Staff Spotlight: Physics Staff Bring Lectures to Life

Feb. 21, 2022

Senior Lab Preparator Rick Soden and Manager of Physics Undergraduate Labs and Demonstrations Omelan Stryzak make significant contributions toward the University’s mission to advance learning through scholarship, research, and teaching of unsurpassed quality. Their roles within the Department of Physics create opportunities for undergraduate students to experience their lessons beyond the pages of a textbook.

By Vanessa Livingstone, Office of Human Resources

Rick Soden, senior lab preparator


This is Rick Soden’s go to response every time a student or colleague asks about his day. Rick’s enthusiasm for his career and for Princeton has earned him the nickname ‘Mr. Fantastic’ among his peers.

I really, really enjoy what I do. In fact, I tell people if I won the lottery, I would still come to work at Princeton.

Rick Soden builds physics equipment.

Rick Soden

The senior lab preparator creates custom lab equipment and fully prepares 50 benches, or workstations, for 10 different labs each semester. His creativity provides a unique, hands on experience to undergraduate students that they can’t get anywhere else.

Rick builds equipment that doesn’t exist — which is what makes physics labs at Princeton so innovative. Professors draft lab ideas and ask Rick to create their equipment from scratch. He replicates the equipment for each lab up to 50 times, arranges it on each lab bench for student use, and spends the remainder of the week ensuring the lab rooms are functional and presentable for the next class.

Every day for Rick presents a fun, new challenge. Thus far, his favorite to tackle involved building 400 lab kits that he mailed to every student after they began learning virtually. The experience made a significant, positive impact on the quality of instruction students received online.

Rick’s work is the hallmark of Princeton’s unparalleled educational experience. “I get to work with some of the most intelligent people in the world, and they respect my opinion... I need to do something that contributes — and it’s this.”

Omelan Stryzak, manager of physics undergraduate labs and demonstration

“I never thought I’d be doing this.”

Omelan Stryzak’s role is best described as the person who brings the textbook to life. The manager of physics undergraduate labs and demonstration performs live shows in classes that help the students gain a better understanding of their lectures.

A typical day for Omelan involves preparing equipment, ensuring functionality, and rehearsing with professors before performing demonstrations in class. Demonstrations can occur anywhere between 4-8 times per week depending on the semester’s schedule. In some cases, Omelan finds himself performing back-to-back or in two classrooms simultaneously.

I like staying behind for an hour or two discussing with the students the correlation between the demo and what they just learned — it’s my favorite part.

Omelan Stryzak poses with a demonstration.

Omelan Stryzak

Omelan missed interacting with students while he performed to empty auditoriums during virtual learning. He used to capture the best angles for students to view live from their computers by positioning up to five iPad stands around a demonstration. Now that in person instruction has resumed, Omelan enjoys when students visit his office to discuss ways to improve or modify demonstrations.

Princeton first welcomed Omelan to its staff about 15 years ago to build the sensor head for the cosmic microwave background (CMB) telescope, an instrument that since gained popularity among the science community for looking at the age of space thermally. He spent four years building sensor head components and other telescope associated parts before assuming his current role.

“I’m happy in my work life, and that’s cascaded into my personal life... Princeton truly is a good place to work and live.”

Rick Soden and Omelan Stryzak make more impact than you can imagine.

Feedback? Questions? Suggestions for future stories on staff who exemplify Princeton’s mission? Please write to the HR Communications Team.