Website of Dr. Brian C. Thomas

Department of Physics & Astronomy

Washburn University

About My Work... Teaching and Research


I teach both physics and astronomy courses at WU. If you happen to be enrolled in one of my courses, you'll find announcements, course files, etc. on the "MyCourses" tab at MyWashburn. I have taught the following courses at WU (click for a PDF version of a recent syllabus):

Interested in what some of my past students have to say about me and my teaching? Check

More cool images from solutions of the 2D wave equation for a vibrating membrane:

Teaching takes a huge amount of work, but I really enjoy it!


Check out my publications (in pre-print form) on the arXiv.

I lead the Washburn Astrobiophysics research group, which includes faculty and students here at Washburn. Broadly speaking, we study effects on the Earth's atmosphere and biosphere by astrophysical sources of radiation. We collaborate closely with the KU Astrobiophysics Working Group.

I began my research work while a graduate student at the University of Kansas (see below), with the Cosmology Research Group. However, I finished up my dissertation there and am continuing to work my in the relatively new field of Astrobiology. Broadly, this field seeks to understand the conditions necessary for life to exist in the universe, and by implication when and where life might be. See here for more on Astrobiology at KU.

I am principal investigator on a 3-year, $500,000 grant entitled "Terrestrial Impact of Nearby Supernovae" which was recently awarded to WU in collaboration with the University of Kansas and MidAmerica Nazarene University. The following articles discuss the project:

I was principal investigator on a 3-year, $500,000 grant entitled "Astrophysical Ionizing Photon Events and Primary Productivity of Earth's Oceans" that was awarded to WU in 2009, in collaboration with the University of Kansas and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The following articles discuss the project:

I have recently been involved in an investigation of possible causes of a major increase in carbon-14 at 774-775 AD (which indicates a major astrophysical radiation source at that time). See the following articles for more:

Of course the classic threat to life on Earth is an asteroid or comet impact, so I've had to get involved in that as well: "Cometary airbursts and atmospheric chemistry: Tunguska and a candidate Younger Dryas event":

Read news articles about my article "Superluminous supernovae: No threat from Eta Carinae":

Read news articles about my article "Modeling atmospheric effects of the September 1859 solar flare":

My work studying the effects on the Earth's atmosphere by a supernova was featured in the March, 2007 issue of Sky & Telescope, in an article entitled "The Supernova Menace."

My dissertation project was an investigation of the possible effects of a (relatively) nearby gamma-ray burst (GRB) event upon the earth's atmosphere. This is part of a larger project which seeks to answer the question of whether a GRB event may have triggered one of the largest mass extinctions in the earth's history, that of the late Ordovician.

This project has gained some media attention over the last few years:

A paper detailing early work on the project was published in August (2004) in the International Journal of Astrobiology (vol. 3, pg. 55) and a pre-print is available here. My work at KU on this project was supported by a NASA Astrobiology grant.


My first graduate research project was on redshift distortions specifically as a probe of the mass density of the universe. A paper on this work was published in the January 20, 2004 edition of Astrophysical Journal (ApJ 601, 28). A pre-print is available here. I am continuing to work on this project part time, along with collaborators.

In the past, I worked for two summers at UOP on a project investigating frequency doubling organic compounds. Mostly I used CAChe molecular modeling software to check computationally the properties of compounds that organic chemists were producing in a lab.

I also spent a summer at UC Santa Cruz, doing work with the Institute for Particle Physics, through the REU program. I spent my time there working on two different projects. One involved analysis of data from a test run of a prototype of the GLAST satellite gamma ray detectors (see here for more info on GLAST). The other was investigating a new material for use in high energy physics detectors.


My Education:

I recieved my B.S in physics from University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California. Click here to see their department site.

I graduated Summa Cum Laude and was named the Outstanding 1999 Graduate for the Department of Physics.

I completed a PhD at the University of Kansas in August of 2005. Click here to see the department site. My first four years at KU were financed by the Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowship, which paid my tuition and a stipend. I have also worked as a graduate teaching assistant at KU and adjunct professor at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. I have also been employed as a graduate research assistant at KU.


And, for those of you who were looking for it, here's my opinion on boiled sausages:
In general... I like them! Especially the Polish kind, mmmm :) Of course, nothing really beats a grilled bratwurst with a nicely chilled Fat Tire!

"The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Washburn University."

This page was last updated on 5/31/15 by Brian Thomas

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