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K-State Today

November 11, 2011

Full circle: K-State alum returns to campus to discuss work in nuclear physics

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A Kansas State University alumna will return to the university's department of physics to present her work and research for this year's Ernest Fox Nichols Distinguished Alumni Lecture.

Penny Warren is a principle detector engineer and detector area functional manager at Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colo. She will speak at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, in 102 Cardwell Hall. She'll discuss her work in the field of detector engineering.

Warren said that in her work with Ball Aerospace she works with scientific-grade digital cameras for satellites, which are sensitive enough to detect low-level signals down to 100 photons. She has characterized charge-coupled devices for the Kepler Photometer, a NASA spacecraft mapping Earth-sized planets, and charge-couple devices on NASA's OMPS spacecraft, which is mapping the ozone in the Earth's atmosphere.

"In my presentation at K-State, I plan to focus on detectors -- those used in nuclear physics experiments, infrared detectors and visible detectors, like those used in digital cameras," she said. "I will also touch on what jobs are available in field and how to get them with a physics degree."

Warren received her bachelor's degree in physics from K-State in 1987, then went on to earn her master's degree and doctorate in physics at Purdue University. While at Purdue, she and a fellow graduate student created a science camp for middle school girls, aimed at attracting girls to science at a younger age. The camp has been running for 20 years.

She was a research physicist for the Naval Research Lab in the optics division before coming to Ball Aerospace, where she currently leads a team of 35 engineers and technicians.

The Earnest Fox Nichols Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series was named after an alumnus who received his bachelor's degree in physics from the university in 1888, then went on to become a physics professor at several prestigious universities, including Colgate, Dartmouth, Columbia and Yale. Nichols also served as the president of Dartmouth and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The university's physics department decided to honor Nichols' accomplishments by implementing the lecture series, which features distinguished physics alumni from K-State.