Physics Spotlight

February 2017
Photo of Professor Robert Hallock

Robert Hallock

Ph.D., Stanford University (1969)

We have chosen Professor Hallock to participate in this month's Professor Spotlight. This is due to his research in Low Temperature and Condensed Matter Physics, his tenure in the department, and his experience as both the chair of the department and dean of the college. Please take a moment to review Professor Hallock's Condensed Matter website and his recent article about solid helium published in Physics Today. His academic vitae is found here.

What is your professional background? What did you major in and where? Where did you go to graduate school and for what? How can your educational background help you teach and mentor students at UMass?

Undergraduate = UMass Amherst, 1961-1965 [Physics]

Graduate = Stanford University, 1965-1969 (MS 1967, PhD 1969) [Physics]

Postdoc = Stanford, 1969-1970.

Physics, with a lot of math in all cases. Brought physics to Palo Alto 5th grade students, with once a week afternoon interactions, hands-on experiments, etc. for one semester.

Such a background of formal education enhances anyone's ability to really explain things to undergraduates.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school? How did you decide which grad school to go to? What advice would you have for a student who wants to go to graduate school?

Grad School to deepen understanding of physics and focus on discovery of new science. I decided on graduate school while an undergraduate, about half way through, with no real idea of what would come next.

Advice to Graduate School bound students:

(1) Get your hands dirty doing something in research while an undergraduate.

(2) Really work to understand what you encounter in your classes. Grades will come naturally; a focus on grades is a short term and incorrect focus.

What is your advice for a student who wants to go to industry?

Get your hands dirty doing something in research while an undergraduate. Learn how to work effectively with groups and don't be a loner. Learn all you can about the subject.

Briefly, explain your research:

Research is aimed at increasing our understanding of fundamental secrets of nature at temperatures near absolute zero where your intuition is frequently tested.

What class in the undergraduate curriculum is closest to your research?

None, other than perhaps Physics 558, Solid State. In the graduate curriculum it would be Physics 716 Superfluids and Superconductors.

Do you take undergraduates in your research group? What type of work do they do? Have you published any papers with undergraduates?

Occasionally I take an undergraduate in my group. They usually learn background in quantum fluids, and can take on an independent project. This depends on the student and the availability of a good project that will provide some significant experience where the student has a lot of control of what happens and an ability to gain some independence making "what next" sorts of decisions. Yes, undergraduates have been on publications and even, at times, the lead author.

What is your favorite class to teach at UMass at the undergraduate level?

Physics 100, because it is an opportunity to provide a broad range of Gen Ed students with a window on how relevant Physics is to what happens around them in every day of their life. Next, and a close second, is Physics 125 because it provides the opportunity to bring an understanding of light, especially to students of various forms of Art.

What do you do outside of physics? Do you have a hobby?


You have been chair of the department and dean of the college. As a departmental leader, what is the biggest and best change you have seen in the department over your years?

We attract better students and we hire better faculty colleagues. We also continue to attract great staff to work with us; without them the department would be a different place.

What is the biggest challenge for the department that you anticipate it overcoming in the next decades?

To enhance the ability to carry forward really significant research that has impact and, thereby, enhance our national profile. This will require an adequate critical mass of faculty members in specific areas; we are on that road.