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A lovely picture of my beautiful wife and her son.  Oh, and I am there too.

Lucas E. Johnson. Ph. D

Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy

Hello wonderful person!

A comical distribution of galaxies far away that seem to show a smiling face similar to the Cheshire Cat's grin in the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol (1865).
Figure 1: The Cheshire Cat galaxy group

My name is Lucas, and I am what some may affectionately (or more likely irritatingly) refer to as a nerd.  But in my defense, space is objectively cool.  My interests lie in what is known as extragalactic astronomy which is a branch of astronomy that focuses on everything outside our Milky Way galaxy.  Specifically, my research involves studying how galaxies inside galaxy groups and clusters (think of galaxies orbiting all around one big central galaxy like a swarm of bees around their hive) smash together and merge.  I am an astrophysicist, meaning I not only like to just look at these beautiful pictures, I want to know how these things work, where they came from, and what they will do in the future.  The galaxy group that got me started can be seen here: the Cheshire Cat group (see Figure 1).  

This is a beautiful image with even more beautiful physics at play.  Soon(ish), this cat face will be a cyclops as the two eyes spiral in due to their shared gravitational pull and merge into one gargantuan galaxy many hundreds of times larger than the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies combined.  The curves of blue and red light are actually gravitationally lensed light from background galaxies being bent and focused by the deep and strong gravitational potential well of the Cat.  This image is only possible from our perspective, which makes it even more special in my opinion.

I look for more of these oddballs.  And, we have been successful!  If you are interested in reading about these findings, I refer to you below to the publication list.  I recommend using and searching the names of the papers to get started.  If you are interested in learning more about these things academically, please consider taking AY 102 here at UWA or emailing me to get involved in some undergraduate research opportunities!

I also teach physics here at UWA, so if you find yourself needing that class, I'll see you soon!  We try to take as much of a hands-on approach as possible for learning basic physics principles both in lecture and lab.  The lab is currently being upgraded and overhauled to a massive degree both streamlining and modernizing the labs and the equipment.  We are also piloting a new program here at UWA Physical Sciences called Learning Assistants (LAs) who are highly successful upperclassmen that excelled in my physics courses AND have a desire to teach others!  Great for those who enjoy physics laboratories, enjoy teaching peers, want practice in teaching before your student teaching assignment, and want to make some money as a student employee.  If you are interested, especially if you intend to major in high school science/math education, please email me!

Here is a list of courses I currently offer at UWA:
Course Name Course Number Brief Description Semester Offered Campus/Online
College Physics I PH 201 An algebra/trigonometry based introduction to Newton's Laws of Motion, energy, momentum, harmonic motion, waves, and basic thermodynamics. Fall Campus
College Physics II PH 202 An algebra/trigonometry based introduction to charges, electric fields, voltage, circuits, DC/AC, magnetism, and the nature of light. Spring Campus
Technical Physics I PH 211 Essentially, College Physics I topics "done right" using calculus principles.  Fall Campus
Technical Physics II PH 212 Essentially, College Physics II topics "done right" using calculus principles. Spring Campus

Technical Physics Laboratory I & II (Shared by College/Technical Physics Students)

PH 211L  PH 212L The once-a-week laboratory experience that partners with lectures of that semester.  Required to receive credit for lecture course. Fall/Spring Campus
Solar System Astronomy AY 101 A fun trip through the history of astronomy, the Earth, Moon, planets, other moons, the beginning of our Solar System, and all the junk left over. All Online
Extragalactic Astronomy AY 102 A more fun trip (in my mind at least) of pretty much everything outside our Solar System.  We're talking nebula, star clusters, the birth-life-death cycle of stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters, cosmology, and the birth/death of our universe. All Online
Special Topics PH 408 A student-driven course where you help me decide what upper-level topic you want to learn about in Physics or Astronomy. All Campus


I am also actively working on NEW courses to offer in the fields of Physics & Astronomy in the coming semesters.  Below are a few currently in the works and should be getting approval sooner rather than later if I have all my proverbial ducks in a row.  While you read, may I draw your attention to the possible cross-listed course between Astronomy and Biology; that should be a fun experience for all involved.  If you have any suggestions or if you find one of these interesting and may want to take it in the future, please email me and let me know what you would hope for out of the experience!

Potential Future Courses:
Course Name Brief Description Expected Course "Level"
Modern Physics The gateway to the "cool" part of physics.  Topics include: Special Relativity, the creation of light, the wave nature of matter, the Bohr model of the atom, and introductory quantum theory. Sophomore/Junior
Classical Mechanics Your great-great-great grandparents' physics that still works today.  This will dial Newton's Laws up to 11 and allow us to solve very complex problems using sophisticated mathematics and clever tools.  Topics include: Vector calculus review, Lagrangian Mechanics, Poisson Brackets, and an introduction to Hamiltonian Mechanics. Junior
Electricity & Magnetism The "right" way to do E & M.  We will cast most approximations from PH 202/212 aside and dig down to see what's actually going on.  Topics include:  Gauss's Law, Ampere's Law, Biot-Savart Law, Faraday's Law, and Maxwell's Equations.  Oh, and lots of cross products. Junior
Quantum Mechanics The continuation of Modern Physics.  Topics include:  the Schrodinger Equation, lots of wavefunctions, the principle of superposition, quantum tunneling, quantum entanglement, and the alive-dead cat thing. Senior
Modern Astrophysics This course will cover the most important discoveries in astronomy over the past 100 years or so and delve into how these things do what they do.  Topics include: star formation/death, white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes, the cosmic microwave background, age of the universe, and the expansion of the universe. Sophomore/Junior
Astrobiology A potential cross-listed course where I plan to partner with a biology professor to discuss potential life in the universe.  Topics include: the definition of life, the needs of life to live, where to look for pre-existing life, other places where humans could live, and yes... aliens. Freshmen/Sophomore



  • Postdoctoral Researcher The University of Alabama August 2019 - July 2020
  • Ph.D in Astrophysics The University of Alabama August 2019
  • M.S. in Physics The University of Alabama December 2018
  • B.S. in Physics (Astrophysics concentration) with Mathematics Minor - Summa Cum Laude The University of Alabama May 2012
  • A.S. for Transfer Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, AL August 2010
  • Recent Publications

  • Independent Evidence for earlier formation epochs of fossil groups of galaxies through the intracluster light: the case for Currently under peer review Dupke, Johnson et al. 2022
  • Chandra and HST Snapshots of Fossil System Progenitors The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 869, Issue 2, article id. 170, 10 pp. (2018). Johnson et al. 2018
  • Using Strong Gravitational Lensing to Identify Fossil System Progenitors The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 856, Issue 2, article id. 131, 11 pp. (2018). Johnson et al. 2018
  • Fossil System Progenitors Through the Eyes of Chandra American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #233, id.438.02 Johnson et al. 2019
  • Finding the Progenitors to Today's Fossil Systems American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #231, id. 309.06 Johnson et al. 2018
  • Using Strong Gravitational Lensing to Identify Fossil Group Progenitors American Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #227, id.235.15 Johnson et al. 2016
  • The Cheshire Cat Gravitational Lens: The Formation of a Massive Fossil Group The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 806, Issue 2, article id. 268, 14 pp. (2015). Irwin, Johnson et al. 2015