“The Department of Physics has had a tremendous impact on our university and beyond. And with the new Leach Science Center, we will continue to make an IMPACT nationally and internationally for generations.” - Dean Nicholas J. Giordano


The new Leach Science Center is a home for core research at Auburn University. This 62,500 square-foot addition provides endless opportunities for student engagement.

  • This new facility allows both faculty and students to easily collaborate before and after classes in convenient, welcoming spaces filled with natural light.
  • The upper level teaching labs can be easily configured to conduct complex experiments over a longer period of time without having to reconfigure the labs each day.
  • The unique rooftop telescope terrace provides students a chance to operate state-of-the art telescopes in an interior classroom with the ability to view live feed.


Students will have an opportunity to learn about our solar system like never before in this new facility.

Instead of one large telescope, the Leach Science Center offers a rooftop telescope terrace. Up to 18 individual telescope stations mounted on the building’s roof will provide students with a customized,
hands-on opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment that will immerse them in an engaging and unique learning experience.

Each station on the telescope terrace offers two different telescopes including a 10-inch reflector telescope that gives students the chance to use high magnification and sensitivity to examine faint objects that cannot be seen by the human eye alone. 

The telescope stations also have high-quality cameras to help students learn advanced concepts including astronomical data processing.

A special classroom on the third floor of the building provides students with the ability to remotely control these rooftop telescopes and visually see the telescopes adjusting to their commands.

Students will have an opportunity to use virtual reality headsets to elevate the student experience to an even higher level. In collaboration with the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, COSAM’s Department of Physics is developing a virtual planetarium. Students using virtual reality headsets will be able to learn to navigate
the sky, understand astronomy’s complex geometry, and interact with celestial objects.

“As a student, I believe this new facility is important because it will allow everyone to apply what they learn in their astronomy class,” explained Pierce Jackson, a physics major. “In most  astronomy classes you would just see images of Saturn’s rings. At Auburn, you will actually be able to capture photos of
Saturn and understand that the universe we live in is full of countless awe-inspiring things, and the material being taught here allows us to uncover the vast mysteries that surround us.”


“My grandfather was a man of progress,” explained Fred Allison, III. He saw electricity become a staple, read about the Wright Brothers exploring flight, and even watched the first steps taken on the moon.”

The Allison Laboratory Building, named after Dr. Fred Allison—a professor of physics and first head of the
department, will be replaced with new classrooms. 

Dr. Allison, 1882-1974, was a scientist that was known for his work on magneto-optics. He spoke both Greek and Hebrew, and was a vivid storyteller. His grandchildren shared fond memories of him and they all personally visited Auburn University to tour the facility named after him before faculty transitioned to the new Leach Science Center.

The family reminisced about their grandfather who loved to teach physics to students and worked until his death at the age of 92. His obituary was even featured in an array of publications including the New York Times, and he is buried in Pinehill Cemetery in Auburn.

Before becoming a professor in 1922, he worked with Robert A. Millikan in Chicago on the famous oil drop
experiment, and complied data as a young researcher. 

Dr. Allison was known as a modest man, and loved to be part of the Auburn community. 

“I remember the day this building was dedicated in his honor,” Allison added. “I was very young and recall how proud I was to see a stage full of people honoring the legacy of my grandfather.”

Fred Allison was a bee enthusiast, and even had to  leave class one day to recover a bee colony that left its hive and settled in the famous drugstore in Toomer’s Corner. Fred Allison, III, still uses equipment from his namesake to care for bees today. His passion for science and mathematics was instilled from his father. 

Fred Allison’s father was a mathematical savant who participated in the 1849 California Gold Rush and
sailed around South America. The gold he found is worn today by one of his grandchildren, Jennifer
Comer, more than 150 years later. 

His grandchildren told stories of his great sense of humor, how he would tinker with lots of items in the
basement, his modesty, and how he proudly visited the Allison Laboratory until the end of his life.

“One of my most prize possessions is my grandfather’s Black Forest Clock that was built in the 1780s, and still works today,” Allison said. “The clock reminds me of the lasting impact my grandfather made here in Auburn, and that his commitment to teaching lives on today in the careers of scientists and educators.”


“My father Howard Carr was the second head of the Department of Physics. I remember him working tirelessly on the proposals for the original Leach Science Center and the Allison Laboratory,” shared Carolyn Carr. 

She and her brother grew up as this department developed over the years even helping her father organize items for the next quarter. 

“My brother and I spent lots of time in the Department of Physics, we even sorted resistors after the quarter had ended,” she added.

“I have terrific memories of the Department of Physics, and my dad would be very excited to see this new addition to the Leach Science Center." 

Another person who is excited about this new facility, is Auburn Alumnus Jack Crenshaw.

In 1954, Crenshaw was a just a student in the Department of Physics at Auburn and took a required class with Dr. Howard Carr, who would serve as a role model to him and after graduation would become Crenshaw’s lifelong mentor.

“Dr. Carr stressed two things in every class, technical excellence and honesty,” Crenshaw said. 

Crenshaw had incredible learning opportunities during his time as a student in the Department of Physics.


“When I was a graduate student, Dr. Carr took me and two other students to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Crenshaw explained. “We gained experience using a Calutron to isolate isotopes and I will never forget its big blue glow.”

Upon graduation, Crenshaw accepted a position with the newly-formed NASA. He then worked in private
industry developing lunar trajectories, and also worked on trajectories in the planning stages of Project Apollo. 

“Dr. Carr worked tirelessly to teach all of his students everything he knew,” Crenshaw said. “Near the end  of his life, he personally called me and told me something that just absolutely tore at my heart, and still does to this very day. He said to me, ‘You know, you were always my best student.’ Dr. Howard Carr was the most genuine and profound professor any student could ever have.”


Dr. Gordon Hughes worked closely with Dr. Fred Allison and Dr. Howard Carr in the Department of Physics. 

Originally, Dr. Hughes visited Auburn University in the late 1930s to work on magneto-optic research with Dr. Allison. He soon returned and became a dedicated faculty in the Department of Physics.

At the opening ceremony for the new Leach Science Center, Dr. and Mrs. Ernest Burdette celebrated a new research lab in memory of Dr. Gordon Hughes. Their generous support will allow faculty and students to conduct state-of-the-art research in a lab named after someone who left such a tremendous impact.

Dr. Burdette, who earned his doctorate degree in physics in 1968, explained why the new Leach Science Center is so important, “Students will be drawn to this new facility and they will have accessibility to interact with their faculty like never before.”


On Friday, June 7, 2019, the opening ceremony was held for the Leach Science Center. The audience was filled with familiar faces who made significant contributions to the Department of Physics throughout the years.

Dr. Robert Kribel was the third department head and the first acting Dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM). 

“The lab facilities are first-rate and students will receive a lab experience as good as anywhere in the entire country,” Dr. Kribel shared. “COSAM is a first-rate college and students have excellent
resources for interactive learning and advancement.”

Dr. Ray Askew is a professor emeritus who spent 35 years with Auburn University. He worked with the architects when the Allison Laboratory Building was built in the 1960s. 

“I am excited to see the interactive spaces for undergraduate students to conduct experiments and work alongside faculty,” Dr. Askew said.

Auburn University Board of Trustees Member Michael A. DeMaioribus took two classes with Dr. Askew as a student at Auburn University.

“These courses provided me with a solid foundation on which all of my engineering coursework and in fact, my career, would be built,” DeMaioribus explained.

This Board of Trustees Member was part of a presentation given by students who were involved with the small satellite program several years ago. DeMaioribus recalled that event where the students
explained their role in this program and what they learned during his speech at the ceremony.

“This building reminds me of the potential I saw in those students,” DeMaioribus told the audience. “The students taking classes here will develop a relentless enthusiasm for science. Most importantly,
they will become future leaders and proud Auburn Alumni.” 


Dr. John Oakberg was part of a team of scientists from the International Atomic Energy Agency to
receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

He graduated from Auburn University with a degree in mathematics in 1969, and received an
honorary doctoral degree in 2015.

Even though he has spent 26 years living in Europe, he returned to Auburn for both his 25th and
50th reunions. Now, living in Tennessee, he wanted to be part of the opening day for the new Leach
Science Center.

“I share Dean Giordano’s excitement that everything is in one place in this new building,”
Dr. Oakberg said. “The advantage of having classrooms, labs, faculty offices, and study spaces in one
physical location is a tremendous benefits for students.”

The Noel-prize winner has volunteered his time to talk to students about how a degree in
mathematics can prepare them for a wide range of careers with skills to solve problems and
overcome complex challenges.

“Dr. Oakberg is an outstanding role model to Auburn students,” shared Dean Nicholas J. Giordano.
“He spent valuable time discussing the numerous careers possible and how you can get an
advantage in the workforce with a degree in sciences and mathematics..”

After the ceremony, Dr. Oakberg learned more about the building from Dean Giordano.

“We are both really impressed with this world-class research facility,” Dr. Oakberg added.
“Students are going to simply have an amazing educational experience here.”


“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Lori Scott, a graduate student in the Department of Physics. “Being able to conduct an experiment for my doctoral project on the International Space Station was an absolutely incredible experience.”

The experiment observes thermal energy in complex plasmas, which are plasmas that contain dust particles. It began with a cosmonaut physically starting the experiment on a microgravity unit aboard the International Space Station (ISS). 

“Once it began, I had full control to monitor and adjust different settings such as the pressure, current and voltage,” explained Lori. “I could also adjust the camera, which was extremely important. In microgravity on the ISS, dust clouds separate into multiple clouds and I had to quickly determine which ones capture images from that will become the data for future analysis.”

After reviewing the data, Lori is looking forward to conducting another experiment on the same subject of thermal energy of dust clouds. 

“I am so excited that the work behind my Ph.D. was part of a project on the ISS,” said Lori. “It shows that a degree in physics can simply take you anywhere.”

During the golden anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission, Brady Unzicker, a student in the Department of Physics, has been selected to be part of the Class of 2019 by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

“I’ve always wanted to be a physicist,” Brady explained. “I’ve always loved learning how the universe works from things as big as galaxies to something as small as an atom.”

Brady joins a prestigious rank of members whose 2019 class include 52 students from 38 different universities. Astronaut Scholarship recipients receive a $10,000 scholarship, a paid trip to Innovators Weekend, and most importantly life-long engagement with this organization including interaction with astronauts, alumni, and the entire foundation.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation program is personally funded by the Mercury 7 Astronauts, and Brady plans to continue this legacy of giving back through education.

“I hope to be a professor of physics so that I can keep learning about our universe and teach others about this fundamental science,” he shared.


Before entering high school, Michael McCollough knew he wanted to learn about the sky and

“As I went on through high school, it became obvious to me that a degree in physics would be the most
valuable tool to help me understand the sky,” he said.

His time in the Department of Physics earning both his undergraduate and graduate degrees helped
put him on the right path to success. McCollough works for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics, and is an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory that has a
contract with NASA to operate the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

“The theme of Auburn’s Department of Physics is one of inclusion and that we are a real family,” he added. 

He had numerous favorite professors including Dr. Howard Carr, Dr. Ray Askew, Dr. John French,
and Dr. Eugene Clothiaux. 

“The professors in the Department of Physics were outstanding,” McCollough explained. “Dr. Carr was
always there for his students, Dr. Askew was on my master’s committee, Dr. French encouraged me to
pursue my interest in astronomy, and Dr. Clothiaux taught me so much and was integral to my career and

“In my current role, I help maintain the Chandra archive, perform mission-critical work during spacecraft safe modes, share data with other scientists, and am part of a team that is responsible for the Chandra Source Catalog,” he said. “I also conduct research on multi-wavelength observations and studies on X-Ray binaries. I specialize in a specific class called microquasars that is known to produce relativistic jets that can reach velocities close to the speed of light.” 

In 2017, he returned to Auburn University to give the annual Duncan Lecture. 

“To have the faculty from where you received your degrees show such interest in what you are doing and
have accomplished is very rewarding,” he shared. 

When asked why he would encourage students to pursue a degree in physics, McCollough explained:
“The rewards are great. Developing the understanding of logic you gain from learning scientific method and the laws of nature will serve you well for the rest of your life.” 

His passion has turned into an accomplished career. 

“I would have never through of what my career has become when I started my degree at Auburn,” he said.  

“I have been part of a team working on the Hubble Space Telescope, ROSAT, a joint U.S./German
astronomical X-ray observatory at the Goddard Space Flight Center, Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) on the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO) at Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.”

Why should a student earn a degree in physics? 

“A knowledge of physics will open endless doors for you,” McCollough said. “The investment is well worth
it and will continue paying off throughout your life.” 

Learn more about McCollough’s current projects. See images, read about his work including Cygnus X-3, multi-wavelength observations and NICER observations.