Director's Letter - Fall 2005

David Gross, KITP Director.

2004-05 has been an exciting year for the KITP. We celebrated our 25th anniversary with a special conference, and we inaugurated our new wing.

The conference on “The Future of Physics” celebrated not only the 25th anniversary of the Institute, but also the unity of physics, which is, after all, the assumption on which the KITP is founded. Physics still has a common language and a common community who do all these different things from string theory to biology; physics is still one field though moving in all these different directions [see page 11 for 25 questions that represent the diversity of direction]. Special thanks go to the Kavli Foundation and to the University of California, Santa Barbara for the support that made this stimulating conference possible.

The new wing is more than an addition. It has given us an opportunity to re-conceive and thereby do more with the pre-existing space in Kohn Hall. I especially like the new enclosed courtyard because it provides such a spectacular, centrally located meeting space, where conference participants and visitors can confer via outdoor blackboards or eat together under blue skies or a sun-shading canopy.

The addition was prompted by the need for more space to accommodate more science, and indeed we are now able to run three programs at the same time. We tried this before the addition, and had to limit the number of participants so that each of the programs lacked the critical mass for the most productive of intellectual exchanges. We still have more applicants than places for our programs, which speaks well, we think, for our programming efforts; but because we can routinely welcome enough participants to each of three simultaneous programs, we are now much better able to serve the diverse research interests of the community.

Rapid response

More space has made possible a new initiative of “rapid response” workshops enabling timely response to new experimental discoveries or new ideas. Such workshops are being organized within the time frame of six months instead of the 18- to 24-month lead-time customary for our programs. The first such rapid response, two-week workshop occurs in February of 2006 and addresses a fascinating phenomenon in condensed matter physics—solids with super-fluid behavior—for which there is experimental evidence, but theoretical confusion.

Another new initiative is this newsletter itself, made possible by the general support for our activities provided through membership in the Friends of KITP. With the newsletter we hope to inform both the community of friends and the community of physicists who are the users of the KITP about what is going on at the Institute and what is coming up in the future; and we hope most of all to provide a sense of the transformative research that is occurring here at the KITP.

Reaching out

Our “Friends” come from the Santa Barbara community. This organization with various levels of participation has grown up over the last few years under guidance from members of the Director’s Council, especially Derek Westen. The Director’s Council [members noted on page 9] is made up of leaders in fields other than physics, but with an interest in physics, who meet several times a year to provide the KITP leadership with invaluable support and advice. In addition to our public lecture series, Friends are invited to a host of other activities such as:

  • chalk talks by KITP permanent members,
  • performances, exclusive for the Friends, of plays with a science theme such as “Proof” and “Humble Boy,”
  • presentations at the Santa Barbara Lobero Theatre by physicists such as Brian Greene giving a condensed version of the PBS “NOVA” mini-series based on his book The Elegant Universe, or by myself explaining why I was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2004.

Another outreach program beginning this fall sends our postdocs into the local high schools to give talks on their research and to describe what it’s like to be a scientist and a physicist. Our postdocs are enthusiastic about this opportunity to act as role models for young students. This wonderful idea was initiated and implemented by two UCSB physicists, KITP permanent member Lars Bildsten and former KITP deputy director Dan Hone, who has agreed to act as our director of outreach and education.

Talking directly to high school students is new, but we have addressed their teachers since 1999 when we instituted our extremely successful annual conferences for secondary school teachers of science. Because these conferences for teachers are held in conjunction with one of our conferences for physicists, about 100 high school teachers from all over the United States are able to hear scientists at the forefront of their fields and to interact with them one-to-one. The focus this coming spring is on nanoscience and quantum computing.

Our quintessential outreach tool is the Internet. Via our website,, physicists throughout the world can access the presentations given in our workshops, programs, and conferences. The website averages 75,000 hits a day. We invite you to log on.


David Gross
KITP Newsletter, Fall 2005