John S. Toll Endowed Lecture in Physics Honors a Culture of Excellence, Curiosity and Collaboration

Chuan Sheng Liu and Jingyi Liu Chuan Sheng Liu and Jingyi Liu

John Toll (1923-2011) knew how to bring talented people together to build something bigger than themselves. 

As chair of the University of Maryland’s Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1953 to 1965, Toll recruited dozens of top-tier scientists to catapult the department onto an international stage. As president of UMD from 1978 to 1988 and founding chancellor of the University System of Maryland from 1988 to 1989, Toll helped grow the system and elevate its reputation. 

In 1990, faculty, staff and administrators of the department established an endowed professorship in his name, and in 2002, the physics building was named after Toll in recognition of his contributions to the university. 

Now, Chuan-Sheng Liu and Jingyi Liu are generously honoring Toll’s enormous legacy by endowing a lecture series in his name. The couple donated $50,000 to establish the John S. Toll Endowed Lecture in Physics, which will bring some of the brightest physicists to UMD’s campus to share their talent and enthusiasm with the community.

Chuan Liu is a professor emeritus of physics who joined UMD in 1974 and served as department chair from 1985 to 1990 and 1993 to 1994. His wife, Jingyi Liu (M.S. ’83, communications; Ph.D. ’91, radio/tv/film), was a cross-cultural communication consultant, educator and TV producer for educational programs, and she served as a contract interpreter for the U.S. Department of State.

The Lius’ gift to the university was followed by a $20,000 contribution from John Toll’s widow, Deborah Toll, who was thrilled to see her husband being honored in this way.

“I’m delighted that the Lius have established this lecture series, and it’s wonderful of them to do it in John’s name,” Toll said. “We now realize how sorely this country needs to improve scientific literacy, and I’m sure if John were alive, he would be doing something about it. If this lecture series can help bring some of the brightest minds to Maryland and get people excited about physics and science, all the better.”

The first John S. Toll Endowed Lecture in Physics will be presented by S. James Gates Jr., the current president of the American Physical Society and a College Park Professor of Physics who has been on the UMD faculty since 1984. He was the John S. Toll Professor of Physics from 1998 to 2017. Awarded the President’s National Medal of Science in 2011, Gates served on former President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He is known among scJim Gates and John Toll in 2001.Jim Gates and John Toll in 2001.ientists for his work in supersymmetry, supergravity and superstring theory, and is more widely known by the public for his frequent appearances on scientific documentaries. Gates is currently the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics at Brown University and director of the Brown Theoretical Physics Center. 

“Gates is a great representative for this first lecture,” Chuan Liu said. “He is a brilliant physicist as well as a very accomplished leader and public speaker. In addition to bringing brilliant people to speak to the community, we want to embody the spirit of collaboration and curiosity that John brought, and I think Gates is a great example of this.”

The Lius stressed that John Toll was dedicated to bringing people together under the umbrella of science and knowledge. It was a core part of John Toll’s personality that they both experienced firsthand throughout the years they knew him.

“We got to know John Toll very well and consider him a good friend,” Chuan Liu said. “I first met him when he came back to Maryland as president of the university, but he was also a physicist, so we had a lot in common and we talked about physics often.”

The Lius were also involved in Toll’s efforts to build relationships with scientists in China. In 1979, soon after the normalization of U.S.-China relations, Chuan Liu and three physicists from Princeton were invited by the Chinese Academy of Sciences to visit the Institute of Plasma Physics in Anhui, China. It would be Chuan Liu’s first return trip to China since his family left the country for Taiwan in 1949, and he was very excited. 

When John Toll learned of the trip, he entrusted Chuan Liu to deliver a letter of invitation on behalf of Maryland Governor Harry Hughes to Wan Li, the governor of China’s Anhui province. Later that year, Wan led a delegation to visit Maryland, and Jingyi Liu served as interpreter for him and his delegation. While in Maryland, she got to know John Toll and Hughes and they encouraged her to come to UMD for her graduate studies.

The following year, Hughes visited Anhui province. Both John Toll and Chuan Liu were members of Hughes’ delegation. The exchange led to Maryland and Anhui becoming sister-states, which enabled numerous interactions and collaborations.

The Lius agree that part of John Toll’s ability to recruit talent and bring people together was his warmth and enthusiasm, qualities that seemed to come naturally to him. Deborah Toll echoed that sentiment, recalling stories her husband told about his early days as department chair.

“He used to bring some of the best scientists from all over the world to Maryland, and then he would take them to his mother’s house in Chevy Chase,” Toll explained. “She would host them and make meals for them. They had a grand time.”Deborah TollDeborah Toll

It was that kind of personal touch that the Lius remember so fondly. Although their gift reflects a deep appreciation and respect for John Toll as a leader and a scientist, it was his warmth and generosity as a friend that they often refer to when speaking about him. 

“We want to continue the culture of inclusion, excellence and curiosity that John established here,” Chuan Liu said. “He wanted to share the excitement of discovery and to really help spread the spirit of collaboration in science.”  

Perhaps no better example of that spirit is the Department of Physics’ traditional afternoon tea where students, faculty and staff came together daily to discuss science and socialize. John Toll started that tradition when he joined UMD in 1953, and it continued for many decades. 

“He was a person who respected people and tried to bring out their best with his inspirational leadership,” Chuan Liu said. “And he had a truly unselfish spirit that was dedicated to truth and to bigger things than himself. We want this wonderful culture that John Toll started to continue, and in naming this lecture series for John, we want the next generations to remember the older generations and know the history and traditions that were the foundation of the department.” 

Written by Kimbra Cutlip

Follow this link  to a 1989 profile of John S. Toll in the department's newsletter. 

Buonanno Receives Dirac Medal

Alessandra Buonanno has been awarded the Dirac Medal, along with Thibault Damour, Frans Pretorius, and Saul Teukolsky. The medal is given by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), in Trieste, Italy, to honor significant contributions to theoretical physics. This year's recipients were cited for their work envisaging LIGO's detection of gravitational waves.

Buonanno is the director of the Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity Department at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Potsdam and a Research Professor at the University of Maryland.

“It is a great honor for me to receive this prestigious award. It’s a wonderful recognition not only of my own research in gravitational waves, but of the work that the members of my research groups at the AEI and University of Maryland have done over many years,” Buonanno said. 

She joined the UMD Department of Physics in 2005, and received an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship and the Richard A. Ferrell Distinguished Faculty Fellowship. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the International Society of General Relativity and Gravitation. In 2018, she received the Leibniz Prize, Germany's prestigious research award. Earlier in 2021, she was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the Galileo Galilei Medal of the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN). Alessandra Buonanno © A. Klaer Alessandra Buonanno © A. Klaer Buonanno was also recently elected to the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, which originated in 1652 as a classical scholarly society.

Buonanno's research has spanned several topics in gravitational-wave theory, data-analysis and cosmology. She is a Principal Investigator of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, and her waveform modeling of cosmological events has been crucial in the experiment’s many successes.

Buonanno, Charlie Misner, Peter Shawhan and others detailed UMD's contributions to gravitational studies in a 2016 forum, A Celebration of Gravitational Waves

Sibylle Sampson, 1929-2021

Sibylle Sampson, a crucial member of the Department of Physics during a period of remarkable growth, died August 8 at the Ginger Cove retirement community in Annapolis.

SampsonJohn Toll praises Sibylle Sampson at her retirement party in 1991.John Toll praises Sibylle Sampson at her retirement party in 1991. joined the department in 1960 as a stenographer, and rose to become Director of Finance and the utterly essential aide to John Toll during his frenzied and fruitful expansion of UMD Physics. She was a renowned administrator and advocate of the department.

Toll’s arrival transformed the department (and by extension, elevated the research stature of the entire university). By all accounts, Sampson's assistance was crucial in bringing Toll's plans to fruition.

Three decades ago, Sampson established the Sibylle Sampson Award to highlight particularly innovative efforts of  physics staff members.

A native of Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, Sampson traveled to several countries for various jobs, and first arrived at College Park while visiting her brother, who was a postdoctoral researcher here. She eventually married her brother's roommate, an economics student, in 1959. Bob Sampson died just five months before Sibylle.

In retirement, both Sampsons enjoyed travel and boating. Sibylle was a poet in both English and German, and in 2018 published aSibylle Sampson recalls John Toll at his 2011 memorial.Sibylle Sampson recalls John Toll at his 2011 memorial. volume entitled, "Wanderings".   


I woke into black silence,
The earth so still as if it held its
Spinning, had drowned
The breath of wind.

It is the night of darkest winter
Sol sistere – when the sun stands still,
When ancients built fires to
Chase the ghosts of night.

From the East,
Dawn slowly spreads her mantle,
Gray and reluctant first – her cloak will
Soon reveal a golden rim:

The promise of the sun
Of light embracing the earth,
Of snow vibrating in the spectrum of color -
The hope of every window in this world.

Stand still, o moment,


Paul Cited for Outstanding Thesis

The Division of Plasma Physics of the American Physical Society has selected Elizabeth Paul (Ph.D. '20) for the Marshall N. Rosenbluth Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award. This prize is awarded to one person each year for the best Ph.D. thesis in plasma physics. Dr. Paul will receive a $2,000 prize and the opportunity to discuss her dissertation, “Adjoint methods for stellarator shape optimization and sensitivity analysis”, at the division's annual meeting November 8-12, 2021.

At UMD, Paul worked with Matt Landreman and Williiam Dorland studying stellarators, devices in which plasmas are confined using magnetic fields with carefully designed shaping. In her thesis, Elizabeth devised efficient methods to compute how physics properties of the plasma change if there are changes toElizabeth PaulElizabeth Paul the plasma’s shape or to the shape of the confining electromagnets. She was named a UMD Grad School Outstanding Research Assistant and received a $15,000 award from the Metro Washington Chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation. She twice received the IREAP Graduate Student Seminar Best Speaker Award.

Following her doctorate, Paul accepted a Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Princeton University, returning to the campus where she graduated magna cum laude in astrophysical sciences in 2015.

Three other UMD graduates—all advised by Prof. Howard Milchberg—have received the Rosenbluth Award: Yu-Hsin Chen, Ki-Yong Kim and Thomas R. Clark, Jr.




Antonsen Receives IEEE Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award

Tom Antonsen  has been selected for the the 2022 IEEE Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award for “seminal contributions in theoretical plasma physics and radiation science, and for the development of comprehensive design codes for vacuum electronics devices.” 

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award is given annually by the IEEE Board of Directors for outstanding contributions to the field of nuclear and plasma sciences and engineering.  Antonsen will receive a medal,Thomas AntonsenThomas Antonsen certificate, and honorarium.

Antonsen joined the University of Maryland faculty in 1984. He is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics, and served as acting director of the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics from 1998-2000. He was named a Distinguished University Professor in 2017. He is an IEEE Fellow and received the IEEE John R. Pierce Award for Excellence in Vacuum Electronics in 2016 and the IEEE Plasma Science and Applications Award in 2003.

For nearly a century, the IEEE Awards Program has paid tribute to technical professionals whose exceptional achievements and outstanding contributions have made a lasting impact on technology, society, and the engineering profession. Each year the IEEE Awards Board recommends a select group of recipients to receive IEEE's most prestigious honors.