GW News
A Faculty for Writing
Alumni Events and Activities
Alumni Newsmakers

A Tale of Two Washingtons
On The Money

In Memoriam
Alumni Bookshelf
Artist's Corner


Contact Us
Alumni Association
Law Alumni Association
GW News Center

Trachtenberg to Become President Emeritus and University Professor in 2007 | Former President, First Lady to Keynote Commencement 2006 | President’s Medal Awarded to Croatian Minister | Clark, Team Unearth Oldest Tyrannosaur | Dance Professors Unveil New Works | Elliot Hirshman Named Chief Research Officer | World Leaders Visit GW | Wake-Up Call | Fostering Women’s Leadership | Cheney Cardiovascular Institute Announced | Faculty Focus | George Welcomes | At A Glance | GW in History | A Faculty for Writing

Faculty Focus

Unlocking the Logic of Physics

Associate Professor of Physics Allena Opper is an expert in nuclear physics. She divides her time between teaching students the importance of this fundamental science and conducting research at prominent area laboratories.

Julie Woodford

In her first academic year at GW, Associate Professor of Physics Allena Opper has proven a valuable member of the faculty in many ways. As a dedicated instructor, she encourages her students to explore the practical as well as academic applications of the discipline. She also is a prominent researcher working in the Center for Nuclear Studies at GW’s Virginia Campus and the Thomas Jefferson Laboratory in Newport News, Va.

“Her research achievements are notable,” says William Parke, professor of physics and former chair of the physics department. “Moreover, we see her as a model for inspiration and clarity in the classroom.”

The competition for accomplished female instructors is “extremely high,” Parke says, and the University is making a concentrated effort to bring more women into the physics department. GW attracted Opper, who previously spent 10 years as a professor at Ohio University, through the strength of its nuclear physics program and support by the Frances E. Walker Fund.

While Opper spends the majority of her time in the classroom during the fall and spring semesters, 80 percent of her workload during breaks and the summer are devoted to her research on the Standard Model Theory, specifically on an experiment called “Qweak.”

“The Standard Model describes three of the four forces of nature in an elegant manner,” Opper says, namely the electromagnetic interaction, the weak interaction, and the strong interaction. Understanding how these forces interact is part of her research. She conducts the Qweak experiment at the Thomas Jefferson Laboratory.

Opper chose physics for a variety of reasons. “Physics has always fascinated me,” she says. “The other sciences are based on physics principles, so that’s what also attracted me.”

“When you do physics, you start with a set of basic concepts and you use those concepts to understand observations—you don’t have to memorize a huge pile of information. Instead you memorize the basics and the rest follows. A lot of it is similar to doing logic problems,” she says.
Hence, the study of physics helps students develop problem-solving skills that will help them in many areas of study, she adds.

Opper says she also likes the excitement of understanding something new. “That’s probably true for most scientists,” she says.

Opper was drawn to the classroom out of a desire to help others understand the world around them. She notes that the physics major has many practical applications in the working world. “With a degree in physics, you can go into almost any field—scientific research, computer programming, accounting, banking, or management. Many of my former students have gone on to do data analysis for insurance companies, write computer programs, work in private labs; one is now an art museum curator.”

When asked what fields are most attractive to recent graduates entering the workforce, Opper turns from physics to philosophy: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

—Erin Mavian