Director's Letter - Fall 2020

Lars Bildsten.
Photo by Carter Hiyama.

The banner image shows the excellent KITP staff during a weekly staff meeting on Zoom. Led by our most able and always spirited Chief Administrative Officer, Lisa Stewart, KITP's staff have gone above and beyond over the last eight months to keep KITP front and center for the international physics community. One of them, Lori Staggs, is highlighted on the back page of this issue. Written by KITP staff member Susie Groves, it’s a wonderful story that also highlights some local history.

KITP’s ability to pivot to the online world has led to increased opportunities for physicists. Our reunion conferences this Summer had an average of 140 scientists in attendance for each event, and allowed for nearly 1,200 scientists to participate from 45 different countries! We just completed six additional conferences in October that were initiated by KITP postdocs. These activities are in addition to our continued delivery of KITP programs via Zoom.

KITP has been hosting Writers-in-Residence for over a decade.  Using support from the Kavli Foundation, we sponsor them to spend time at KITP interacting with our visiting scientists. Just before the pandemic, we were hosting Prof. Brandon Brown from University of San Francisco. He gave a great talk to our visitors about his experience in science communication and, upon departure, wrote a piece that you can read on page 2. Thanks Brandon for your wonderful contribution and very touching story of mentoring as well as capturing the transition at KITP to the time of the pandemic.

Art has been prevalent at KITP for nearly two decades due to the inspiring work of KITP's Artist-in-Residence Jean-Pierre Hébert. You will find the full story on Page 5. Jean-Pierre has also been creating the much loved KITP holiday cards for over a decade and was instrumental in obtaining new works of art for the Charles T. Munger Physics Residence, enhancing the stays of all of our visitors.

KITP's postdocs are an integral part of the science going here. We saw the departure of seven this Fall. Many went on to hold another postdoctoral fellowship: Evan Bauer (Astrophysics) is at Harvard, Benny Tsang (Astrophysics) is at UC-Berkeley, and Chris White (Astrophysics) is at Princeton University and the Flatiron Institute. Others took up junior faculty positions around the world, Chao-Ming Jian (Condensed Matter) is at Cornell University, Thomas Kupfer (Astrophysics) is at Texas Tech, Ken Van Tilburg (Particle Physics/Astrophysics) is at NYU and the Flatiron Institute and Huajia Wang (High Energy) is at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Sciences in Beijing.

We have nine new postdoctoral scholars who arrived this fall. In astrophysics, we have Chad Bustard from University of Wisconsin, Madison, Nir Mandelker from Yale University, and May Pedersen from KU Leuven, Belgium. In high energy physics we have Grant Remmen from UC Berkeley and Josephine Suh from Caltech, while in condensed matter we have Wenjie Ji from MIT, Jong Yeon Lee from Harvard, and Urban Seifert from TU Dresden. We also have a new biophysicist, Nick Noll, from Biozentrum, Basel, Switzerland.

Our postdocs are very productive during their time with us. On page 3, you will find an article summarizing a research project led by Xiao Chen, now an Assistant Professor at Boston College. With his collaborators, he carried out an intriguing study of how spins interact when forced to be on an unusual Kagome lattice. Our postdocs also work together, and on page 7 you can read the article about the work of Sean Ressler and Chris White on large-scale computations meant to increase our understanding of how gas that leaves stars near the center of our galaxy ends up getting near, and eventually into, the super-massive black hole that resides there. The observational proof of the existence of this black hole was acknowledged in October 2020 with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physics to Reinhard Genzel (MPE-Garching and UC Berkeley) and Andrea Ghez (UCLA). I was very happy to see their remarkable accomplishments so aptly recognized, and equally excited to see Roger Penrose (Oxford) also acknowledged for his highly impactful theoretical work on black holes.

In my Spring 2020 newsletter I highlighted the need to reconstruct a large amount of Kohn Hall due to the 10,000 gallon flood. That project is now wrapping up and I will write the full story for the Spring 2021 Newsletter, as by then we should be back in Kohn Hall!


~ Lars Bildsten, KITP Director
KITP Newsletter, Fall 2020