May 2024: Jay Wang

UMass Dartmouth, Dartmouth, MA

Jay Wang

  • Member since 2016
  • Professor of Physics
  • Dartmouth, MA

About Jay

Of all the subjects in high school, I enjoyed physics the most because I thought it was neat to be able to solve interesting problems with just a few broad, fundamental principles. Looking back now, I was attracted to what we call the beauty of physics. I learned a lot from my very dedicated and knowledgeable physics teacher, Mr. Wang (no relation), who seemed to know every trick in problem-solving. He also entered us in district competitions, which made studying physics fun and exciting because, to this day, I remember the places we went, the people we met, and the friends we made.

I pursued my passion for physics and graduated with a BS and then a PhD in theoretical atomic physics. I chose to become a professor since I wanted a career in teaching and research at the same time. As a theorist, computation was my main thrust of work, so naturally, when I was hired at UMass Dartmouth, I wanted to teach physics with computation. My keen interest in computation actually started in a graduate quantum mechanics course where the professor, Dr. Gerald Mahan, used his own lecture notes and had a block of Fortran code (about a dozen lines, as I recall) that could compute the discrete energies of a particle in a square well. I was astounded after running it and finding that it gave way more accurate results than the graphical method on graph paper, and it was so neater and easier. That made me wonder why other professors did not do it. It'd have been helpful not only with studying the subject but with research as well.

In the fall semester of 1998, when I was hired at UMass Dartmouth, I proposed and developed a computational physics course and taught it for the first time in the following spring. Since then, I led efforts on computation and integration of it into other courses in our curriculum development. Along the way, a pivotal moment for me was the 2007 AAPT Topical Conference on Computational Physics, organized by Wolfgang Christian at Davidson College, where leaders and practitioners discussed using computation in physics instruction. I came home with many good ideas that helped with quicker and sustained integration of computation into our curriculum. About a decade later, the PICUP (Partnership for Integration of Computation into Undergraduate Physics) project was another significant event. It advanced the computation movement through standalone and AAPT conference workshops and curated resources, and I was glad to be involved with PICUP. From the pioneering days and through these associations, we have made computation a cornerstone of our physics curriculum. We also created a concentration on Computational Physics that became effective starting the fall semester of 2023.

We have benefited much from AAPT and believe in giving back to the community. In addition to serving on area committees and running workshops, I also actively maintain open-source simulations as a resource for anyone to use (see I look forward to continued engagement and exchanging ideas with my colleagues in AAPT.