Benner, Donnelly, and Sturdyvin receive Gary Kelly Staff Excellence Award

Jessica Raley for Illinois Physics

The Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presented three staff members with the second annual Gary Kelly Staff Excellence Award during a virtual reception on October 27, 2020. This year’s recipients are Janice Benner, Denise Donnelly, and Kelly Sturdyvin. Each received a commemorative plaque and a $2,000 award.

Illinois Physics Department Head Matthias Grosse Perdekamp says, “I continue to be very thankful for Gary Kelly’s generous estate gift to Physics. The gift makes it possible for our department to express gratitude to our dedicated staff and to recognize their outstanding contributions. Despite the added challenges from COVID-19, Physics staff members continue to work tirelessly in support of our students, faculty and researchers.”

Janice Benner

Janice Benner
Janice Benner
Janice Benner is the Office Administrator for the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory (ICMT). She was nominated by Professor Eduardo Fradkin, Director of the ICMT, and by the entire ICMT faculty.

The citation reads, “For her outstanding work as the Office Administrator of the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory by assisting faculty, students, postdocs, and visitors, and organizing seminars and workshops. Her work ethic, positive attitude, and initiative has made ICMT a great success.”

In her role as Office Administrator, Benner provides administrative support for twelve faculty, around fifty graduate students, and as many as six postdocs. She is responsible for managing the ICMT space to accommodate the Institute’s many visitors and the large number of weekly group meetings. She also organizes the weekly ICMT seminars, including making travel and hotel arrangements for outside visitors. During postdoc searches, she arranges complex schedules, plans numerous special seminars, and ensures candidates are reimbursed in a timely manner. As “the face” of ICMT, she has a reputation for being helpful and efficient. 

Benner also organizes the scientific meetings hosted by ICMT. She handles every aspect of the event, from coordinating with speakers to planning the menu. In many cases, she works with staff at other institutions to manage funding and reimbursements. Fradkin notes that he often receives glowing comments from speakers and other visitors about Benner’s outstanding work. This has been particularly important during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Fradkin says, “Janice Benner is not only an exemplary employee but an indispensable person for the working of our Institute. We could not do what we do, and certainly not as well as we do it, without her presence “

Benner comments, “Working with everyone in the Physics department is a terrific experience. I enjoy coming to work and seeing how I can help faculty, staff and students get their work done. It means a lot to know that my work is noticed and appreciated.”

Denise Donnelly

Denise Donnelly is a Human Resource Associate in the Department of Physics. She was nominated by Celia Elliott, Director of External Affairs and Special Projects.

Denise Donnelly
Denise Donnelly

The citation reads, “For her abiding commitment to excellence in the Department of Physics, for her dedication to taking care of everyone who crosses her threshold with a question or problem, and for her positive attitude and collaborative spirit.”

Donnelly is the department’s expert in all things related to university employment, from understanding complicated US visa requirements for foreign nationals to the intricacies of Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rules. She also ensures everyone in the department completes the required ethics training each year.

In more than twenty years of service to the Physics department, Donnelly has made important contributions in multiple roles. For example, while she worked in the business office, she developed an orientation packet to assist new employees as they navigate the complex on-boarding process. 

Donnelly is well known in the department for her efficiency, expertise, and no-nonsense approach to solving problems. She replies promptly and accurately to questions, no matter how complex. She regularly makes herself available outside work hours to assist new faculty with paperwork related to their employment. 

Elliott comments, “We have been very fortunate in Physics to have attracted wonderful, long-term staff over the years who embrace our mission, help our students, make it possible for our faculty to achieve remarkable discoveries, and create an atmosphere of extraordinary teamwork and good will. Denise has truly been the best of the best.”

Donnelly says, “I love the feeling of accomplishment my position gives me when I can help others. My work makes it so that I can have a positive effect on someone’s time in our department.” She calls this award, “a bright, shining star” in a very difficult year.

Kelly Sturdyvin

Kelly Sturdyvin
Kelly Sturdyvin
Kelly Sturdyvin is a Cryogenic Technician. He was nominated by Matthias Grosse Perdekamp, Head of the Department of Physics.

The citation reads, “For his innovative and tireless service in providing liquid helium at an affordable cost for the world-class research carried out in the Departments of Physics and Chemistry, in the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory, and in the Nuclear Physics Laboratories.”

Sturdyvin is responsible for the operation of the helium liquefier. He maintains and operates all liquefier equipment, carrying out liquefier production runs to deliver the helium needed in laboratories in Loomis, MRL, and Chemistry. He is responsible for detecting and preventing helium losses, as well as operating, maintaining and improving the helium recovery system. 

In 2019, Sturdyvin played a leadership role in implementing a plan to improve the helium liquefier and reduce helium losses. As a result, the helium account deficit was reduced from an average of $190,000 per year to $50,000 in the last fiscal year. These improvements will become even more important going forward, as a global helium shortage causes increasingly high helium prices.

Perdekamp notes that Sturdyvin has been instrumental in not only improving the helium liquefier system at Illinois, but also creating relationships with other experts. Perdekamp says, “Kelly is open to new ideas and new people and has succeeded in creating a small group of cryogenic experts who effectively exchange their knowledge and best practices.”

Sturdyvin says he enjoys being part of the team at Illinois Physics, commenting, “The U of I is the only public facility in the state that can make liquid helium, which the researchers here need for their valuable work. And I’m happy to be part of that.”

Recent News

  • Research

In a paper published today in Physical Review Letters, a team of researchers led by Illinois Physics Professor Nicolás Yunes present two conclusions. First, using NICER’s observation datamand universal relations among various properties of neutron stars, the authors infer the moment of inertia; the tidal Love number; the quadrupole moment; and the surface eccentricity of neutron star PSR J0030+045. Next, they use their inferences to propose and implement a novel test of GR.

  • Outreach

Illinois Physics Professor Smitha Vishveshwara has been elected to the Executive Committee of the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Condensed Matter Physics (DCMP). By special election, Vishveshwara fills the seat of Richard L. Greene of University of Maryland, who stepped down from the position of chair-elect.

The DCMP chair line typically represents a four-year commitment of service, and each newly elected member generally starts as vice chair for the first year, then serves as chair-elect, chair, and past chair. Vishveshwara will serve as chair-elect starting immediately, and will take over as chair in March 2022.

A new textbook from Cambridge University Press entitled Numerical Relativity: Starting from Scratch, coauthored by Bowdoin College Physics Professor Thomas W. Baumgarte and Illinois Physics and Astronomy Professor Stuart L. Shapiro, explicates this esoteric subfield of physics for today’s students and scientists. The textbook makes heavy use of analogies from Newtonian gravity, scalar fields, and electromagnetic fields. In this way, it introduces key concepts of numerical relativity in a context familiar to readers without prior expertise in general relativity. Readers can explore the concepts presented by working through textbook exercises, and can see them first-hand by experimenting with the accompanying Python sample codes.

  • Accolades

Three University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professors have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest professional honors a scientist can receive.

Physics professor Nadya Mason and chemistry professors Ralph Nuzzo and Wilfred van der Donk are among 120 newly elected U.S. members – 59 of whom are women, the most elected in a single year – and 30 international members in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.