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Peter Stephens


Professor of Physics and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Facilities, College of Arts and Sciences
Stony Brook University

Peter Stephens came to the Physics Department (now Physics & Astronomy) at Stony Brook in 1980, where he is now Professor. Besides his current work as Associate Dean of CAS for Academic Affairs and Facilities, he has taught courses ranging from The Physics of Musical Sound to Graduate Electrodynamics, and supervised eight Ph.D. theses.

Stephens says, “my research interests have centered around crystallography, a very powerful technique for determining the atomic structure of almost anything, from minerals to enzymes. At least sixteen Nobel Prizes have been awarded for development or application of crystallographic techniques for elucidating the atomic structure of substances. Most of what we know about the atomic structure of the world around us traces back to the hundred-year-old technique of X-ray diffraction; indeed 2014 is the International Year of Crystallography.

“It’s not always easy to coax materials into growing usable crystals. Often a newly synthesized material is only available as a powder, which makes structural analysis a good deal trickier. But quickly learning the atomic structure is key to understanding interesting properties such as superconductivity, magnetism, or drug action. The National Synchrotron Light Source at nearby Brookhaven National Lab has been a great resource for this research.

“I love to collaborate with people who make new materials, and our group’s research has often been critical in guiding and interpreting the work of synthetic chemists. For example, we’ve had an interesting collaboration with Joel Miller’s group at the University of Utah for a few years now studying framework materials of manganese, stuck together with cyanide molecules rather like Tinkertoys. The range of packing motifs, and their effect on the magnetic behavior of the compounds has been surprisingly rich.”