Little Shop of Physics announces a new director – Heather Michalak

Brian Jones hands a tye-dyed shirt with the words "Little Shop of Physics" to Heather Michalak.

On the Colorado State University campus, tie-dyed shirts are synonymous with Little Shop of Physics. These shirts were developed years ago as a way to distinguish the outreach program, which has operated at CSU for more than three decades and reached more than 500,000 people worldwide.  

Now, the proverbial tie-dyed shirt is officially being handed off to the next leader of this influential program, Heather Michalak, who has been named the new director of Little Shop of Physics.  

Michalak has been a part of Little Shop of Physics for a long-time – in fact, she was there when the first T-shirt was dyed. She found her way to the outreach program as a CSU student in 1996 and remembers the unique sense of belonging that she found when she entered Little Shop of Physics. After graduating and working in the technology industry, Michalak found her way back to Little Shop of Physics where she volunteered before becoming fulltime staff and then, assistant director.  

Brian Jones hands objects that are symbolic of Little Shop of Physics to Heather Michalak.
The passing of the tie-dyed shirt was accompanied by the passing of other quintessential Little Shop of Physics gear: a plasma ball, slinky, wig, and leaf blower – all tools of the trade.

“Little Shop of Physics is a place for learning, teaching, creating, and belonging,” said Michalak. “I will continue that culture within Little Shop of Physics while pursuing new, exciting directions inspired by our staff, undergraduates, alumni and partners.” 

On Michalak’s list for the future are big events, increased partnerships with schools and in-service teachers, community workshops, and outreach nationally and internationally.  

Michalak is thankful to Brian Jones, who began the program and led Little Shop of Physics for more than 30 years.  

“I am honored to continue the legacy that Brian created,” said Michalak.  

With a new director on board, Jones said he is excited to see the future of Little Shop of Physics unfold.  

“I feel very comfortable stepping back because I know the program will be in good hands,” he said. “The only advice I’d give to Heather is to simply be herself. She’s an intelligent, caring, creative, thoughtful, energetic person. She’s naturally collaborative. She knows how to make people feel accepted and included. She’s willing to learn and grow. All told, she’s just the person the program needs at this moment. I can’t wait to see how things develop in the future.” 

Jones explained that he has decided that now is the perfect time to retire from CSU and pursue his personal passions.  

“I love what I do at Colorado State — I love my students, I love the community, and I treasure every moment I’ve spent here. I’ve had a chance to work my dream job, equal parts tinkering and connecting with students of all ages,” said Jones. “But there are other opportunities that I would like to explore, and I am beyond excited to have the chance to do so. And, after a third of a century of long days and working weekends, I am eager to spend a bit of time relaxing, and to spend more time with my wife Carol.” 

Little Shop of Physics has long been a signature program in the Department of Physics and the College of Natural Sciences and now, Little Shop of Physics will be reporting through the dean’s office. This change will facilitate more connection with all departments in the College and University and will further enable the outreach program to integrate into the College’s strategic vision.