MIT News - Center for Theoretical Physics http://news.mit.edu/topic/mitcenter-theoretical-physics-rss.xml MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Tue, 10 Dec 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Is there dark matter at the center of the Milky Way? http://news.mit.edu/2019/center-milky-way-dark-matter-gce-1211 A new analysis puts dark matter back in the game as a possible source of energy excess at the galactic center. Tue, 10 Dec 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/center-milky-way-dark-matter-gce-1211 <p>MIT physicists are reigniting the possibility, which they previously had snuffed out, that a bright burst of gamma rays at the center of our galaxy may be the result of dark matter after all.</p> <p>For years, physicists have known of a mysterious surplus of energy at the Milky Way’s center, in the form of gamma rays — the most energetic waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. These rays are typically produced by the hottest, most extreme objects in the universe, such as supernovae and pulsars.</p> <p>Gamma rays are found across the disk of the Milky Way, and for the most part physicists understand their sources. But there is a glow of gamma rays at the Milky Way’s center, known as the galactic center excess, or GCE, with properties that are difficult for physicists to explain given what they know about the distribution of stars and gas in the galaxy.</p> <p>There are two leading possibilities for what may be producing this excess: a population of high-energy, rapidly rotating neutron stars known as pulsars, or, more enticingly, a concentrated cloud of dark matter, colliding with itself to produce a glut of gamma rays.</p> <p>In 2015, an MIT-Princeton University team, including associate professor of physics Tracy Slatyer and postdocs Benjamin Safdi and Wei Xue, came down in favor of pulsars. The researchers had analyzed observations of the galactic center taken by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, using a “background model” that they developed to describe all the particle interactions in the galaxy that could produce gamma rays. They concluded, rather definitively, that the GCE was most likely a result of pulsars, and not dark matter.</p> <p>However, in new work, led by MIT postdoc Rebecca Leane, Slatyer has since reassessed this claim. In trying to better understand the 2015 analytical method, Slatyer and Leane found that the model they used could in fact be “tricked” to produce the wrong result. Specifically, the researchers ran the model on actual Fermi observations, as the MIT-Princeton team did in 2015, but this time they added a fake extra signal of dark matter. They found that the model failed to pick up this fake signal, and even as they turned the signal up, the model continued to assume pulsars were at the heart of the excess.</p> <p>The results, published today in the journal <em>Physical Review Letters</em>, highlight a “mismodeling effect” in the 2015 analysis and reopen what many had thought was a closed case.</p> <p>“It’s exciting in that we thought we had eliminated the possibility that this is dark matter,” Slatyer says. “But now there’s a loophole, a systematic error in the claim we made. It reopens the door for the signal to be coming from dark matter.”</p> <p><strong>Milky Way’s center: grainy or smooth?</strong></p> <p>While the Milky Way galaxy more or less resembles a flat disk in space, the excess of gamma rays at its center occupies a more spherical region, extending about 5,000 light years in every direction from the galactic center.</p> <p>In their 2015 study, Slatyer and her colleagues developed a method to determine whether the profile of this spherical region is smooth or “grainy.” They reasoned that, if pulsars are the source of the gamma ray excess, and these pulsars are relatively bright, the gamma rays they emit should inhabit a spherical region that, when imaged, looks grainy, with dark gaps between the bright spots where the pulsars sit.</p> <p>If, however, dark matter is the source of the gamma ray excess, the spherical region should look smooth: “Every line of sight toward the galactic center probably has dark matter particles, so I shouldn’t see any gaps or cold spots in the signal,” Slatyer explains.</p> <p>She and her team used a background model of all the matter and gas in the galaxy, and all the particle interactions that could occur to produce gamma rays. They considered models for the GCE’s spherical region that were grainy on one hand or smooth on the other, and devised a statistical method to tell the difference between them. They then fed into the model actual observations of the spherical region, taken by the Fermi telescope, and looked to see if these observations fit more with a smooth or grainy profile.</p> <p>“We saw it was 100 percent grainy, and so we said, ‘oh, dark matter can’t do that, so it must be something else,’” Slatyer recalls. “My hope was that this would be just the first of many studies of the galactic center region using similar techniques. But by 2018, the main cross-checks of the method were still the ones we’d done in 2015, which made me pretty nervous that we might have missed something.”</p> <p><strong>Planting a fake</strong></p> <p>After arriving at MIT in 2017, Leane became interested in analyzing gamma-ray data. Slatyer suggested they try to test the robustness of the statistical method used in 2015, to develop a deeper understanding of the result. The two researchers asked the difficult question: Under what circumstances would their method break down? If the method withstood interrogation, they could be confident in the original 2015 result. If, however, they discovered scenarios in which the method collapsed, it would suggest something was amiss with their approach, and perhaps dark matter could still be at the center of the gamma ray excess.</p> <p>Leane and Slatyer repeated the approach of the MIT-Princeton team from 2015, but instead of feeding into the model Fermi data, the researchers essentially drew up a fake map of the sky, including a signal of dark matter, and pulsars that were not associated with the gamma ray excess. They fed this map into the model and found that, despite there being a dark matter signal within the spherical region, the model concluded this region was most likely grainy and therefore dominated by pulsars. This was the first clue, Slatyer says, that their method “wasn’t foolproof.”</p> <p>At a conference to present their results thus far, Leane entertained a question from a colleague: What if she added a fake signal of dark matter that was combined with real observations, rather than with a fake background map?</p> <p>The team took up the challenge, feeding the model with data from the Fermi telescope, along with a fake signal of dark matter. Despite the deliberate plant, their statistical analysis again missed the dark matter signal and returned a grainy, pulsar-like picture. Even when they turned up the dark matter signal to four times the size of the actual gamma ray excess, their method failed to see it.</p> <p>“By that stage, I was pretty excited, because I knew the implications were very big — it meant that the dark matter explanation was back on the table,” Leane says.</p> <p>She and Slatyer are working to better understand the bias in their approach, and hope to tune out this bias in the future.</p> <p>“If it’s really dark matter, this would be the first evidence of dark matter interacting with visible matter through forces other than gravity,” Leane says. “The nature of dark matter is one of the biggest open questions in physics at the moment. Identifying this signal as dark matter may allow us to finally expose the fundamental identity of dark matter. No matter what the excess turns out to be, we will learn something new about the universe.”</p> <p>This research was funded in part by the Office of High Energy Physics of the U.S. Department of Energy. This research was conducted in part while Slatyer was a visiting junior professor at the Institute for Advanced Study’s School of Natural Sciences, during which she was supported by the Institute for Advanced Study's John N. Bahcall Fellowship.</p> A map of gamma ray emissions throughout the Milky Way galaxy, based on observations from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The inset depicts the Galactic Center Excess – an unexpected, spherical region of gamma ray emissions at the center of our galaxy, of unknown origin.Credit: NASA/T. Linden, U.ChicagoAstronomy, Astrophysics, Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Physics, Research, School of Science, Space, astronomy and planetary science, Department of Energy (DoE) Physicists design an experiment to pin down the origin of the elements http://news.mit.edu/2019/experiment-oxygen-universe-0820 With help from next-generation particle accelerators, the approach may nail down the rate of oxygen production in the universe. Tue, 20 Aug 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/experiment-oxygen-universe-0820 <p>Nearly all of the oxygen in our universe is forged in the bellies of massive stars like our sun. As these stars contract and burn, they set off thermonuclear reactions within their cores, where nuclei of carbon and helium can collide and fuse in a rare though essential nuclear reaction that generates much of the oxygen in the universe.</p> <p>The rate of this oxygen-generating reaction has been incredibly tricky to pin down. But if researchers can get a good enough estimate of what’s known as the “radiative capture reaction rate,” they can begin to work out the answers to fundamental questions, such as the ratio of carbon to oxygen in the universe. An accurate rate might also help them determine whether an exploding star will settle into the form of a black hole or a neutron star. &nbsp;</p> <p>Now physicists at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS) have come up with an experimental design that could help to nail down the rate of this oxygen-generating reaction. The approach requires a type of particle accelerator that is still under construction, in several locations around the world. Once up and running, such “multimegawatt” linear accelerators may provide just the right conditions to run the oxgen-generating reaction in reverse, as if turning back the clock of star formation.</p> <p>The researchers say such an “inverse reaction” should give them an estimate of the reaction rate that actually occurs in stars, with higher accuracy than has previously been achieved.</p> <p>“The job description of a physicist is to understand the world, and right now, we don’t quite understand where the oxygen in the universe comes from, and, how oxygen and carbon are made,” says Richard Milner, professor of physics at MIT. “If we’re right, this measurement will help us answer some of these important questions in nuclear physics regarding the origin of the elements.”</p> <p>Milner is a co-author of a paper appearing today in the journal <em>Physical Review C</em>, along with lead author and MIT-LNS postdoc Ivica Friščić and MIT Center for Theoretical Physics Senior Research Scientist T. William Donnelly.</p> <p><strong>A precipitous drop</strong></p> <p>The radiative capture reaction rate refers to the reaction between a carbon-12 nucleus and a helium nucleus, also known as an alpha particle, that takes place within a star. When these two nuclei collide, the carbon nucleus effectively “captures” the alpha particle, and in the process, is excited and radiates energy in the form of a photon. What’s left behind is an oxygen-16 nucleus, which ultimately decays to a stable form of oxygen that exists in our atmosphere.</p> <p>But the chances of this reaction occurring naturally in a star are incredibly slim, due to the fact that both an alpha particle and a carbon-12 nucleus are highly positively charged. If they do come in close contact, they are naturally inclined to repel, in what’s known as a Coulomb’s force. To fuse to form oxygen, the pair would have to collide at sufficiently high energies to overcome Coulomb’s force — a rare occurrence. Such an exceedingly low reaction rate would be impossible to detect at the energy levels that exist within stars.</p> <p>For the past five decades, scientists have attempted to simulate the radiative capture reaction rate, in small yet powerful particle accelerators. They do so by colliding beams of helium and carbon in hopes of fusing nuclei from both beams to produce oxygen. They have been able to measure such reactions and calculate the associated reaction rates. However, the energies at which such accelerators collide particles are far higher than what occurs in a star, so much so that the current estimates of the oxygen-generating reaction rate are difficult to extrapolate to what actually occurs within stars.</p> <p>“This reaction is rather well-known at higher energies, but it drops off precipitously as you go down in energy, toward the interesting astrophysical region,” Friščić says.</p> <p><strong>Time, in reverse</strong></p> <p>In the new study, the team decided to resurrect a previous notion, to produce the inverse of the oxygen-generating reaction. The aim, essentially, is to start from oxygen gas and split its nucleus into its starting ingredients: an alpha particle and a carbon-12 nucleus. The team reasoned that the probability of the reaction happening in reverse should be greater, and therefore more easily measured, than the same reaction run forward. The inverse reaction should also be possible at energies nearer to the energy range within actual stars.</p> <p>In order to split oxygen, they would need a high-intensity beam, with a super-high concentration of electrons. (The more electrons that bombard a cloud of oxygen atoms, the more chance there is that one electron among billions will have just the right energy and momentum to collide with and split an oxygen nucleus.)</p> <p>The idea originated with fellow MIT Research Scientist Genya Tsentalovich, who led a proposed experiment at the MIT-Bates South Hall electron storage ring in 2000.&nbsp; Although the experiment was never carried out at the Bates accelerator, which ceased operation in 2005, Donnelly and Milner felt the idea merited to be studed in detail. With the initiation of construction of next-generation linear accelerators in Germany and at Cornell University, having the capability to produce electron beams of high enough intensity, or current, to potentially trigger the inverse reaction, and the arrival of Friščić at MIT in 2016, the study got underway.</p> <p>“The possibility of these new, high-intensity electron machines, with tens of milliamps of current, reawakened our interest in this [inverse reaction] idea,” Milner says.</p> <p>The team proposed an experiment to produce the inverse reaction by shooting a beam of electrons at a cold, ultradense cloud of oxygen. If an electron successfully collided with and split an oxygen atom, it should scatter away with a certain amount of energy, which physicists have previously predicted. The researchers would isolate the collisions involving electrons within this given energy range, and from these, they would isolate the alpha particles produced in the aftermath.</p> <p>Alpha particles are produced when O-16 atoms split. The splitting of other oxygen isotopes can also result in alpha particles, but these would scatter away slightly faster — about 10 nanoseconds faster — than alpha particles produced from the splitting of O-16 atoms. So, the team reasoned they would isolate those alpha particles that were slightly slower, with a slightly shorter “time of flight.”</p> <p>The researchers could then calculate the rate of the inverse reaction, given how often slower alpha particles — and by proxy, the splitting of O-16 atoms — occurred. They then developed a model to relate the inverse reaction to the direct, forward reaction of oxygen production that naturally occurs in stars.</p> <p>“We’re essentially doing the time-reverse reaction,” Milner says. “If you measure that at the precision we’re talking about, you should be able to directly extract the reaction rate, by factors of &nbsp;up to 20 beyond what anybody has done in this region.”</p> <p>Currently, a multimegawatt linear accerator, MESA, is under construction in Germany. &nbsp;Friščić and Milner are collaborating with physicists there to design the experiment, in hopes that, once up and running, they can put their experiment into action to truly pin down the rate at which stars churn oxygen out into the universe.</p> <p>“If we’re right, and we make this measurement, it will allow us to answer how much carbon and oxygen is formed in stars, which is the largest uncertainty that we have in our understanding of how stars evolve,” Milner says.</p> <p>This research was carried out at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science and was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Physics.</p> A new experiment designed by MIT physicists may help to pin down the rate at which huge, massive stars produce oxygen in the universe.Image: NASA/ESA/HubbleBlack holes, Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Nuclear science and engineering, Physics, Research, School of Science, Space, astronomy and planetary science Data-mining for dark matter http://news.mit.edu/2019/tracy-slatyer-professor-0816 Tracy Slatyer hunts through astrophysical data for clues to the invisible universe. Thu, 15 Aug 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/tracy-slatyer-professor-0816 <p>When Tracy Slatyer faced a crisis of confidence early in her educational career, Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” and a certain fictional janitor at MIT helped to bolster her resolve.</p> <p>Slatyer was 11 when her family moved from Canberra, Australia, to the island nation of Fiji. It was a three-year stay, as part of her father’s work for the South Pacific Forum, an intergovernmental organization.</p> <p>“Fiji was quite a way behind the U.S. and Australia in terms of gender equality, and for a girl to be interested in math and science carried noticeable social stigma,” Slatyer recalls. “I got bullied quite a lot.”</p> <p>She eventually sought guidance from the school counselor, who placed the blame for the bullying on the victim herself, saying that Slatyer wasn’t sufficiently “feminine.” Slatyer countered that the bullying seemed to be motivated by the fact that she was interested in and good at math, and she recalls the counselor’s unsympathetic advice: “Well, yes, honey, that’s a problem you can fix.”</p> <p>“I went home and thought about it, and decided that math and science were important to me,” Slatyer says. “I was going to keep doing my best to learn more, and if I got bullied, so be it.”</p> <p>She doubled down on her studies and spent a lot of time at the library; she also benefited from supportive parents, who gave her Hawking’s groundbreaking book on the origins of the universe and the nature of space and time.</p> <p>“It seemed like the language in which these ideas could most naturally be described was that of mathematics,” Slatyer says. “I knew I was pretty good at math. And learning that that talent was potentially something I could apply to understanding how the universe worked, and maybe how it began, was very exciting to me.”</p> <p>Around this same time, the movie “Good Will Hunting” came out in theaters. The story, of a townie custodian at MIT who is discovered as a gifted mathematician, had a motivating impact on Slatyer.</p> <p>“What my 13-year-old self took out of this was, MIT was a place where, if you were talented at math, people would see that as a good thing rather than something to be stigmatized, and make you welcome — even if you were a janitor or a little girl from Fiji,” Slatyer says. “It was my first real indication that such places might exist. Since then, MIT has been an important symbol to me, of valuing intellectual inquiry and being willing to accept anyone in the world.”</p> <p>This year, Slatyer received tenure at MIT and is now the Jerrold R. Zacharias Associate Professor of Physics and a member of the Center for Theoretical Physics and the Laboratory for Nuclear Science. She focuses on searching through telescope data for signals of mysterious phenomena such as dark matter, the invisible stuff that makes up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe but has only been detected through its gravitational pull. In her teaching, she seeks to draw out and support a new and diverse crop of junior scientists.</p> <p>“If you want to understand how the universe works, you want the very best and brightest people,” Slatyer says. “It’s essential that theoretical physics becomes more inclusive and welcoming, both from a moral perspective and to get the best science done.”</p> <p><strong>Connectivity</strong></p> <p>Slatyer’s family eventually moved back to Canberra, where she dove eagerly into the city’s educational opportunities.</p> <p>After earning an undergraduate degree from the Australian National University, followed by a brief stint at the University of Melbourne, Slatyer was accepted to Harvard University as a physics graduate student. Her interests were slowly gravitating toward particle physics, but she was unsure about which direction to take. Then, two of her mentors put her in touch with a junior faculty member, Doug Finkbeiner, who was leading a project to mine astrophysical data for signals of new physics.</p> <p>At the time, much of the physics community was eagerly anticipating the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider and the release of data on particle interactions at high energies, which could potentially reveal physics beyond the Standard Model.</p> <p>In contrast, telescopes have long made public their own data on astrophysical phenomena. What if, instead of looking through these data for objects such as black holes and neutron stars that evolved over millions of years, one could comb through it for signals of more fundamental mysteries, such as hints of new elementary particles and even dark matter?</p> <p>The prospects were new and exciting, and Slatyer promptly took on the challenge.</p> <p><strong>“Chasing that feeling”</strong></p> <p>In 2008, the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope launched, giving astronomers a new view of the cosmos in the gamma-ray band of the electromagnetic spectrum, where high-energy astrophysical phenomena can be seen. Slatyer and Finkbeiner proposed that Fermi’s data might also reveal signals of dark matter, which could theoretically produce high-energy electrons when dark matter particles collide.</p> <p>In 2009, Fermi made its data available to the public, and Slatyer and Finkbeiner —together with Harvard postdoc Greg Dobler and collaborators at New York University — put their mining tools to work as soon as the data were released online.</p> <p>The group eventually constructed a map of the Milky Way galaxy, shining in gamma rays, and revealed a fuzzy, egg-like shape. Upon further analysis, led by Slatyer’s fellow PhD student Meng Su, this fuzzy “haze” coalesced into a figure-eight, or double-bubble structure, extending some 25,000 light-years above and below the disc of the Milky Way. Such a structure had never been observed before. The group named the mysterious structure the “Fermi bubbles,” after the telescope that originally observed it.</p> <p>“It was really special — we were the first people in the history of the world to be able to look at the sky in this way and understand that this structure was there,” Slatyer says. “That’s a really incredible feeling, and chasing that feeling is something that inspires and motivates me, and I think many scientists.”</p> <p><strong>Searching for the invisible</strong></p> <p>Today, Slatyer continues to sift through Fermi data for evidence of dark matter. The Fermi Bubbles’ distinctive shape makes it unlikely they are associated with dark matter; they are more likely to reveal a past eruption from the giant black hole at the Milky Way’s center, or outflows fueled by exploding stars. However, other signals are more promising.</p> <p>Around the center of the Milky Way, where dark matter is thought to concentrate, there is a glow of gamma rays. In 2013, Slatyer, her first PhD student Nicholas Rodd, and collaborators at Harvard University and Fermilab showed this glow had properties similar to what theorists would expect if dark matter particles were colliding and producing visible light. However, in 2015, Slatyer and collaborators at MIT and Princeton University challenged this interpretation with a new analysis, showing that the glow was more consistent with originating from a new population of spinning neutron stars called pulsars.</p> <p>But the case is not quite closed. Recently, Slatyer and MIT postdoc Rebecca Leane reanalyzed the same data, this time injecting a fake dark matter signal into the data, to see whether the techniques developed in 2015 could detect dark matter if it were there. But the signal was missed, suggesting that if there were other, actual signals of dark matter in the Fermi data, they could have been missed as well.</p> <p>Slatyer is now improving on data mining techniques to better detect dark matter in the Fermi data, along with other astrophysical open data. But she won’t be discouraged if her search comes up empty.</p> <p>“There’s no guarantee there is a dark matter signal,” Slatyer says. “But if you never look, you’ll never know. And in searching for dark matter signals in these datasets, you learn other things, like that our galaxy contains giant gamma-ray bubbles, and maybe a new population of pulsars, that no one ever knew about. If you look closely at the data, the universe will often tell you something new.”</p> Associate professor Tracy Slatyer focuses on searching through telescope data for signals of mysterious phenomena such as dark matter, the invisible stuff that makes up more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe but has only been detected through its gravitational pull. In her teaching, she seeks to draw out and support a new and diverse crop of junior scientists.Images: Bryce VickmarkAstronomy, Astrophysics, Data, Center for Theoretical Physics, Faculty, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Physics, Research, School of Science, Diversity and inclusion Daniel Freedman wins Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics http://news.mit.edu/2019/daniel-freedman-breakthrough-prize-physics-0806 MIT professor emeritus will share $3 million prize with Sergio Ferrara and Peter van Nieuwenhuizen for discovery of supergravity. Tue, 06 Aug 2019 10:00:41 -0400 MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/daniel-freedman-breakthrough-prize-physics-0806 <p>Daniel Z. Freedman, professor emeritus in MIT’s departments of Mathematics and Physics, has been awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. He shares the $3 million prize with two colleagues, Sergio Ferrara of CERN and Peter van Nieuwenhuizen of Stony Brook University, with whom he developed the theory of supergravity.</p> <p>The trio is honored for work that combines the principles of supersymmetry, which postulates that all fundamental particles have corresponding, unseen “partner” particles; and Einstein's theory of general relativity, which explains that gravity is the result of the curvature of space-time.</p> <p>When the theory of supersymmetry was developed in 1973, it solved some key problems in particle physics, such as unifying three forces of nature (electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force), but it left out a fourth force: gravity. Freedman, Ferrara, and van Nieuwenhuizen addressed this in 1976 with their theory of supergravity, in which the gravitons of general relativity acquire superpartners called gravitinos.</p> <p>Freedman’s collaboration with Ferrara and van Nieuwenhuizen began late in 1975 at École Normale Supérior in Paris, where he was visiting on a minisabbatical from Stony Brook, where he was a professor. Ferrara had also come to ENS, to work on a different project for a week. The challenge of constructing supergravity was in the air at that time, and Freedman told Ferrara that he was thinking about it. In their discussions, Ferrara suggested that progress could be made via an approach that Freedman had previously used in a related problem involving supersymmetric gauge theories.</p> <p>“That turned me in the right direction,” Freedman recalls. In short order, he formulated the first step in the construction of supergravity and proved its mathematical consistency. “I returned to Stony Brook convinced that I could quickly find the rest of the theory,” he says. However, “I soon realized that it was harder than I had expected.”</p> <p>At that point he asked van Nieuwenhuizen to join him on the project. “We worked very hard for several months until the theory came together. That was when our eureka moment occurred,” he says.</p> <p>“Dan’s work on supergravity has changed how scientists think about physics beyond the standard model, combining principles of supersymmetry and Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” says Michael Sipser, dean of the MIT School of Science and the Donner Professor of Mathematics. “His exemplary research is central to mathematical physics and has given us new pathways to explore in quantum field theory and superstring theory. On behalf of the School of Science, I congratulate Dan and his collaborators for this prestigious award.”</p> <p>Freedman joined the MIT faculty in 1980, first as professor of applied mathematics and later with a joint appointment in the Center for Theoretical Physics. He regularly taught an advanced graduate course on supersymmetry and supergravity. An unusual feature of the course was that each assigned problem set included suggestions of classical music to accompany students’ work.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I treasure my 36 years at MIT,” he says, noting that he&nbsp; worked with “outstanding” graduate students with “great resourcefulness as problem solvers.” Freedman fully retired from MIT in 2016.</p> <p>He is now a visiting professor at Stanford University and lives in Palo Alto, California, with his wife, Miriam, an attorney specializing in public education law.</p> <p>The son of small-business people, Freedman was the first in his family to attend college. He became interested in physics during his first year at Wesleyan University, when he enrolled in a special class that taught physics in parallel with the calculus necessary to understand its mathematical laws. It was a pivotal experience. “Learning that the laws of physics can exactly describe phenomena in nature — that totally turned me on,” he says.</p> <p>Freedman learned about winning the Breakthrough Prize upon returning from a morning boxing class, when his wife told him that a Stanford colleague, who was on the Selection Committee, had been trying to reach him. “When I returned the call, I was overwhelmed with the news,” he says.</p> <p>Freedman, who holds a BA from Wesleyan and an MS and PhD in physics from the University of Wisconsin, is a former Sloan Fellow and a two-time Guggenheim Fellow. The three collaborators received the Dirac Medal and Prize in 1993, and the Dannie Heineman Prize in Mathematical Physics in 2006. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.</p> <p>Founded by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the Breakthrough Prizes recognize the world’s top scientists in life sciences, fundamental physics, and mathematics. The Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics honors profound contributions to human knowledge in physics. Earlier honorees include Jocelyn Bell Burnell; the <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2016/ligo-researchers-awarded-special-breakthrough-prize-fundamental-physics-0504">LIGO research team</a>, including MIT Professor Emeritus Rainer Weiss; and Stephen Hawking. &nbsp;</p> Daniel FreedmanImage courtesy of Daniel FreedmanPhysics, School of Science, Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Mathematics Seeking new physics, scientists borrow from social networks http://news.mit.edu/2019/new-physics-anomalous-particles-0726 Technique can spot anomalous particle smashups that may point to phenomena beyond the Standard Model. Thu, 25 Jul 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/new-physics-anomalous-particles-0726 <p>When two protons collide, they release pyrotechnic jets of particles, the details of which can tell scientists something about the nature of physics and the fundamental forces that govern the universe.</p> <p>Enormous particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider can generate billions of such collisions per minute by smashing together beams of protons at close to the speed of light. Scientists then search through measurements of these collisions in hopes of unearthing weird, unpredictable behavior beyond the established playbook of physics known as the Standard Model.</p> <p>Now MIT physicists have found a way to automate the search for strange and potentially new physics, with a technique that determines the degree of similarity between pairs of collision events. In this way, they can estimate the relationships among hundreds of thousands of collisions in a proton beam smashup, and create a geometric map of events according to their degree of similarity.</p> <p>The researchers say their new technique is the first to relate multitudes of particle collisions to each other, similar to a social network.</p> <p>“Maps of social networks are based on the degree of connectivity between people, and for example, how many neighbors you need before you get from one friend to another,” says Jesse Thaler, associate professor of physics at MIT. “It’s the same idea here.”</p> <p>Thaler says this social networking of particle collisions can give researchers a sense of the more connected, and therefore more typical, events that occur when protons collide. They can also quickly spot the dissimilar events, on the outskirts of a collision network, which they can further investigate for potentially new physics. He and his collaborators, graduate students Patrick Komiske and Eric Metodiev, carried out the research at the MIT Center for Theoretical Physics and the MIT Laboratory for Nuclear Science. They detail their new technique this week in the journal <em>Physical Review Letters</em>.</p> <p><strong>Seeing the data agnostically</strong></p> <p>Thaler’s group focuses, in part, on developing techniques to analyze open data from the LHC and other particle collider facilities in hopes of digging up interesting physics that others might have initially missed.</p> <p>“Having access to this public data has been wonderful,” Thaler says. “But it’s daunting to sift through this mountain of data to figure out what’s going on.”</p> <p>Physicists normally look through collider data for specific patterns or energies of collisions that they believe to be of interest based on theoretical predictions. Such was the case for the discovery of the Higgs boson, the elusive elementary particle that was predicted by the Standard Model. The particle’s properties were theoretically outlined in detail but had not been observed until 2012, when physicists, knowing approximately what to look for, found signatures of the Higgs boson hidden amid trillions of proton collisions.</p> <p>But what if particles exhibit behavior beyond what the Standard Model predicts, that physicists have no theory to anticipate?</p> <p>Thaler, Komiske, and Metodiev have landed on a novel way to sift through collider data without knowing ahead of time what to look for. Rather than consider a single collision event at a time, they looked for ways to compare multiple events with each other, with the idea that perhaps by determining which events are more typical and which are less so, they might pick out outliers with potentially interesting, unexpected behavior.</p> <p>“What we’re trying to do is to be agnostic about what we think is new physics or not,” says Metodiev.&nbsp; “We want to let the data speak for itself.”</p> <p><strong>Moving dirt</strong></p> <p>Particle collider data are jam-packed with billions of proton collisions, each of which comprises individual sprays of particles. The team realized these sprays are essentially point clouds — collections of dots, similar to the point clouds that represent scenes and objects in computer vision. Researchers in that field have developed an arsenal of techniques to compare point clouds, for example to enable robots to accurately identify objects and obstacles in their environment.</p> <p>Metodiev and Komiske utilized similar techniques to compare point clouds between pairs of collisions in particle collider data. In particular, they adapted an existing algorithm that is designed to calculate the optimal amount of energy, or “work” that is needed to transform one point cloud into another. The crux of the algorithm is based on an abstract idea known as the “earth’s mover’s distance.”</p> <p>“You can imagine deposits of energy as being dirt, and you’re the earth mover who has to move that dirt from one place to another,” Thaler explains. “The amount of sweat that you expend getting from one configuration to another is the notion of distance that we’re calculating.”</p> <p>In other words, the more energy it takes to rearrange one point cloud to resemble another, the farther apart they are in terms of their similarity. Applying this idea to particle collider data, the team was able to calculate the optimal energy it would take to transform a given point cloud into another, one pair at a time. For each pair, they assigned a number, based on the “distance,” or degree of similarity they calculated between the two. They then considered each point cloud as a single point and arranged these points in a social network of sorts.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/mit.edu.newsoffice/files/images/particle-networking1.gif" style="width: 500px; height: 300px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">Three particle collision events, in the form of jets, obtained from the CMS Open Data, form a triangle to represent an abstract "space of events." The animation depicts how one jet can be optimally rearranged into another.</span></em></p> <p>The team has been able to construct a social network of 100,000 pairs of collision events, from open data provided by the LHC, using their technique. The researchers hope that by looking at collision datasets as networks, scientists may be able to quickly flag potentially interesting events at the edges of a given network.</p> <p>“We’d like to have an Instagram page for all the craziest events, or point clouds, recorded by the LHC on a given day,” says Komiske. “This technique is an ideal way to determine that image. Because you just find the thing that’s farthest away from everything else.”</p> <p>Typical collider datasets that are made publicly available normally include several million events, which have been preselected from an original chaos of billions of collisions that occurred at any given moment in a particle accelerator. Thaler says the team is working on ways to scale up their technique to construct larger networks, to potentially visualize the “shape,” or general relationships within an entire dataset of particle collisions.</p> <p>In the near future, he envisions testing the technique on historical data that physicists now know contain milestone discoveries, such as the first detection in 1995 of the top quark, the most massive of all known elementary particles.</p> <p>“The top quark is an object that gives rise to these funny, three-pronged sprays of radiation, which are very dissimilar from typical sprays of one or two prongs,” Thaler says. “If we could rediscover the top quark in this archival data, with this technique that doesn’t need to know what new physics it is looking for, it would be very exciting and could give us confidence in applying this to current datasets, to find more exotic objects.”</p> <p>This research was funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Simons Foundation, and the MIT Quest for Intelligence.</p> MIT physicists find a way to relate hundreds of thousands of particle collisions, similar to a social network.Image: Chelsea Turner, MITData, Center for Theoretical Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Physics, Research, School of Science, Department of Energy (DoE) Meet the 2019 tenured professors in the School of Science http://news.mit.edu/2019/new-tenured-professors-mit-school-science-0710 Eight faculty members are granted tenure in five science departments. Wed, 10 Jul 2019 11:20:01 -0400 School of Science http://news.mit.edu/2019/new-tenured-professors-mit-school-science-0710 <p>MIT granted tenure to eight School of Science faculty members in the departments of Biology; Chemistry; Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences; Mathematics; and Physics.</p> <p><a href="http://web.mit.edu/Physics/people/faculty/detmold_william.html">William Detmold</a>’s research within the area of theoretical particle and nuclear physics incorporates analytical methods, as well as the power of the world’s largest supercomputers, to understand the structure, dynamics, and interactions of particles like protons and to look for evidence of new physical laws at the sub-femtometer scale probed in experiments such as those at the Large Hadron Collider. He joined the Department of Physics in 2012 from the College of William and Mary, where he was an assistant professor. Prior to that, he was a research assistant professor at the University of Washington. He received his BS and PhD from the University of Adelaide in Australia in 1996 and 2002, respectively. Detmold is a researcher in the Center for Theoretical Physics in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science.<br /> <br /> <a href="http://math.mit.edu/~dyatlov/">Semyon Dyatlov</a> explores scattering theory, quantum chaos, and general relativity by employing microlocal analytical and dynamical system methods. He came to the Department of Mathematics as a research fellow in 2013 and became an assistant professor in 2015. He completed his doctorate in mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley in 2013 after receiving a BS in mathematics at Novosibirsk State University in Russia in 2008. Dyatlov spent time after finishing his PhD as a postdoc at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute before moving to MIT.</p> <p><a href="https://biology.mit.edu/profile/mary-gehring/">Mary Gehring</a> studies plant epigenetics. By using a combination of genetic, genomic, and molecular biology, she explores how plants inherit and interpret information that is not encoded in their DNA to better understand plant growth and development. Her lab focuses primarily on <em>Arabidopsis thaliana</em>, a small flowering plant that is a model species for plant research. Gehring joined the Department of Biology in 2010 after performing postdoctoral research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She received her BA in biology from Williams College in 1998 and her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 2005. She is also a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.</p> <p><a href="https://eapsweb.mit.edu/people/davidmcg">David</a><a href="http://eapsweb.mit.edu/people/davidmcg"> McGee</a> performs research in the field of paleoclimate, merging information from stalagmites, lake deposits, and marine sediments with insights from models and theory to understand how precipitation patterns and atmospheric circulation varied in the past. He came to MIT in 2012, joining the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences after completing a NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Minnesota. Before that, he attended Carleton College for his BA in geology in 1993-97, Chatham College for an MA in teaching from 1999 to 2003, Tulane University for his MS from 2004 to 2006, and Columbia University for his PhD from 2006 to 2009. McGee is the director of the MIT Terrascope First-Year Learning Community, a role he has held for the past four years.</p> <p><a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1502">Ankur Moitra</a> works at the interface between theoretical computer science and machine learning by developing algorithms with provable guarantees and foundations for reasoning about their behavior. He joined the Department of Mathematics in 2013. Prior to that, he received his BS in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University in 2007, and his MS and PhD in computer science from MIT in 2009 and 2011, respectively. He was a National Science Foundation postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study until 2013. Moitra was a 2018 recipient of a School of Science Teaching Prize. He is also a principal investigator in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and a core member of the Statistics and Data Science Center.</p> <p><a href="https://chemistry.mit.edu/profile/matthew-d-shoulders/">Matthew Shoulders</a> focuses on integrating biology and chemistry to understand how proteins function in the cellular setting, including proteins’ shape, quantity, and location within the body. This research area has important implications for genetic disorders and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, and viral infections. Shoulders’ lab works to elucidate, at the molecular level, how cells solve the protein-folding problem, and then uses that information to identify how diseases can develop and to provide insight into new targets for drug development. Shoulders joined the Department of Chemistry in 2012 after earning a BS in chemistry and minor in biochemistry from Virginia Tech in 2004 and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2009. He is also an associate member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and a member of the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences.</p> <p><a href="https://web.mit.edu/physics/people/faculty/slatyer_tracy.html">Tracy Slatyer</a> researches fundamental aspects of theoretical physics, answering questions about both visible and dark matter by searching for potential indications of new physics in astrophysical and cosmological data. She has developed and adapted novel techniques for data analysis, modeling, and calculations in quantum field theory; her work has also inspired a range of experimental investigations. The Department of Physics welcomed Slatyer in 2013 after she completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study. She majored in theoretical physics as an undergraduate at the Australian National University, receiving a BS in 2005, and completed her PhD in physics at Harvard University in 2010. In 2017, Slatyer received the School of Science Prize in Graduate Teaching and was also named the first recipient of the school’s Future of Science Award. She is a member of the Center for Theoretical Physics in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science.</p> <p><a href="http://web.mit.edu/physics/people/faculty/williams_mike.html">Michael Williams</a> uses novel experimental methods to improve our knowledge of fundamental particles, including searching for new particles and forces, such as dark matter. He also works on advancing the usage of machine learning within the domain of particle physics research. He joined the Department of Physics in 2012. He previously attended Saint Vincent College as an undergraduate, where he double majored in mathematics and physics. Graduating in 2001, Williams then pursued a doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University, which he completed in 2007. From 2008 to 2012 he was a postdoc at Imperial College London. He is a member of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science.</p> Clockwise from top left: William Detmold, Semyon Dyatlov, Mary Gehring, David McGee, Ankur Moitra, Matthew Shoulders, Tracy Slatyer, and Michael Williams.Photos courtesy of the faculty.School of Science, Biology, Chemistry, EAPS, Mathematics, Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Broad Institute, Center for Environmental Health Sciences (CEHS), Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Whitehead Institute, Center for Theoretical Physics Ultra-Quantum Matter research gets $8 million boost http://news.mit.edu/2019/ultra-quantum-matter-uqm-research-given-8m-boost-0529 MIT’s Senthil Todadri and Xiao-Gang Wen will study highly entangled quantum matter in a collaboration supported by the Simons Foundation. Wed, 29 May 2019 14:40:01 -0400 Julia C. Keller | School of Science http://news.mit.edu/2019/ultra-quantum-matter-uqm-research-given-8m-boost-0529 <p>MIT professors Senthil Todadri and Xiao-Gang Wen are members of the newly established Simons Collaboration on Ultra-Quantum Matter. The effort, funded by the Simons Foundation, is an $8 million&nbsp;four-year award, renewable for three additional years, and will support theoretical physics research across 12 institutions, including MIT.</p> <p>The science of the collaboration is based on a series of recent developments in theoretical physics, revealing that even large macroscopic systems that consist of many atoms or electrons — matter — can behave in an essentially quantum way. Such ultra-quantum matter (UQM)&nbsp;allows for quantum phenomena beyond what can be realized by individual atoms or electrons, including distributed storage of quantum information, fractional quantum numbers, and perfect conducting boundary.&nbsp;</p> <p>While some examples of UQM have been experimentally established, many more have been theoretically proposed, ranging from highly entangled topological states to unconventional metals that behave like a complex soup. The Simons Collaboration on Ultra-Quantum Matter will classify possible forms of UQM, understand their physical properties, and provide the key ideas to enable new realizations of UQM in the lab.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Ultra dream team</strong></p> <p>In particular, the collaboration will draw upon lessons from recently discovered connections between topological states of matter and unconventional metals, and seeks to develop a new theoretical framework for those phases of ultra-quantum matter. Achieving these goals requires ideas and tools from multiple areas of theoretical physics, and accordingly the collaboration brings together experts in condensed matter physics, quantum field theory, quantum information, and atomic physics&nbsp;to forge a new interdisciplinary approach.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> Directed by Professor Ashvin Vishwanath at Harvard University, the collaboration comprises researchers at MIT, Harvard, Caltech, the Institute for Advanced Study, Stanford University, University of California at&nbsp;Santa Barbara, University of California at&nbsp;San Diego, University of Chicago, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Innsbruck, University of Maryland, and University of Washington.&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /> &nbsp;<br /> “I am looking forward to scientific interactions with MIT theorists Senthil and Wen, who are key members of our Simons collaboration on Ultra-Quantum Matter, and hope this will further strengthen collaborations within the Cambridge area and beyond. Their research on highly entangled quantum materials is of fundamental significance, and may provide new directions for device applications, quantum computing, and high-temperature superconductors,” says collaboration director Ashvin Vishwanath of Harvard University.&nbsp;</p> <p>“They have also been mentors for several collaboration members,” says Vishwanath, who worked with Senthil as a Pappalardo Fellow in physics from 2001 to 2004.</p> <p>Senthil has played a leading role in the field of non-Fermi liquids, in the classification of strongly interacting topological insulators and related topological phases, and in the development of field theory dualities with diverse applications in condensed matter physics.</p> <p>Wen is one of the founders of the field of topological phases of matter, introducing the concept of topological order in 1989&nbsp;and opening up a new research direction in condensed matter physics. Wen’s research has often exposed mathematical structures that have not appeared before in condensed matter physics problems.</p> <p><strong>MIT-grown</strong></p> <p>Of the 17 faculty members who are participating in the collaboration, more than half, including Senthil, Wen, and Vishwanath, have MIT affiliations.&nbsp;</p> <p>Michael Hermele, the collaboration’s deputy director and an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was a postdoc in the MIT Condensed Matter Theory group.&nbsp;</p> <p>Associate professors Xie Chen PhD ’12 and Michael Levin PhD ’06, at Caltech and the University of Chicago, respectively, earned their doctorates at MIT under Wen.&nbsp;</p> <p>Other principal investigators include alumni Subir Sachdev ’82, now chair of the Department of Physics at Harvard, and Leon Balents ’89, a physics professor at&nbsp;UC Santa Barbara's Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. John McGreevy, a string theorist who conducted research in the Center for Theoretical Physics (CTP), is now a professor of physics at UC San Diego. Dam Thanh Son and Andreas Karch, former CTP postdocs, are now with the University of Chicago and the University of Washington, respectively.&nbsp;</p> <p>The collaboration is part of the <a href="https://www.simonsfoundation.org/event/mps-conference-on-ultra-quantum-matter-ii/">Simons Collaborations in Mathematics and Physical Sciences</a> program, which aims to “stimulate progress on fundamental scientific questions of major importance in mathematics, theoretical physics and theoretical computer science.” The Simons Collaboration on Ultra-Quantum Matter is one of 12 such collaborative grants ranging across these fields.</p> <p>The first meeting of the newly established collaboration will take place Sept.&nbsp;12-13 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.</p> An artistic impression depicts ultra-quantum matter: from the cold topological matter (blue) to hot, strongly correlated metal (red).Image: Harald Ritsch/University of InnsbruckSchool of Science, Physics, Research, Quantum computing, Materials Science and Engineering, School of Engineering, Metals, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Center for Theoretical Physics, Collaboration, Funding, Alumni/ae Peter Shor wins 2018 Micius Quantum Prize http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-professor-peter-shor-wins-micius-quantum-prize-0426 Shor awarded the $150,000 prize, named after a fifth-century B.C. Chinese scientist, for his groundbreaking theoretical work in the field of quantum computation. Fri, 26 Apr 2019 13:10:00 -0400 Sandi Miller | Department of Mathematics http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-professor-peter-shor-wins-micius-quantum-prize-0426 <p><a href="http://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=247">Peter Shor</a>, the Morss Professor of Applied Mathematics at MIT, has received the<strong>&nbsp;</strong>2018 <a href="http://miciusprize.org/">Micius Quantum Prize</a>, which is awarded within the field of quantum computation.</p> <p>Shor was nominated for his groundbreaking theoretical work on the factoring algorithm and quantum error correction. Shor, who received his PhD in applied mathematics from MIT in 1985&nbsp;under the direction of <a href="http://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=144">Tom Leighton</a>, is known for his work on&nbsp;quantum computation. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shor%27s_algorithm" title="Shor's algorithm">Shor's algorithm</a> is a groundbreaking integer-factoring algorithm that he&nbsp;developed in the mid-1990s, which proves a quantum computer can calculate the prime factors of a large number exponentially faster than a classical computer.</p> <p>“Peter Shor's quantum algorithms, starting from his factoring algorithm — known as Shor's algorithm — has revolutionized the field of quantum&nbsp;computing,” says <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=84">Michel Goemans</a>, department head and professor of mathematics. “One could even say that the field would never have taken off&nbsp;without his deep and significant contributions to it.”</p> <p>The algorithm is designed to use a quantum computer to quickly break through the <a href="https://www.csail.mit.edu/person/ronald-rivest">RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adelman) encryption algorithm</a>, which is based on the difficulty of prime factorization, a major concern for the security of classical computing systems. Shor also introduced quantum error-correcting codes and fault-tolerant quantum computation to protect quantum states against decoherence and noise.</p> <p>He will receive 1 million Chinese yuan (about $150,000) as part of his award, which he expects to put toward his continued research into quantum cryptography and quantum information theory. One idea:&nbsp;“I’m thinking about how quantum information relates to black holes,” he says.</p> <p>More importantly, says&nbsp;Shor, the Micius Quantum Prize “will draw a lot of attention to the field.”</p> <p>“It’s an exciting time,” he says. “The U.S. government and the Chinese government are putting a lot of money into quantum computing. Experimentalists are starting to build quantum computers that are reaching the point where they can’t be simulated by digital computers. People are building very small prototypes, as experiments to see how big quantum computers will behave.”</p> <p>Shor has received many other awards for his quantum computing research, including the <a href="https://www.ictp.it/about-ictp/prizes-awards/the-dirac-medal/the-medallists/dirac-medallists-2017.aspx">Dirac Medal</a> of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, the <a href="https://www.ieee.org/about/awards/bios/sumner-recipients.html">IEEE Eric E. Sumner Award</a>, for Outstanding Contributions to Communications Technology, and the <a href="https://www.mathunion.org/fileadmin/IMU/Prizes/Fields/1998/index.html#Shor">Nevanlinna Prize</a>. He also is affiliated with the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (<a href="https://www.csail.mit.edu/person/peter-shor" title="CSAIL">CSAIL</a>) and the <a href="http://www-ctp.mit.edu/">Center for Theoretical Physics</a>.</p> <p>The Micius Quantum Prize recognizes significant science advances ranging from early conceptual contributions to recent experimental breakthroughs in the field of quantum communications, quantum simulation, quantum computation, and quantum metrology. Funded by private entrepreneurs, the Micius Quantum Foundation was named after the fifth-century B.C. Chinese scientist — who is also known as Mozi —&nbsp;who used a pinhole to discover that light travels in straight lines, and who wrote an earlier version of what later became Newton’s first law of motion.</p> <p>The newly announced 2018 and 2019 laureates represent the inaugural winners of the Micius Quantum Prize. Other 2018 Micius laureates are Juan Ignacio Cirac, David Deutsch, and Peter Zoller, for their theoretical work on quantum algorithms and physical architectures of quantum computers and simulators; and Rainer Blatt and David Wineland, for experiments that demonstrated fundamental elements of quantum computing with trapped ions.</p> <p>The 2019 Micius Quantum Prizes were announced&nbsp;within the field of quantum communication: Charles Bennett, Gilles Brassard, Artur Ekert, and Stephen Wiesner, for their inventions of quantum cryptography, and Jian-Wei Pan and Anton Zeilinger for experiments that enabled practically secure and large-scale quantum communications.</p> <p>The award ceremony for 2018 and 2019 prizes will be held on Sept.&nbsp;20, during the International Conference on Emerging Quantum Technologies in Hefei, China.</p> Peter Shor has bee honored with the 2018 Micius Quantum Prize. He is known for Shor's algorithm, a groundbreaking integer-factoring algorithm relating to quantum computing.Photo: Rosalee ZammutoSchool of Science, Mathematics, Quantum computing, Computer science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty, Center for Theoretical Physics Physicists calculate proton’s pressure distribution for first time http://news.mit.edu/2019/physicists-calculate-proton-pressure-distribution-0222 The particle’s core withstands pressures higher than those inside a neutron star, according to a new study. Fri, 22 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/physicists-calculate-proton-pressure-distribution-0222 <p>Neutron stars are among the densest-known objects in the universe, withstanding pressures so great that one teaspoon of a star’s material would equal about 15 times the weight of the moon. Yet as it turns out, protons — the fundamental particles that make up most of the visible matter in the universe — contain even higher pressures.</p> <p>For the first time, MIT physicists have calculated a proton’s pressure distribution, and found that the particle contains a highly pressurized core that, at its most intense point, is generating greater pressures than are found inside a neutron star.</p> <p>This core pushes out from the proton’s center, while the surrounding region pushes inward. (Imagine a baseball attempting to expand inside a soccer ball that is collapsing.) The competing pressures act to stabilize the proton’s overall structure.</p> <p>The physicists’ results, published today in <em>Physical Review Letters</em>, represent the first time that scientists have calculated a proton’s pressure distribution by taking into account the contributions of both quarks and gluons, the proton’s fundamental, subatomic constituents.</p> <p>“Pressure is a fundamental aspect of the proton that we know very little about at the moment,” says lead author Phiala Shanahan, assistant professor of physics at MIT. “Now we’ve found that quarks and gluons in the center of the proton are generating significant outward pressure, and further to the edges, there’s a confining pressure. With this result, we’re driving toward &nbsp;a complete picture of the proton’s structure.”</p> <p>Shanahan carried out the study with co-author William Detmold, associate professor of physics at MIT. Both are researchers in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science.</p> <p><strong>Remarkable quarks</strong></p> <p>In May 2018, physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility announced that they had measured the proton’s pressure distribution for the first time, using a beam of electrons that they fired at a target made of hydrogen. The electrons interacted with quarks inside the protons in the target. The physicists then determined the pressure distribution throughout the proton, based on the way in which the electrons scattered from the target. Their results showed a high-pressure center in the proton that at its point of highest pressure measured about 10<sup>35</sup> pascals, or 10 times the pressure inside a neutron star.</p> <p>However, Shanahan says their picture of the proton’s pressure was incomplete.</p> <p>“They found a pretty remarkable result,” Shanahan says. “But that result was subject to a number of important assumtions that were necessary because of our incomplete understanding.”</p> <p>Specifically, the researchers based their pressure estimates on the interactions of a proton’s quarks, but not its gluons. Protons consist of both quarks and gluons, which continuously interact in a dynamic and fluctuating way inside the proton. The Jefferson Lab team was only able to determine the contributions of quarks with its detector, which Shanahan says leaves out a large part of a proton’s pressure contribution.</p> <p>“Over the last 60 years, we’ve built up quite a good understanding of the role of quarks in the structure of the proton,” she says. “But gluon structure is far, far harder to understand since it is notoriously difficult to measure or calculate.”</p> <p><strong>A gluon shift</strong></p> <p>Instead of measuring a proton’s pressure using particle accelerators, Shanahan and Detmold looked to include gluons’ role by using supercomputers to calculate the interactions between quarks and gluons that contribute to a proton’s pressure.</p> <p>“Inside a proton, there’s a bubbling quantum vacuum of pairs of quarks and antiquarks, as well as gluons, appearing and disappearing,” Shanahan says. “Our calculations include all of these dynamical fluctuations.”</p> <p>To do this, the team employed a technique in physics known as lattice QCD, for quantum chromodynamics, which is a set of equations that describes the strong force, one of the three fundamental forces of the Standard Model of particle physics. (The other two are the weak and electromagnetic force.) The strong force is what binds quarks and gluons to ultimately make a proton.</p> <p>Lattice QCD calculations use a four-dimensional grid, or lattice, of points to represent the three dimensions of space and one of time. The researchers calculated the pressure inside the proton using the equations of Quantum Chromodynamics defined on the lattice.</p> <p>“It’s hugely computationally demanding, so we use the most powerful supercomputers in the world to do these calculations,” Shanahan explains.</p> <p>The team spent about 18 months running various configurations of quarks and gluons through several different supercomputers, then determined the average pressure at each point from the center of the proton, out to its edge.</p> <p>Compared with the Jefferson Lab results, Shanahan and Detmold found that, by including the contribution of gluons, the distribution of pressure in the proton shifted significantly.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>We’ve looked at the gluon contribution to the pressure distribution for the first time, and we can really see that relative to the previous results the peak has become stronger, and the pressure distribution extends further from the center of the proton,” Shanahan says.</p> <p>In other words, it appears that the highest pressure in the proton is around 10<sup>35</sup> pascals, or 10 times that of a neutron star, similar to what researchers at Jefferson Lab reported. The surrounding low-pressure region extends farther than previously estimated.</p> <p>Confirming these new calculations will require much more powerful detectors, such as the Electron-Ion Collider, a proposed particle accelerator that physicists aim to use to probe the inner structures of protons and neutrons, in more detail than ever before, including gluons.</p> <p>“We’re in the early days of understanding quantitatively the role of gluons in a proton,” Shanahan says. “By combining the experimentally measured quark contribution, with our new calculation of the gluon piece, we have the first complete picture of the proton’s pressure, which is a prediction that can be tested at the new collider in the next 10 years.”</p> <p>This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.</p> MIT physicists have calculated the pressure distribution inside a proton for the first time. They found the proton’s high-pressure core pushes out, while the surrounding region pushes inward.Courtesy of the researchersCenter for Theoretical Physics, Physics, Research, School of Science, National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DoE), Laboratory for Nuclear Science Four from MIT named 2019 Sloan Research Fellows http://news.mit.edu/2019/four-from-mit-named-sloan-research-fellows-0221 Nikhil Agarwal, Daniel Harlow, Andrew Lawrie, and Yufei Zhao receive early-career fellowships. Thu, 21 Feb 2019 12:30:01 -0500 School of Science http://news.mit.edu/2019/four-from-mit-named-sloan-research-fellows-0221 <p>Four members of the MIT faculty representing the departments of <a href="http://economics.mit.edu/">Economics</a>, <a href="https://math.mit.edu/">Mathematics</a>, and <a href="http://web.mit.edu/physics/">Physics</a> were recently named recipients of the <a href="https://sloan.org/fellowships/2019-Fellows">2019 Sloan Research Fellowships</a> from the <a href="https://sloan.org/">Alfred P. Sloan Foundation</a>. The recipients, all early-career scholars in their fields, will each receive a two-year, $70,000 fellowship to further their research.</p> <p>This year’s MIT recipients are among 126 scientists who represent 57 institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada. This year’s cohort brings MIT’s total to nearly 300 fellows — more than any single institution in the history of the fellowships since their inception in 1955.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Sloan Fellows are nominated by their fellow researchers and selected from an independent panel of senior scholars on “the basis of a candidate’s research accomplishments, creativity, and potential to become a leader in his or her field.”</p> <p>2019 Sloan Fellow <a href="http://economics.mit.edu/faculty/agarwaln" target="_blank">Nikhil Agarwal</a>, the Castle Krob Career Development Assistant Professor of Economics in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, studies the empirics of matching markets.&nbsp;</p> <p>“In these marketplaces, agents cannot simply choose their most preferred option from a menu with posted prices, because goods may be rationed or agents on the other side of the market must agree to a match,” Agarwal says of markets that include medical residency programs, kidney donation, and public school choice. “My research interests lie in how the market structure, market rules, and government policies affect economic outcomes in these settings. To this end, my research involves both developing new empirical techniques and answering applied questions,” he says.</p> <p>Nancy Rose, department head and Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics, nominated Agarwal. “Nikhil [Agarwal] has made fundamental contributions to the empirical analysis of matching markets, advancing both economic science and public policy objectives,” says Rose.&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="http://math.mit.edu/~alawrie/">Andrew Lawrie</a>, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, is an analyst studying geometric partial differential equations. He investigates the behavior of waves as they interact with each other and with their surrounding medium.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawrie's research focuses on solitons — coherent solitary waves that describe nonlinear dynamics as varied as rogue waves in the ocean, black holes, and short-pulse lasers. Together with Jacek Jendrej, a researcher at Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Paris 13, Lawrie recently gave the first mathematically rigorous example of a completely inelastic two-soliton collision.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Dr. Lawrie's mathematical versatility and knowledge recently has been put on great display,” says one of Lawrie’s nominators of his paper in the research journal <em>Inventiones Mathematicae.</em> “This is one of those papers that completely describe mathematically an important phenomenon.”</p> <p>“He has amassed an astonishingly broad and deep body of work for somebody who is only on his second year of a tenure track,” says his nominator, who requested anonymity.&nbsp;</p> <p>Lawrie’s colleague <a href="http://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1354">Yufei Zhao</a> was also named a 2019 Sloan Fellow recipient. Zhao, the Class of 1956 Career Development Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics, is a researcher in discrete mathematics who has made significant contributions in combinatorics with applications to computer science.&nbsp;</p> <p>In major research accomplishments, Zhao contributed to a better understanding of the celebrated Green-Tao theorem, which states that prime numbers contain arbitrarily long arithmetic progressions. Zhao’s proof, co-authored with Jacob Fox, Zhao’s advisor and a former professor in the mathematics department, and David Conlon at the University of Oxford, simplifies a central part of the proof, allowing a more direct route to the Green-Tao theorem. Their work improves the understanding of pseudorandom structures — non-random objects with random-like properties — and has other applications in mathematics and computer science.</p> <p>“The resulting proof is clean and fits in 25 pages, well under half the length of the original proof,” says Larry Guth, Zhao’s nominator and a professor of mathematics at MIT. “His expository work on the Green-Tao theorem is a real service to the community.”</p> <p>The final 2019 Sloan Research Fellow recipient is <a href="http://web.mit.edu/physics/people/faculty/harlow_daniel.html">Daniel Harlow</a>, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics. Harlow researches cosmologic events, viewed through the lens of quantum gravity and quantum field theory.</p> <p>“My research is focused on understanding the most extreme events in our universe: black holes and the Big Bang. Each year brings more observational evidence for these events, but without a theory of quantum gravity, we are not able to explain them in a satisfying way,” says Harlow, whose work has helped clarify many aspects of symmetries in quantum field theory and quantum gravity.</p> <p>Harlow, who is a researcher in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, has been working with Hirosi Ooguri, Fred Kavli Professor and director of the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics at Caltech, to give improved explanations of several well-known phenomena in the standard model of particle physics.</p> <p>“We are very proud of Dan’s work with Ooguri on foundational aspects of symmetries in quantum field theory,” says Peter Fisher, department head and professor of physics.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Sloan Research Fellows are the best young scientists working today,” says Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Sloan Fellows stand out for their creativity, for their hard work, for the importance of the issues they tackle, and the energy and innovation with which they tackle them. To be a Sloan Fellow is to be in the vanguard of 21st century science."</p> Left to right: Nikhil Agarwal, Daniel Harlow, Andrew Lawrie, and Yufei Zhao are MIT’s 2019 Sloan Research Fellows. Photos: (l-r) Courtesy/Justin Knight/Allegra Boverman/courtesyFaculty, Sloan fellows, Awards, honors and fellowships, Economics, Mathematics, Physics, Center for Theoretical Physics, School of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Laboratory for Nuclear Science Project to elucidate the structure of atomic nuclei at the femtoscale http://news.mit.edu/2018/project-to-elucidate-structure-of-atomic-nuclei-at-femtoscale-0706 Laboratory for Nuclear Science project selected to explore machine learning for lattice quantum chromodynamics. Fri, 06 Jul 2018 14:00:00 -0400 Scott Morley | Laboratory for Nuclear Science http://news.mit.edu/2018/project-to-elucidate-structure-of-atomic-nuclei-at-femtoscale-0706 <p>The Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility, has selected 10 data science and machine learning projects for its Aurora Early Science Program (ESP). Set to be the nation’s first exascale system upon its expected 2021 arrival, Aurora will be capable of performing a quintillion calculations per second, making it 10 times more powerful than the fastest computer that currently exists.</p> <p>The Aurora ESP, which commenced with 10 simulation-based projects in 2017, is designed to prepare key applications, libraries, and infrastructure for the architecture and scale of the exascale supercomputer. Researchers in the Laboratory for Nuclear Science’s Center for Theoretical Physics have been awarded funding for one of the projects under the ESP. Associate professor of physics William Detmold, assistant professor of physics Phiala Shanahan, and principal research scientist Andrew Pochinsky will use new techniques developed by the group, coupling novel machine learning approaches and state-of-the-art nuclear physics tools, to study the structure of nuclei.</p> <p>Shanahan, who began as an assistant professor at MIT this month, says that the support and early access to frontier computing that the award provides will allow the group to study the possible interactions of dark matter particles with nuclei from our fundamental understanding of particle physics for the first time, providing critical input for experimental searches aiming to unravel the mysteries of dark matter while simultaneously giving insight into fundamental particle physics.</p> <p>“Machine learning coupled with the exascale computational power of Aurora will enable&nbsp;spectacular advances in many areas of science,”&nbsp;Detmold adds. “Combining machine learning to lattice quantum chromodynamics&nbsp;calculations of the strong interactions between the fundamental particles that make up protons and nuclei, our project&nbsp;will enable a new level of understanding of the femtoscale world.”</p> The image is an artist’s visualization of a nucleus as studied in numerical simulations, created using DeepArt neural network visualization software.Image courtesy of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science.Research, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Physics, Center for Theoretical Physics, Department of Energy (DoE), School of Science, Machine learning, Supercomputing, Computer science and technology, Data, Funding Center for Theoretical Physics celebrates 50 years http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-center-theoretical-physics-marks-50th-anniversary-symposium-looking-present-and-future-0328 Symposium explores how novel ideas and experiments are advancing many areas of theoretical physics in newly interconnected ways. Wed, 28 Mar 2018 16:00:00 -0400 Scott Morley | Center for Theoretical Physics http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-center-theoretical-physics-marks-50th-anniversary-symposium-looking-present-and-future-0328 <p>To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding, the Center for Theoretical Physics (CTP) hosted a symposium on Saturday, March 24. "CTP50: The Center for Theoretical Physics: The First Fifty Years" brought together present and former members of the CTP as well as friends, supporters, and others interested in the past, present, and future of theoretical physics.</p> <p>The celebration of 50 years of physics at the CTP featured speakers that included former&nbsp;students, postdocs, and faculty as well as some current CTP faculty members. Some of the key topics explored at the symposium included gravitational waves, black holes, dark matter, neutron stars, and nuclear physics; dualities and symmetries in string theory, condensed matter physics, and quantum field theory; quantum information and computing; and the foundations of quantum physics. Presentations on recent work in these areas were interspersed with historical perspectives and recollections of the CTP's last 50 years, discussion and videos illustrating the current activities in the CTP, and speculations regarding future directions in theoretical physics.</p> <p>"In its 50 years, the CTP has seen its faculty, postdocs, and students make discoveries that have advanced our theoretical understanding of how the universe works," Michael Sipser,&nbsp;Dean of the School of Science, said in his&nbsp;introductory comments to lead off the day.&nbsp;"Now we have a new group of young faculty poised to make discoveries into the nature of the universe in areas such as dark matter —&nbsp;the unknown substance that comprises more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe."</p> <p>The afternoon session was led off by remarks from George Fai from the Office of Nuclear Physics in the U.S.&nbsp;Department of Energy (DOE) who read a congratulatory letter from Tim Hallman, the associate director of the DOE Office of Science.&nbsp;Fai's remarks were followed by commentary from&nbsp;Laboratory from Nuclear Science (LNS) Director Bolek Wyslouch. The CTP is a part of LNS, and Wyslouch commented on the increased level of collaboration between young faculty in nuclear and particle physics, in both theoretical and experimental work.</p> <p>David Kaiser, the Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and a professor of physics, also&nbsp;gave an engaging history of the founding of the Center for Theoretical Physics in a talk entitled: "It was Fifty Years Ago Today ... A Brief Look Back at Physics, MIT and the World of 1968."&nbsp;The CTP was founded in 1968 under its first director, Herman Feshbach, while Viki Weisskopf was the head of the Department of Physics.&nbsp;In his talk, Kaiser traced the development of theoretical physics, beginning with mathematicians-astronomers-philosophers Galileo and Newton, and highlighted the relatively recent development of the notion of "theoretical physicist" as a job title.&nbsp;The CTP&nbsp;as an institute of theoretical physics was one of the first such centers in the United States.</p> <p>The recent observation of gravitational waves from mergers of black holes and neutron stars by the LIGO experiment (for which MIT's Rai Weiss received the 2017 Nobel prize) occurred more than&nbsp;100 years after Einstein's development of the theory of general relativity, which predicts gravitational waves that carry energy across space.&nbsp;This observation has in turn stimulated new developments in theory.&nbsp;Chung Pei-Ma SB '93 PhD '96, who is now&nbsp;the Judy Chandler Webb Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the&nbsp;University of California at Berkeley,&nbsp;described new progress in identifying supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies, and the prospects for detecting gravitational wave signals from mergers of these objects.&nbsp;Sanjay Reddy, a former CTP postdoc who is now a professor at the Institute for Nuclear Theory at the University of Washington,&nbsp;described how combined gravitational and electromagnetic signals from a neutron star merger observed late last year have provided important new information that helps describe nuclear matter at the highest achievable densities, as well as how heavy elements such as gold and platinum are produced in the universe.</p> <p>The mystery of dark matter, which constitutes roughly 80 percent&nbsp;of the mass density of the universe, also provided substantial material for discussion.&nbsp;MIT/CTP Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek described in an entertaining talk how he named the "axion" particle, which is a likely dark matter candidate, after a laundry detergent. Former CTP faculty member Lisa Randall, now the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard,&nbsp;spoke about some new ideas about dark matter, in particular about&nbsp;dark matter particles that may interact with one another.&nbsp;CTP faculty members Will Detmold, Tracy Slatyer, and Jesse Thaler, as well as experimentalist Lindley Winslow from LNS, were featured in the premiere of a new video directed by Bill Lattanzi on efforts at MIT to understand and discover dark matter.</p> <p>Another theme at the symposium was the development of new approaches to understanding quantum field theories, combining methodology from string theory with insights from condensed matter physics.&nbsp;Former CTP postdoc Dam Son, who is now a University Professor at the&nbsp;University of Chicago, described a new theoretical description of a fractional quantum Hall fluid, a special topological state of matter, in terms of composite fermions with equivalent (dual) descriptions in which a particle density in one description becomes a magnetic field in the other, and vice versa.&nbsp;Former MIT Pappalardo Fellow David Tong, a professor of theoretical physics at Cambridge University, using methods motivated from string theory,&nbsp;showed&nbsp;how this was just one among a web of dualities, permitting descriptions of condensed matter systems in terms of very different kinds of field theories,&nbsp;and how these dualities are giving new insights into the structure of quantum field theory in general. Another former Pappalardo Fellow, University of Michigan professor of physics Henriette Elvang, showed how a different novel approach to quantum field theory based on scattering amplitudes can place strong constraints on what kinds of effective&nbsp;theories of low-energy excitations can be consistent in the presence of broken symmetries, relating to the famous work of emeritus CTP faculty member Jeffrey Goldstone in 1961 that led to the Higgs mechanism and the standard model of particle physics. Frank Wilczek also described new ideas about broken time symmetries in quantum field theory, leading to new states of matter called "time crystals" that may lead to new kinds of precision sensors.</p> <p>Quantum theory —&nbsp;including quantum computing, quantum information, connections to quantum gravity, and its foundations —&nbsp;was another focal point of interest at the symposium.&nbsp;Andrew Childs Phd '04,&nbsp;now professor of computer science at the University of Maryland,&nbsp;described efficient methods for simulating quantum physics on quantum computers. Bill Lattanzi also premiered a&nbsp;second new video&nbsp;featuring CTP faculty members Daniel Harlow and Aram Harrow and their work on quantum error correction and black hole physics and the connections between these ideas.&nbsp;CTP professor Alan Guth spoke on the Cosmic Bell Experiment, a test of quantum entanglement, and Einstein's "spooky action at a distance," which makes use of some of the oldest light in the universe to address a loophole in previous experiments to test the foundations of quantum theory.</p> <p>Finally, a panel on the future of theoretical physics featured a&nbsp;lively engagement among the most recent generation of CTP faculty including&nbsp;professors William Detmold, Aram Harrow, Daniel Harlow,&nbsp;Tracy Slatyer,&nbsp;and Jesse Thaler.&nbsp;Some of this discussion focused on the way in which current developments in theory are bringing together once disparate disciplines such as string theory, field theory, nuclear physics, and condensed matter theory in new ways, and ways in which theoretical physicists are getting more closely involved with experiment as large amounts of data become available from particle physics and astrophysics observations.&nbsp;Another theme was the increasing role of large-scale computing in theoretical physics, from lattice QCD, which uses large computers to solve difficult problems of nuclear interactions, to machine learning, which is increasingly used in theoretical and experimental physics, and quantum computing, which may, as Richard Feynman originally suggested, eventually be the most effective way of analyzing real or hypothetical quantum systems.</p> <p>A theme throughout the day, with many former students and postdocs returning to the CTP, was the important role of interactions and community within the theoretical physics group.&nbsp;A <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0BPTH_oerc">video by Lillie Paquette</a> illustrated the unified research and teaching environment in the CTP, made possible with the 2008 renovation when the Elings Center for Theoretical Physics in the Green Center was constructed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Another video made by Harry Bechkes was also premiered, showing the novel ways in which CTP faculty members&nbsp;Iain Stewart and Barton Zwiebach are using new technologies developed together with the&nbsp;Office of Digital Learning (led by CTP faculty member and Dean for Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal) to enhance the teaching of MIT students learning effective field theory and quantum mechanics on campus by blending online and in-class education, while at the same time teaching learners around the globe and shaping the future of their disciplines.</p> <p>At a celebratory dinner at the Samberg Center, several speakers commented on different aspects of the CTP history and culture.&nbsp;Professor Ernest Moniz — who has served as a CTP faculty member, department head for Physics, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, and US. Secretary of Energy during the Obama Administration —&nbsp;emphasized the commitment to social responsibility that has played an important role in the CTP and strongly influenced his career. This ranged from&nbsp;the involvement of CTP founders Herman Feshbach and Francis Low with the Union of Concerned Scientists, which decried military research at MIT and sought to aid silenced researchers behind the Iron Curtain&nbsp;like&nbsp;Andrei Sakharov, to recent examples such as the newly released book "The Physics of Energy" by the CTP's former director Robert Jaffe and its current director Washington Taylor, which gives a unified perspective on physics through the theme of energy and its role and impact on our world.&nbsp;</p> <p>The evening concluded with remarks by Harvard Professor Cumrun Vafa '81, who&nbsp;shared stories of the generous and open environment among the math and physics faculty during his formative time at MIT. Vafa&nbsp;echoed&nbsp;the sentiments of many of the symposium attendees, who had fond recollections of their undergraduate, graduate, and&nbsp;postdoc years at the center.</p> CTP Professors Hong Liu, Jesse Thaler, William Detmold, Daniel Harlow, Tracy Slatyer, and Aram Harrow share a moment during a panel discussion on the future of theoretical physics.Photo: Justin KnightSchool of Science, Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Department of Energy (DoE), Faculty, History of MIT, Machine learning, Nuclear science and engineering, Quantum computing, Special events and speakers, Astrophysics, Black holes, Center for Theoretical Physics Jesse Thaler: Seeking the fundamental nature of matter http://news.mit.edu/2017/faculty-profile-jesse-thaler-1107 Theorist explores particle physics at the boundary of “messy and elegant.” Tue, 07 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2017/faculty-profile-jesse-thaler-1107 <p>Jesse Thaler was a high school student in 1995, when a pivotal discovery in science turned his life’s path toward particle physics.</p> <p>That year, physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory confirmed that its Tevatron particle accelerator had detected, for the first time, a subatomic particle known as the top quark. This particle had been a missing piece in the Standard Model of particle physics — a theory that describes all the known elementary particles and several major, fundamental forces governing the universe.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I remember my physics teacher had a big poster of the Standard Model on the wall, with a question mark next to the top quark,” says Thaler, who recently was granted tenure as an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Physics. “When it was discovered, I remember him writing down the mass of that top quark where there used to be a question mark. I thought discoveries must happen all the time. Little did I know that particle physics is a decades-long, even centuries-long, endeavor to try to understand the fundamental nature of matter, and that I would eventually become a part of that.”</p> <p>Thaler, a member of MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics and the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, is a self-described “pencil and paper, chalk and chalkboard” theorist, and works to derive theoretical insights to characterize the behavior of subatomic particles, and the fundamental forces that give structure to the universe.</p> <p>He’s applying his theories to describe in greater detail the particles that are already known to the Standard Model, as well as predict the behavior of those beyond the Standard Model, which scientific theory cannot quite yet describe — namely, dark matter, which is thought to make up more than a quarter of the total mass-energy of the universe but has yet to be directly detected.</p> <p>Thaler is collaborating with experimental physicists on projects ranging from small tabletop detectors to massive collaborations such as the Large Hadron Collider, and applying his theoretical insights to interpret data from current experiments and guide the design of future experiments.</p> <p>“My research is always a balance between exploring what could, but might not, be there, and what must be there,” Thaler says. “Some would say everything should be beautiful and elegant and mathematical, and others would say the world is messy; you just have to study it. But at this boundary, it’s true some things are messy, and others are elegant, and living at that boundary is where I feel most comfortable.”</p> <p><strong>“Subtleties at play”</strong></p> <p>Thaler grew up in York, Maine, where his mother worked as a high school guidance counselor, and his father practiced family medicine. For high school, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where he quickly learned to think his way through tricky mathematical problems on his own.</p> <p>“There wasn’t a textbook,” Thaler recalls. “You showed up the first day, they gave you a relatively thin stack of problems, and you went to class and had discussions but basically had to teach yourself. It was a very humanities-minded way of thinking of mathematics, which could also apply to physics.”</p> <p>Thaler went on to Brown University, where he pursued a degree in math and physics, doing research into the formation of black holes, while also taking courses in the humanities, from Japanese theatre, to the role of women in Islamic society, to race relations in Brazilian history.</p> <p>“Those classes helped me see that there is nuance, even in cases where you think things might be clear-cut,” Thaler says. “In physics, there are similar types of subtleties at play, where you can take different views on the same problem, and the answer comes from the full synthesis of those views. I try to take that approach in the physics research I do.”</p> <p>To blow off some academic steam, Thaler picked up the electric bass as part of an eight-piece ’70s funk band, and put in late-night hours at the college radio station, playing jazz records under the pseudonym Lester, after legendary jazz saxophonist Lester Young. &nbsp;</p> <p>“I would spin vinyl from 2 to 5:30 a.m. and then would have my 9 a.m. quantum mechanics class,” Thaler fondly recalls. “It was rough.”</p> <p><strong>Flexible physics</strong></p> <p>From Brown, he went on to graduate school at Harvard University, with the intention of studying string theory, which at the time was thought to uniquely explain the synthesis of gravity and quantum mechanics, in one unifying theory.</p> <p>“Now I know that to be not quite the right story,” Thaler says. “The modern view of string theory is not that there’s one theory of everything, but many different theories that come out of string theory, and it’s a challenge to figure out which one of those corresponds to our universe, if any. So there’s not inevitability built in.”</p> <p>During his second-semester quantum field theory course, Thaler’s professor, who would become his thesis advisor, helped him redirect his focus toward another theory, not of everything, but of almost everything: the Standard Model of particle physics. It was in this class that Thaler began to see this model as something that could predict, with 100 percent certainty, that many things in the universe, such as the universal strength of gravity, would always be true. He also started to appreciate that there were limits to the Standard Model, and that there are some things about the universe, such as dark matter, that the theory so far has failed to describe in any organized, mathematical way.</p> <p>“This represented a totally new, flexible way of thinking of quantum field theory where you really poked and prodded it from all angles and figured out where it really breaks down,” Thaler says. “So you have these twin realizations: that certain aspects of the Standard Model are fixed and inevitable, and certain aspects are not fixed and are therefore a source of confusion and a target for future research. Those twin aspects really inspired me.”</p> <p><strong>Knowns and unknowns</strong></p> <p>Thaler spent three and a half years in Berkeley, California, after graduating from Harvard, working as a postdoc at the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science at the University of California at Berkeley, and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which was just up the hill from the university. At the time, he was wrestling with whether to concentrate on the dynamics of behaviors that are known in the Standard Model, or explore phenemona beyond the Standard Model.</p> <p>He was able to get a taste of both sides at Berkeley. On campus, he found that researchers tended to theorize about the more speculative, uncertain parts of the Standard Model, while researchers at the laboratory were looking in detail at more fixed phenomena.</p> <p>“I would spend half my time on campus and half at the lab, and got the synthesis of the two, taking the shuttle bus up and down the hill,” Thaler says. “And sometimes the most exciting things are at the intersection of those two perspectives.”</p> <p>In 2009, he applied for a faculty position at MIT and while interviewing got to talking with physics professor Richard Milner about ways to test for the existence of dark matter. From that conversation, Thaler proposed an experimental design, which has since evolved to become DarkLight, an MIT-led experiment that aims to look for “dark forces,” or interactions that are thought influence dark matter.</p> <p><strong>Finding structure within chaos</strong></p> <p>In January 2010, Thaler moved, “in the dead of winter,” as he recalls, from Berkeley to Cambridge, as an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Physics. He expected a steep curve in learning how to juggle the various teaching and research responsibilities that come with being a professor. What he didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be for him to hand over some of those responsibilities, particularly in research, to his students.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Learning to let go and trust my students was eye-opening,” Thaler says. “The students at MIT are fantastically brilliant, and oftentimes I would have the wrong idea of how something should work. But my students have wonderfully stuck to their guns, even if I was skeptical of their results, and convinced me that they were right.”</p> <p>At MIT, Thaler’s research has made a major impact on several areas of physics, most notably on understanding the structure and behavior of jets produced from the collision of protons at high energies. Protons are made from accumulations of subatomic particles called quarks and gluons, which are held together by a glue-like interaction called the strong force. When protons collide at significant speeds, they release sprays or jets of quarks and gluons, which can rebind into collections of subatomic particles such as pions and kaons.</p> <p>Thaler has developed theoretical techniques to study the strong force and the structure of these jets in detail. His techniques are now being applied at the Large Hadron Collider — the largest, most powerful particle accelerator in the world, based in Geneva, Switzerland — to look for interesting physics, and even signs of dark matter.</p> <p>“Studying these jets is a messy business,” Thaler says. “They look like they’re just chaos. But if you work your way up to the boundary of theoretical insights, you realize within that messiness, there’s structure, and you can exploit that structure to figure out what’s going on. We haven’t yet discovered dark matter in this way, but we have been able to search for it in more exquisite detail than in the past.”</p> <p>Looking to the future, Thaler is eager to explore more uncharted territories beyond the Standard Model, and is working on theoretical designs for other experiments to detect dark matter.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have a responsibility to push on whatever I think I can make an impact on, and push it forward,” Thaler says. “For that, I can’t think of a better place to be than MIT, for the next however many decades.”</p> Professor Jesse Thaler, who recently was granted tenure as an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Physics, is applying his theoretical insights to interpret data from current experiments and guide the design of future experiments. Image: Jared CharneyCenter for Theoretical Physics, Physics, Faculty, Profile, School of Science Arthur Kerman, professor emeritus of physics, dies at 88 http://news.mit.edu/2017/professor-emeritus-arthur-kerman-of-physics-dies-0602 Former Laboratory for Nuclear Science and Center for Theoretical Physics director made important contributions to the study of nuclear structure and reactions. Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:30:01 -0400 Sandi Miller | Department of Physics http://news.mit.edu/2017/professor-emeritus-arthur-kerman-of-physics-dies-0602 <p><a href="http://web.mit.edu/physics/people/faculty/kerman_arthur.html" target="_blank">Arthur K. Kerman</a>, professor emeritus of physics and a distinguished international researcher in MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics (CTP) and Laboratory for Nuclear Science, passed away May 11 at the age of 88.</p> <p>He was known for his work on the theory of the structure of nuclei and on the theory of nuclear reactions.&nbsp;</p> <p>“He was a wonderful friend and colleague, accomplishing many important things in the creation and promotion of science,” says Professor Emeritus Earle Lomon of the CTP, and Kerman’s longtime friend. “We will greatly miss his friendship and guidance.”&nbsp;</p> <p>As Mike Campbell of the University of Rochester poetically says, “The world is a little more empty and quiet without Arthur in it.”</p> <p>Arthur Kent Kerman was born May 3, 1929, in Montreal. He graduated in 1950 from McGill University, where he studied physics and mathematics. At MIT, under Victor Frederick Weisskopf, he completed his PhD in nuclear surface oscillations in 1953. From 1953 to 1954, he studied with R.F. Christy at Caltech under a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship, and in 1954 he began a two-year stay at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen.&nbsp;</p> <p>“With the presence of Niels Bohr, Aage Bohr, Ben Mottelson, and Willem V.R. Malkus, there were many physicists from Europe and elsewhere, including MIT’s Dave Frisch, making the Institute for Physics an exciting place to be,” recalls Lomon. Kerman’s close friend since the early 1940s, when they were Boy Scouts in Montreal, Lomon studied with Kerman at McGill, MIT, and Copenhagen.</p> <p>Kerman’s research included nuclear and high-energy physics, astrophysics, and the development of advanced particle detectors. His interests in theoretical nuclear physics included nuclear quantum chromodynamics-relativistic heavy-ion physics, nuclear reactions, and laser accelerators. He developed a set of nucleon-nucleon potentials, which were found to be useful for the study of nuclear matter and finite nuclei.&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerman published or co-published more than 100 papers. He wrote papers on the effects of the Coriolis interaction in rotational nuclei; quasi-spin; the application of the Hartree-Fock method to the calculation of the ground state properties of spherical and deformed nuclei; pairing correlations in nuclei; and the possible existence of transuranic islands of stability. In his research on reactions, his papers discussed the scattering of fast particles by nuclei. He also wrote papers on intermediate structure in nuclear reactions; on the properties of isobar analog states; and strangeness analog resonances. He was an early advocate of the importance of quarks for understanding nuclear physics. He developed a nucleon-nucleon potential with a soft core that fits nucleon-nucleon scattering data as well as potentials with a hard repulsive core do, which was found to be useful in the study of what is needed beyond scattering data to determine the properties of nuclear matter and finite nuclei.</p> <p>Kerman joined the MIT faculty in 1956 as an assistant professor of physics. In the summers of 1959 and 1960 he was a research associate at the Argonne National Laboratory, and during this period he also was a consultant to the Shell Development Company of Houston, and the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. He also participated in the Physical Science Study Committee — a group of high school and university physics professors — to write a more accessible and engaging high school physics textbook. He was a consultant with Educational Services Inc. from 1959 to 1966, and collaborated in the quantum physics part of the experimental course Physics: A New Introductory Course (nicknamed PANIC), produced by the Education Research Center at MIT. He became an associate professor in 1960, and the following year, he went on academic leave and was “professeur d’echange” at the University of Paris under a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. He became professor in 1964.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the early 1960s, Kerman traveled with physics professors Sheldon Glashow, then of the University of California at Berkeley and now of Boston University, and Charles Schwartz of Berkeley for a month-long visit as potential members to JASON, a scientific advisory group in Washington, sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, among other government groups.</p> <p>“We were asked at the beginning of our particular interests,” recalls Glashow. “What they were getting at was whether we wanted ‘war’ work or ‘peace’ work. Everybody, except us three ‘lefties’ including Arthur, chose ‘war.’ Our ‘peaceful' challenge was to examine all available sources, whether classified or not, to assess the potential value of airborne or satellite surveillance of the Soviet Union and to produce a supposedly unclassified document. We did our work, and our document was promptly classified. We never heard back from JASON, nor did we care.”&nbsp;</p> <p>From 1976-1983, Kerman was the director of MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics, and from 1983 to 1992, he was director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science. For many years, Kerman was a leading force in pushing for new initiatives in science. He had various longstanding consulting relationships with Argonne, Brookhaven, Knolls Atomic Power, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos Scientific, and Oak Ridge national laboratories, and with the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST).&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerman <a href="https://academictree.org/physics/tree.php?pid=125221" target="_blank">advised 43 students</a>, from 1958 to 2006. Kerman officially retired from MIT after 47 years, and retained the title of professor emeritus from 1999 until his passing.</p> <p>He served on many influential bodies, including the Visiting Committees of Bartol Research Foundation, Princeton-Penn Accelerator, the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Inertial Confinement Fusion; National Ignition Facility Programs Review Committee at Livermore; Directorate and Division Review Committees at Livermore; the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider Policy Committee at Brookhaven; Stanford Linear Accelerator Center Scientific Policy Committee; Secretary of Energy Fusion Policy Advisory Committee; the White House Science Council Panel on Science and Technology; the Department of Energy’s Inertial Confinement Fusion Advisory Committee, and the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center Advisory Board. At Los Alamos National Laboratory, he was on the Physics Division Advisory Committee and the Theory Advisory Committee. At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he served on the Director’s Advisory Committee, the Physics and Space Technology Advisory Committee, and as chair, the Director’s Review Committee for the Physics Directorate.&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerman was made a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the New York Academy of Sciences; he was named a Guggenheim Fellow in Natural Sciences. He was associate editor of <em>Reviews of Modern Physics.</em></p> <p>Many describe Kerman as an outspoken advocate in his field. “He never hesitated, regardless of the consequences, to speak out and to support me when called upon in different circumstances to analyze programs that involved large-scale funding while lacking adequate justification,” says MIT&nbsp; professor of physics Bruno Coppi, Kerman’s friend since the 1960s. “We both had to take a public stand, and time proved that our assessments were correct.”</p> <p>“He was, until the end, a valued advisor to different national laboratories and to the highest levels of the Department of Energy,” Coppi adds.</p> <p>In his presentation, “Three Decades of Interacting with Arthur Kerman,” Michael N. Kreisler, SAIC contractor to the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy, and physics professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, had spoken at the 2012 CERN International Conference on Nuclear Reaction Mechanisms about Kerman’s influence on policy within the scientific community: “Arthur either knows everyone of importance or had them as students. I continue to be amazed at his ability to get appointments with everyone in DOE or at the laboratories […] If you want something done, convince Arthur and he’ll be an influential advocate.”</p> <p>Kreisler added, “Whenever you work on an exciting new science project, Arthur is sure to tell you that he was involved in the very early stages of that project. While it sometimes seems impossible for him to have actually done as much as he says, I know from experience that it really is true.”&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Kerman was known for his calm, quiet style of leadership. “He had an extraordinary capacity to think on his feet, inspiring collaborators,” says Lomon. “Although, he had much less interest in writing papers, which was a source of some frustration to the same collaborators.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerman kept frequent contact with his friends and collaborators, despite his declining health. Kerman was coming regularly to weekly physics department lunches. “He delighted in reminiscing about the special atmosphere we had in our department during the times of the ‘Copenhagen Table,’” says Coppi, who met weekly with Kerman, up until a week before his passing away.&nbsp;</p> <p>After one of his stays in Europe, Kerman had brought back a large table that was kept within the Center for Theoretical Physics. “All active theorists and experimentalists, including Herman Feshbach, Felix Villars, and Martin Deutsch, interested in developments of theory in our department and outside, would gather around it,” Coppi recalls.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I always enjoyed and learned from our lively physics discussions,” recalls Professor John Negele. “His shared interest in high-performance computing and extensive contacts in DOE enabled us to obtain a supercomputer at MIT to study the role of quarks in nuclear physics from first principles.”</p> <p>Despite health problems in his later years, his commitment to physics and service to the country still saw him traveling all over the world, as well as back to campus, well into his 80s. Until several days before he died at age 88, he was working with Mark Mueller on a new theory of dark matter and energy.</p> <p>“In recent years Arthur was deeply concerned about the trends in funding and management of research, and of physics in particular, both at the national and international level,” says Coppi. “Arthur will be greatly missed at MIT, in our department, and in the international scientific community.”&nbsp;</p> <p>A long-time resident of Winchester, Massachusetts, Kerman was the husband of Enid Ehrlich for 64 years. He was extremely attached to and proud of his children. Eldest son Ben Kerman ’81, who is an MIT biology alumnus and physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, lives in Hingham, Massachusetts. Dan is a mechanical engineer at the Federal Aviation Administration and lives in New Hampshire. Elizabeth is an architect and lives in San Francisco. Melissa has her own creative arts and crafts business and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jaime got his PhD in physics from Stanford University, works at Lincoln Lab and lives in Arlington, Massachusetts. Arthur is also survived by 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.</p> <p>Gifts in Kerman’s name may be made to the Arthur Kerman Fellowship Fund, #3302540. Gifts will support fellowships in the Department of Physics, with a preference for fellows conducting research in theoretical physics. For more information, contact Director of Development <a href="mailto:emcgrath@mit.edu">Erin McGrath</a> at 617-452-2807.</p> Arthur KermanPhoto: Justin KnightFaculty, Physics, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Center for Theoretical Physics, Obituaries, School of Science Tracy Slatyer wins Future of Science Award http://news.mit.edu/2017/tracy-slatyer-wins-future-of-science-award-0518 Thu, 18 May 2017 15:25:01 -0400 Julia C. Keller | School of Science http://news.mit.edu/2017/tracy-slatyer-wins-future-of-science-award-0518 <p>Tracy Slatyer, the Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics, has been named the first recipient of the School of Science’s Future of Science Award. A member of the Department of Physics and of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Slatyer's research is motivated by fundamental mysteries in particle physics, in particular the nature of dark matter.</p> <p>“Slatyer’s innate sense of curiosity, her ability to use cosmology and astrophysics to study particle physics, and vice versa, will lead to discoveries about the nature of the universe and, ultimately, our place in it,” says Michael Sipser, dean of the School of Science and the Donner Professor of Mathematics.</p> <p>Slatyer’s research focuses on the nature of dark matter, the unknown substance that comprises more than 80 percent of the matter in the universe. She received a Department of Energy Early Career Award for her proposal to develop novel techniques to characterize and explore the possible signatures of dark matter in astrophysical and cosmological datasets.</p> <p>Particular areas of focus include the imprints of dark matter and other new physics on signals from the early universe, the phenomenology of heavy dark matter interacting with lighter force-carrying particles, and disentangling possible faint dark matter signals from novel astrophysical phenomena using gamma-ray data.</p> <p>Slatyer received her undergraduate degree from the Australian National University in 2005, and her PhD from Harvard University in 2010. She worked as a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study for three years before joining the MIT faculty in 2013. She was awarded the 2014 Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society for her discovery of the giant gamma-ray structures known as the Fermi Bubbles. This year, she was given the 2017 Henry Primakoff Award for Early-Career Particle Physics by the Division of Particles and Fields of the American Physical Society.</p> <p>The Future of Science Fund, generously seeded by alumni Jake Xia PhD '92, Jen Lu '90 SM '91, Amy Wong ’90, Brad Hu ’84, Senad Prusac ’90, Bill Park ’93, and parents and donors Marina Chen and Chi-Fu Huang, provides unrestricted funds to support School of Science faculty and students.</p> Tracy SlatyerPhoto courtesy of the Department of Physics.Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Center for Theoretical Physics, Physics, School of Science, Dark matter From football to physics http://news.mit.edu/2017/marshall-scholar-zachary-hulcher-0227 Zachary Hulcher, Marshall Scholar and offensive lineman, will study high-energy physics in the U.K. Mon, 27 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2017/marshall-scholar-zachary-hulcher-0227 <p>Zachary Hulcher was once set on becoming a lawyer. In high school, he took part in mock trials and competed in youth judicial, playing the role of legal counsel and presenting cases in front of a student jury. He says his inspiration came partly from the television show <em>Law and Order: </em>“There’s drama, there’s action, you send people to jail, and you get to argue with people — and I loved arguing with people.”</p> <p>But all that changed one day, sometime during his junior year, when he happened to flip through his physics textbook. In an idle moment at school, he turned to the very back of the book and started to read the chapter about special relativity.</p> <p>Physics, he discovered, put mathematics and science into an almost fantastical perspective. “Ideas that come out of that one chapter are time travel, atomic bombs, things warping when they go really fast, and all these things that shouldn’t be real, but are,” Hulcher says.</p> <p>Hulcher is currently a senior at MIT, majoring in physics as well as computer science and electrical engineering, with a minor in math. “I love the creative process and figuring out how elegant solutions to real problems arise out of seeming chaos,” he says.</p> <p>He is a recipient of the 2017 Marshall Scholarship, awarded each year to up to 40 U.S. students who will pursue graduate degrees at universities in the United Kingdom. Next year, Hulcher will be working toward a PhD in high energy physics at Cambridge University, where he hopes to work on both experimental and theoretical problems of the Standard Model of particle physics, which governs every aspect of the known universe except for gravity.</p> <p><strong>“Beautiful math”</strong></p> <p>Hulcher was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. His mother and father are managers for Alabama’s environmental management agency. Hulcher grew up playing basketball with his younger brother in the family’s backyard. The brothers, who towered over their classmates — Hulcher is 6 feet 4 inches tall and his “little” brother, Jacob, is 6 feet 8 inches — joined their church league, and eventually played for their middle and high school teams. &nbsp;</p> <p>Along with basketball, Hulcher played football and was on the track and field team, balancing an unrelenting schedule of games and practices with an increasingly challenging course load. Hulcher attended the Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School System from kindergarten through high school in Montgomery, where he was valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar. In his freshman year he began taking math and physics classes with Joe Profio, a teacher who, recognizing that Hulcher was one of the top students in his class, urged him to join the school’s math teams.</p> <p>Hulcher soon found himself taking long drives to math competitions across the state with Profio and his classmates. During those drives, Profio would talk about math at a deeper level than he could present in class, and Hulcher credits his passion for physics and math to these inspiring talks.</p> <p>“Our conversations obliterated the idea that the only beauty in the world is found in an imaginary place in a book — beauty was all around me, if I would only look through the right lens,” Hulcher says.</p> <p>It was around that time that Hulcher says “the wheels started cranking to do science.” The answer to how and where to direct this newfound momentum came from an unlikely source, another TV show.</p> <p>“I was watching <em>NCIS</em> one day, and one of the characters is from MIT, and I thought, ‘I’m starting to like more science. I should apply there,’ and I did,” Hulcher recalls.</p> <p><strong>Computing, a physics problem</strong></p> <p>When Hulcher set foot on the campus for the first time — also the first time he had been anywhere north of Washington, D.C. — he was immediately drawn to the physics seminars held during Campus Preview Weekend.</p> <p>“I remember an event called something like ‘physics til you drop,’ and two students were standing at a blackboard, doing physics until 5 or 6 am, long past when I could stay awake,” Hulcher says. “People would ask them questions about quantum mechanics, string theory, general relativity, anything, and they would try to answer them on the board. I was pretty hooked.”</p> <p>He quickly landed on physics as a major but also chose computer science and electrical engineering, a decision based largely on conversations with his roommate, who was also majoring in the subject. When Hulcher took classes that explored quantum computing — the idea that quantum elements such as elementary particles can perform certain calculations vastly more efficiently than classical computers — he realized “all of computing is not just a computer science problem. It’s a physics problem. That’s just cool.”</p> <p><strong>Seeing through plasma</strong></p> <p>In the summer following his sophomore year, Hulcher traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to work at the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment (CMS) at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. There, he helped to implement an alarm system that monitors the accelerator’s major systems and distributes information to key people in the event of a failure.</p> <p>He returned again the following summer, this time as a theorist. The LHC uses giant magnets to steer beams of atoms, such as lead ions, toward each other at close to the speed of light. Hulcher, working as a research assistant with Krishna Rajagopal of MIT's Department of Physics and the Center for Theoretical Physics, was interested in the hot plasma of quarks and gluons produced when two lead ions collide.</p> <p>“The plasma doesn’t last very long before it returns to some other state of matter,” Hulcher says. “You don’t even have time to blast it with light to see it; it would just disappear before the light got there. So you need to use events inside it to study it.”</p> <p>Those events involve jets of particles that spew out from the plasma following a collision between two lead ions. Hulcher worked with Rajagopal and Daniel Pablos, a University of Barcelona graduate student, to help implement a model for how these jets of particles propagate through the resulting plasma. Hulcher recently helped to present the team’s results at a workshop in Paris and is finishing up a paper to submit to a journal — his first publication.</p> <p><strong>The prism of physics</strong></p> <p>In addition to his research work, Hulcher has racked up a good amount of teaching experience. As a teaching assistant for MIT’s Department of Physics, he has graded weekly problem sets for classes in classical mechanics and electricity and magnetism. He tutors fellow students in electrical engineering and computer science subjects, and he has spent the last year as eligibles chair of the MIT chapter of the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. Through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), Hulcher has traveled around the world, to Italy, Mexico, and most recently, Israel, teaching students subjects including physics, electrical engineering, and entrepreneurship.</p> <p>Of all the relationships he’s developed through his time at MIT, he counts those with most of his teammates as some of the strongest. Hulcher joined MIT’s football team as a freshman offensive lineman; he says he will remember hanging out on long nights, p-setting with his friends from the football team. He will also remember MIT as a really long rollercoaster, he says.</p> <p>As for what’s next, Hulcher says the plan for now is “to keep liking physics.” If that happens, he hopes to become a researcher and professor, to help students see the world through physics.</p> <p>“I fell in love with physics,” Hulcher says. “I appreciate light bouncing off a mirror, and smoke billowing up, and light moving through it in a different way. I appreciate looking up at the stars and thinking about what’s out there. The small things I took for granted when I didn’t know much about them, I appreciate now. Everything is just a little prettier.”</p> “I fell in love with physics,” says senior Zachary Hulcher. “I appreciate light bouncing off a mirror, and smoke billowing up, and light going through it in a different way. … The small things I took for granted when I didn’t understand them, I appreciate now. Everything is just a little prettier.” Photo: Casey AtkinsProfile, Students, Awards, honors and fellowships, Energy, Mathematics, MISTI, Physics, Quantum computing, Undergraduate, School of Science, School of Engineering, SHASS, Athletics, Sports and fitness, Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Center for Theoretical Physics