Faculty Research

Alden Adolph
Assistant Professor

Adolph is trained as an engineer and uses this lens to study the physics of snow and the role of snow in the climate system. She is particularly interested in the physical and optical properties of snow and their relationship to snow temperature. Her work spans across scales from snow microstructure to its implications for changing snow patterns across the globe. Research projects involve analyzing the relationship of snow albedo (reflectivity) to snow physical and chemical properties such as impurity content and crystal size and shape in the local region and in Greenland. She also works with remote sensing data with the goal of studying snow processes on larger scales. Adolph is also interested in interdisciplinary studies of how snowmelt in temperate regions affects local ecosystems.

Brian Borovsky

Borovsky teaches Quantum Mechanics, Analytical Physics III (including special relativity and wave behavior), Musical Acoustics, and Advanced Physics Laboratory. He says he enjoys physics because it is “both profound and practical.” Borovsky’s research program explores the physics of friction, with applications in the areas of micro and nano-technology. In the lab, he works with student researchers to measure the friction in microscopic high-speed sliding systems where the lubricant films are just one molecule thick. In his free time he plays euphonium and enjoys running.

News and research


James (Jay) Demas
Associate Professor

Demas teaches a Principles of Physics course and associated lab for non-majors in addition to advanced laboratory courses. Demas is also a member of the Biology Department and teaches neuroscience courses, including Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience. His research is focused on the retina, the neural part of the eye. Specifically, he studies retinal circuits that estimate the brightness of the environment. Outside of St. Olaf, he loves to spend time with his daughters and his wife, Laura Listenberger, assistant professor of chemistry and biology at St. Olaf. Surfing, downhill skiing, and sailing are favorite outdoor pursuits.  



Jason Engbrecht
Professor and department chair

Engbrecht teaches Analytical Physics, Electronics, engineering design, and a variety of introductory and advanced laboratories. He enjoys working with majors and non-majors alike, and encourages active participation of students in his classroom. Engbrecht’s research interests focus on the interaction of positrons and positronium with ordinary matter at low energies as well as robotics. He enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters and watching Michigan football.    

News and research


Robert Jacobel
Professor Emeritus of Physics and Environmental Studies

Jacobel is recently retired from teaching in the Physics and Environmental Studies Departments where his courses have included geophysics, climate change, environmental science, and polar literature. His research interests involve geophysical studies of glaciers and ice sheets using ice-penetrating radar and satellite imagery to study the response of the world’s ice masses to climate change. His research group has involved over 70 students and post docs in research projects in Antarctica, Greenland, Scandinavia, and temperate mountain glaciers. Although no longer active in fieldwork, he is currently involved in a number of research collaborations and enjoys advising students on careers and research in geophysics and polar science.

News and research


Amy Kolan

Kolan teaches introductory mechanics, statistical mechanics, astronomy, and a course on physics and computation. Her research — and much of her teaching — straddles the boundary between mathematics and physics. In her most recent sabbatical, Kolan worked on two projects with late Leo Kadanoff at the University of Chicago. The first project incorporates the use of the renormalization group, a mathematical technique used to view a physical system at different scales. The second is a pedagogical project aimed at introducing high school students to the use of computer programming for discovery. In her free time, Kolan enjoys biking, cross-country skiing, and spending time with her husband and two daughters.

News and research


David Nitz
Professor Emeritus

Nitz’s long-term professional interests are in atomic and molecular physics (atomic collisions and spectroscopy). He has recently worked on developing computer software as a resource for teaching and learning and on implementing laser-based experiments for the advanced physics laboratory. Nitz has served as chair of the Physics Department, as campus advisor for a number of off-campus study programs, and as a member of the design team for Regents Hall. In his free time he plays the trombone and enjoys outdoor activities, especially tennis, cycling, hiking, and canoeing.