David E. Kaplan, Professor, theoretical particle physicist and documentary producer, has been the recipient of three distinct honors this year. He received the 2015 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award in Journalism as well as the 2015 Communication Award of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for his contributions to the production of Particle Fever, the feature-length documentary about the identification of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, in 2012. In addition, Kaplan was named Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2015.
Particle Fever was one of 14 journalistic works to receive the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award in Journalism in 2015 and was selected by the duPont jury from hundreds of entries and evaluated by a board of viewers. Winning documentaries were honored for their storytelling and impact in the public interest. The documentary received critical acclaim for making complex theoretical arguments about particle physics comprehensible. The film was shot over seven years and follows both experimental and theoretical physicists as they approach the announcement from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) of the confirmed existence of the Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle.”
The 2015 Communication Award of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which is supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation as part of the Keck Futures Initiative, includes a $20,000 prize and recognizes excellence in communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public. Particle Fever was selected from 344 entries of works published or aired in 2014 and was evaluated by the National Academies of Sciences communication awards selection committee. The committee cited the documentary as “an engrossing, minute-by-minute diary of the roller-coaster nature of scientific discovery.”
“Our goal was to make a film that allowed people to experience my world through this dramatic time in scientific history,” said Kaplan, “We are honored and very excited to receive these awards.”
Professor Daniel Reich, former Chair of the department, credits Kaplan with making a critical event in particle physics accessible to the general public. “His film illustrates the many human stories behind scientific discovery,” Reich said.
Kaplan’s ability to convey scientific developments to the public, and his ideas about new physics, have been recognized by the American Physical Society (APS), naming him a Fellow in 2015. The citation from the APS for Kaplan’s Fellowship is as follows: “For contributions to models for new physics beyond the Standard Model, collider phenomenology, and dark-matter theory, and for his role as an inventive and effective leader in public outreach.”
Third-year graduate student Alice Cocoros has earned a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The fellowship recognizes outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.
In the past two years, Cocoros has worked with Professor Petar Maksimović and has collaborated with theorists and experimentalists throughout the department for her particle physics research. She has developed a variable that serves as a signal-background discriminant for data collected at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN with the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment. With the NSF fellowship, she will be able to use this variable to look for new heavy particles and supersymmetric particles in the newest data available from the CMS. She also hopes to use new data to look for a particular variety of supersymmetry where the lightest supersymmetric particle decays to electrons and muons that are closely surrounded by quarks and gluons.
In addition to her graduate research, Cocoros is the current Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Diversity Group and a member on the Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council. She also participates in hands-on learning events throughout Baltimore with the Physics and Astronomy Graduate Student Outreach Organization.
Professor Marc Kamionkowski was named one of two winners of the 2015 Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, one of the top prizes in the field, awarded by the American Astronomical Society and the American Institute of Physics.
The honor, awarded annually to outstanding mid-career scientists, carries a cash prize of $10,000 that will be split between Kamionkowski and his corecipient, David Spergel of Princeton University.
The two researchers were recognized “for their outstanding contributions to the investigation of the fluctuations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which have led to major breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe,” according to the selection committee.
Kamionkowski, a theoretical physicist, specializes in cosmology and particle physics. He studies data collected from telescopes and other instruments to suggest a history of the universe that conforms to the laws of physics. His work has often set the stage for successful experimental research conducted by other scientists.
“Marc Kamionkowski’s ground-breaking theoretical work on cosmic background radiation has helped drive experimental progress in the field, work that has forever changed how we view the universe,” said Fred Dylla, the American Institute of Physics’ Executive Director and CEO.
“Marc and David have taught us how to read the subtle bumps and swirls in our exquisite image of the early universe to reveal what happened in the moments of creation,” said David J. Helfand, a past president of the American Astronomical Society.
Kamionkowski joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2011. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the E.O. Lawrence Award for Physics in 2006, and he was named a Simons Foundation Investigator in 2014.
Kamionkowski began his work on cosmic background radiation—leftover thermal energy from the Big Bang—in the 1990s, when the leaders of NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), were beginning to announce results. (Professor Charles L. Bennett, was one of those leaders.) “It seemed like a promising area for investigation,” said Kamionkowski. He co-wrote several papers with Spergel proposing a way to determine the spatial geometry of the universe, using temperature maps of the cosmic microwave background.
“I think that our work helped provide the motivation for these experiments,” Kamionkowski said. “By the beginning of the next decade, we were already starting to see measurements like those we had envisioned.”
Later, Kamionkowski studied the polarization of the CMB, again spurring experimentalists to measure this phenomenon. The JHU-built Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor (CLASS) telescope array, is one example. Kamionkowski’s work has advanced the field of precision cosmology, which has helped to provide data on the age, shape, composition, and velocity of the universe. Within the department, Nobel laureate and Thomas J. Barber Professor, Adam Riess, discovered that the expansion rate of our universe is speeding up, not slowing down as previously expected. The age of the universe (13.8 billion years), was determined by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe mission, of which Charles L. Bennett was the Principal Investigator.
“One of the goals of my research,” said Kamionkowski, “has been to think of ways we can use the CMB and other cosmological measurements to learn about the very early universe or physical phenomena that might occur in a later universe.” The aforementioned CLASS telescope array will help bring Kamionkowski’s research to life by studying the CMB to determine what happened in the first microsecond of the universe.
Kamionkowski is the third consecutive Heineman Prize winner connected to Johns Hopkins. The 2013 winner, Rachel Somerville, held joint appointments at JHU and the Space Telescope Science Institute. Piero Madau, the 2014 recipient, held appointments at JHU and STScI from 1989 to 1999.
Matthew A. Earl, Ph.D. (JHU Physics B.A. ’94) and his wife, Diane McBee, have generously created a new endowment to support a future assistant professorship position within the department. The endowment was developed to attract outstanding young scientists to the faculty. Earl is a retired Associate Professor of Medical Physics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a member of the Johns Hopkins Physics and Astronomy Advisory Council. “I’ve been supporting the department since graduate school and my wife, Diane, and I felt that it was time for us to support the faculty,” said Earl. “Previously we endowed a scholarship for Physics and Astronomy undergraduate majors and more recently recognized the importance of faculty research and teaching. We will enjoy meeting the Earl Assistant Professor and learning about their work.”
Chia-Ling Chien, the department’s Jacob L. Hain Professor, has received the prestigious 2015 International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP)Magnetism Award and Néel Medal from the Commission on Magnetism within the IUPAP.
“I am delighted to receive the award, which should be shared with my students and postdocs over the years,” Chien said.
Chien was cited for pioneering discoveries in magnetic materials and nanostructures. The IUPAP Magnetism Award and Néel Medal are awarded every three years to a scientist who has made extraordinary contributions to the field of magnetism. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the IUPAP Commission on Magnetism.
Professor Daniel Reich praised Chien for his unique perspectives on magnetism’s challenges.
“Professor Chien has made a host of very important contributions to the field of magnetism over the past three decades,” Reich said. “He consistently has come up with new ways of approaching difficult problems, and has repeatedly carried out experiments that cut to the heart of the big scientific questions in our field.”
Chien’s prolific impact on the field of magnetism can be seen in his more than 400 published journal articles and over 18,000 citations. He has researched nearly every branch of magnetism, from new exotic magnetic materials to giant magnetoresistance to superconductivity.
The IUPAP Commission on Magnetism was established in 1957 to promote the exchange of information and views among the members of the international scientific community in the field of magnetism. Chien received his award at the 2015 International Conference on Magnetism in Barcelona.
Research Professor Stephan McCandliss became Director of the Center for Astrophysical Sciences (CAS) on July 1, 2015, replacing Dr. A. Hermann Pfund Professor Timothy Heckman, who became Chair of the department. CAS leads in research across the entire range of astrophysics, from cosmology to galactic structure to planets, using observational, numerical, and theoretical methods.
Since coming to Hopkins 27 years ago, McCandliss has focused on building experimental spectroscopic instruments, flown on sounding rockets, to study far-ultraviolet emissions from the faint gas and dust clouds surrounding comets, planets, stars, and galaxies. Those observations have provided the data for eight doctoral theses and a number of follow-on studies from ground-based and space-based observatories. He is currently preparing to launch his 17th sounding rocket mission to search for resonant hydrogen emission escaping from the star-forming galaxy NGC 1365.
Postdoctoral Researcher Dominika Wylezalek has been appointed as the inaugural Akbari-Mack Postdoctoral Fellow in Physics and Astronomy. The fellowship is made possible by the generous support of Dr. Homaira Akbari and Mr. Roszell Mack. Dr. Akbari is a former postdoctoral researcher in particle physics at JHU and is currently Chair of the Johns Hopkins Physics and Astronomy Advisory Council. The Akbari-Mack Postdoctoral Fellowship was created to help advance the careers of outstanding young scientists in the department.
“I am very honored and grateful to have been awarded with the Akbari-Mack Fellowship” said Wylezalek, “[the Fellowship] will make a major contribution towards my research on the impact of supermassive black holes on their host galaxies and their role in galaxy evolution. “
Wylezalek arrived at Johns Hopkins in October 2014 as a member of the research group led by Professor Nadia Zakamska. Wylezalek’s current research centers on analyzing observations from the Gemini Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope that will allow her to measure the galaxy-wide impact of actively accreting black holes.
Wylezalek earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the University of Heidelberg in 2010. From there she moved to the University of Cambridge where she completed a Master of Science degree in 2011. Wylezalek was then awarded an international Max Planck Graduate Fellowship in Astrophysics and embarked on her Ph.D. studies at the European Southern Observatory near Munich, Germany.
Alexander Szalay, Physics and Astronomy faculty member and Director of the Institute for Data Intensive Engineering and Science (IDIES), as well as an Alumni Centennial Professor of Astronomy, has been named a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor. In addition, Szalay has been selected as the recipient of the 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society Sidney Fernbach Award. Szalay was recognized “for his outstanding contributions to the development of data-intensive computing systems and on the application of such systems in many scientific areas including astrophysics, turbulence, and genomics.” Szalay, also Professor in the Department of Computer Science, will begin to teach a new course in data science through the Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship. The course will offer a mix of statistics, computer science, and basic sciences that he thinks will become the fundamental language used by the next generation of scientists. “The Bloomberg Distinguished Professorships break down a lot of barriers between different schools,” Szalay said. “The ‘One University’ slogan couldn’t be recognized in a nicer way.”
Liang Dai, a fourth-year graduate student, has been awarded a prestigious NASA Einstein Postdoctoral Fellowship. The purpose of the Fellowship is to support postdoctoral research related to NASA’s Physics of the Cosmos program. Dai was one of 10 awardees out of 148 applicants. Dai studies how observations of the large-scale distribution of mass in the universe can help shed light on the physical phenomena that occurred at the birth of the universe. Dai will begin his fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton after completing his Hopkins Ph.D. under the supervision of Professor Marc Kamionkowski.
Third-year graduate student Ulascan Sarica is the recipient of the 2015 William Gardner Fellowship. Sarica will be supported by the fellowship to further his research on the properties of the Higgs boson, such as its quantum numbers and lifetime, using the upgraded experiment with the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Sarica is the seventh Gardner Fellow. The fellowship was founded by William Gardner (JHU Physics Ph.D. ’68), who received his Ph.D. in physics under Professor Warren Moos and had a successful career in fiber optics and telecommunications at Bell Laboratories. Gardner now generously provides support for one of the department’s highest priorities—enabling graduate students to dive into research from the start.
Pieces of the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor telescope (CLASS), built at Johns Hopkins by professors, postdoctoral researchers, and students working at Bloomberg Center, were sent by sea, highway, and dirt road, on a six-week trek to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. Members of JHU’s CLASS team will ultimately reassemble the telescope, which will stand 24 feet tall at an elevation of about 17,000 feet.
CLASS is designed to detect subtle patterns in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), a relic thermal energy of the hot infant universe that is 13.8 billion years old. The CLASS project will examine 70% of the sky—the most yet for a ground-based CMB instrument—for evidence of a polarization pattern in the CMB. That evidence would test the prevailing hypothesis about how the universe expanded. If “inflation” advocates are correct, quantum fluctuations created gravitational waves that left a fingerprint on the CMB. That fingerprint would be a polarization pattern imprinted on the CMB.
Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy and a Johns Hopkins University Gilman Scholar, Charles L. Bennett, is the project co-leader.
“It’s going to be great to work our way toward first light,” said Bennett, referring to the first telescope observations from Chile that are expected to be made in the winter of 2016. “It’s very exciting after 12 years” from the earliest discussions of the CLASS concept, he said.
“We’re all excited that everything is coming together,” added Assistant Professor Tobias Marriage, who is co-leading the CLASS project alongside Bennett.
Assistant Professor Tobias Marriage, Assistant Research Scientist Thomas Essinger-Hileman, and graduate student Aamir Ali have been selected to receive funding generously gifted by Matthew Polk. Mr. Polk (JHU Physics B.A. ’71), is the former Chairman and Co-founder of Polk Audio, Inc. and member of the Johns Hopkins Physics and Astronomy Advisory Council. Polk’s goal for the gift was to support a project within the department that was in its infancy and showed promise for paradigm-shifting technological innovation. The trio is using the funding to develop space-science applications of a novel aluminum-silicon alloy. Supported by Polk’s gift, Ali has gained valuable research experience by making cryogenic measurements of the alloy’s mechanical, thermal and superconducting properties critical to space-science applications.
Charles L. Bennett, the Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy and a Johns Hopkins Gilman Scholar received the 2015 Caterina Tomassoni and Felice Pietro Chisesi Prize in June at the University of Roma “La Sapienz” in Italy.
The Tomassoni Chisesi Prize committee awarded Bennett the Prize for “leadership in two experiments on the cosmic microwave background (CMB) that literally changed our view of the universe: Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), leading to the discovery of primordial spatial fluctuations in the CMB, and Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), leading to precise measurements of the cosmological parameters and establishing the de facto standard cosmological model.”
The Prize, in honor of the memory of Caterina Tomassoni and Felice Pietro Chisesi, recognizes and encourages outstanding achievements in physics. The award consists of 50,000 Euros, an allowance for travel to the award ceremony, and a special “Schola Physica Romana” medal.
“It is hard to overstate the degree to which the cosmic microwave background satellites have clarified our understanding of the universe,” said Nobel Prize recipient Professor Adam Riess, “the recognition of this work is well deserved.”
Bennett’s experimental research on the CMB has endured for 30 years. The CMB is the afterglow from the hot infant universe, which has been traveling across the universe for 13.8 billion years. Bennett’s leadership and participation in the creation of experimental instruments and telescopes has helped to better understand the origin and evolution of the universe through observational studies of the CMB. His work led to what is called the standard cosmological model. With Assistant Professor Tobias Marriage, Bennett is currently building the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor, a telescope array designed to study the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the history of the universe.
“I have had the unusual privilege of working with two fantastic space mission science teams during my career. I learned so much from these superb scientists. It was a pleasure to work with them. I am grateful to them and to the Prize selection committee,” said Bennett.
Bennett is the recipient of several notable awards and honors throughout his career. Those honors include the 2013 Jansky Prize, the 2012 Gruber Cosmology Prize, the 2010 Shaw Prize in Astronomy, the 2009 Comstock Prize in Physics, the 2006 Harvey Prize, and the 2005 Draper medal. He has twice received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and has also received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for WMAP.
Kaplan Selected for National Science Foundation CAREER Award
Assistant Professor Jared Kaplan has received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The award helps to fund Kaplan’s research in Conformal Field Theory (CFT): quantum theories that combine special relativity with scale invariance or invariance under the uniform stretching of space and time. Kaplan uses foundational principles to study CFT and applies these discoveries to phenomenology, quantum gravity, and black hole physics.
Fourth-year graduate student Wesley Fuhrman received a 2015-2016 Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Scholarship for research in novel quantum phenomena and materials. Fuhrman combines experimental techniques, such a neutron scattering, with theoretical methods to unveil the underlying structure responsible for surface quantum states in order to discover and control their unique properties. The ARCS Foundation advances science and technology in the United States by providing financial awards to academically outstanding U.S. citizens studying to complete degrees in science, engineering, and medical research.
The JHU Physics and Astronomy Graduate Student (PAGS) Outreach Organization received a piece of the original Hubble Space Telescope solar array as a prize for their participation in the European Space Agency/Hubble Space Telescope’s “Ode to Hubble” competition. Their entry was a music video parody of the 80s song “Take on Me,” titled “HST,” showing their appreciation for the Hubble Space Telescope’s 25 years of operation. It featured many members of the department and of the Space Telescope Science Institute. Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/XRJVEOmoDXcn The PAGS Outreach Organization plans to show off the solar array section during upcoming events in order to bring a real piece of space-science to Baltimore City students.
Our friend and colleague, Stephen Murray passed away on August 10 of this year. Prior to joining JHU as a Research Professor, he held an appointment for many years at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Professor Murray was a major figure in the world of high energy astrophysics, serving as the Principal Investigator of the High Resolution Camera on NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory. He is also very well known for his role as Principal Investigator for the NASA Astrophysics Data System, which has transformed the way that we do astrophysics research. At JHU, Steve was a valued source of fresh ideas and far-sighted vision who (among other things) helped launch a new undergraduate course in space studies. Even more, he was a true gentleman, and his passing is a great loss.
The New Horizons flyby of Pluto was arguably the biggest science story of 2015, and Hal Weaver (JHU Physics Ph.D. ’82) has been a leader in the mission since it secured funding from NASA. Weaver, who is a Research Professor in the department and a member of the Principal Professional Staff at the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, is the Project Scientist for the New Horizons mission. He is a Co-Investigator on the mission’s science team and is the prime interface with the mission’s engineers. “The data we got from the flyby was spectacular; it really went beyond all of our expectations,” says Weaver. “We didn’t really know what to expect because this is a mission for which you can’t say ‘been there, done that’ for.”
New Horizons scientists have been thrilled by the amazing diversity of terrain on both Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. On Pluto they have discovered water ice mountain ranges as high as the Rockies, evidence of glacier-like flow of a sheet of exotic ices comprised of molecular nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, and an atmosphere sporting photochemical haze layers. Charon has chasms larger than the Grand Canyon, tectonic structures, and a polar hood that might be comprised of material siphoned from Pluto’s surface. Nix and Hydra, two of Pluto’s four small satellites, have been resolved for the first time and are smaller, brighter, and rotating faster than anticipated.
The data collected by New Horizons have unobscured mankind’s portrait of the solar system. “We had never flown by a Kuiper belt object before,” Weaver explained. “It’s a new category of object in the solar system, and this was the initial reconnaissance.” Flyby data have been streaming back to Earth since the spacecraft’s closest encounter with Pluto and the data will continue to download until November 2016.
Weaver describes his position of Project Scientist for New Horizons as, “the person who understands the ‘spirit’ of the scientific objectives that the team is trying to accomplish, and who also has enough of an understanding of the technical aspects to successfully communicate with the engineering team.” Weaver mastered that balancing act from the start of the mission. There was the issue of securing hard-to-attain nuclear fuel for the spacecraft—the team ended up using spare Plutonium-238 from NASA’s Cassini mission. Making a January 2006 launch window was also critical. “Had we missed that window, the Pluto flyby would have been delayed by at least 3 and a half years,” said Weaver, “the gravity assist we got from Jupiter gave us a 20 percent speed boost.” Even until just days before the Pluto flyby, Weaver and his team were observing the space ahead of the probe and were prepared to shift its trajectory to minimize the chances of striking dust and debris. “When traveling at 32,000 miles an hour, even hitting a piece of dust the size of a grain of rice can blow a hole in the spacecraft,” he explained.
Prior to the launch of the New Horizons probe and during the cruise to Pluto, Weaver and his colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to scour the Pluto system for potential collision hazards. During the summer of 2005, Weaver led a team that discovered Pluto’s moons Nix and Hydra, which are approximately 5000 times fainter than Pluto. In 2011 and 2012, Weaver was again part of a team that uncovered even smaller satellites of Pluto: Kerberos and Styx. Because these moons are so small and have such low gravity, they are “debris generators” when struck by meteoroids traveling through the Kuiper belt. The carefully selected path of the probe as it flew past Pluto ultimately turned out to be safe, and the spacecraft emerged completely healthy on the other side of Pluto.
Beyond the data already collected by the spacecraft, Weaver hopes to continue the exploration of the farthest stretches of the solar system by conducting flybys of two additional Kuiper belt objects by 2019. Weaver is currently working with NASA to develop a second phase of the New Horizons mission that would allow the spacecraft to reach those targets.
Formerly a reading room, Bloomberg Center room 464 has undergone a complete transformation. Thanks to the generosity of Matthew R. Witten (JHU Physics B.A.‘95), the room has been completely renovated and reconfigured to encourage collaborative problem solving. The sun-filled room is now an ideal atmosphere for discussion sessions and study groups. Witten is the co-founder of a radiation therapy solutions firm called Witten Clancy Partners and an adjunct associate professor of physics at Hofstra University in New York. He also serves on the Johns Hopkins Physics and Astronomy Advisory Council.