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McMillan Named Interim Head of Physics

January 8, 2014 —  

After 17 successful years, Michel Vallières, PhD, has decided to step down as head of the Department of Physics. Accomplished astrophysicist Steve McMillan, PhD, has been named interim department head.

McMillan came to Drexel in 1986 and has served as a Distinguished Professor of Physics since 1997. He is an internationally respected computational astrophysicist and developer of public domain simulation software. His work is focused in many areas of astrophysics, particularly galactic and stellar dynamics, stellar astronomy and star formation. In the last 10 years alone, he has received over $4.3 million in grant funding from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

McMillan received his MA in mathematics from Cambridge University and his AM and PhD in astronomy from Harvard University. He was a research associate in the physics department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Lindheimer Fellow in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University. Since 1986, he has held visiting positions all over the world, including the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, the Astronomical Institute of the University of Amsterdam, the Institute for Super Computer Research of Tokyo University and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara.

As a Drexel faculty member, McMillan took the lead in designing, implementing and refining the computational physics sequence in the current physics curriculum. His introductory astronomy textbooks (two in their 8th and 7th editions and a third now in production) are among the top sellers in the U.S., with hundreds of college adoptions nationally.

As we welcome McMillan to his new role, we also thank Michel Vallières, PhD, for his continued dedication and guidance as department head. The physics undergraduate and graduate programs have substantially improved since his tenure; the number of physics majors has more than doubled; and the department has become one of the best funded in the College. Additionally, the department’s Kaczmarczik Lecture Series, which attracts audiences of over 700, has developed significantly under Vallières’ leadership. Now in its 19th year, the series has brought in seven Nobel Prize winners and is one of Drexel’s most prestigious annual events, as well as a highly successful recruitment event for the department.

Equally important as these accomplishments is the supportive environment Vallières has helped to build among his colleagues and students; the external reviewers of the PAR committee even remarked on the impressive collegiality of the department, which is due in no small part to Vallières’ respectful leadership.

As interim head, McMillan will pursue the PAR-related goals of faculty hiring, course development and infrastructure renovation that were recently established under Vallières’ guidance. The search for the next department head of physics will begin in September 2014.

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