you can watch soap bubbles freeze, listen to a cup of hot water snap, crackle and pop when tossed into the air and observe a green flash and an Aurora within hours of each other."
Dr. David Newman's articles accessed via OSTI: