Director's Letter - Fall 2021

Lars Bildsten.
Photo by Carter Hiyama.

KITP is back! The action shot above shows scientists back with us and interacting in the outdoor setting of the newly-named Gurley Courtyard in Kohn Hall. It's been a long haul since March 2020, when we pivoted to all-online programming. I thank all of KITP's staff and our scientific community for their remarkable work and resilience over the last 18 months of uncertainty and change. Now let's see what nature brings next!

We re-opened Kohn Hall for in-person programs in July 2021 (see story on page 2) and have been ramping up operations at the Munger Residence as our visitors return. We have been inhibited from reaching full capacity due to the US travel ban, but that looks likely to change after the ban lifts on November 8, 2021. Even then, we will continue to provide Zoom access to all of our program and conference activities, as we have found this to be an important way to broaden participation in our activities. We've also been busy planning for the future, and have programs organized through Summer 2023.

Fall always marks the time of transitions for KITP's postdoctoral scholars, and three departed this fall. Anna Keselman (Condensed Matter) is now a junior faculty member at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, Nir Mandelker (Astrophysics) is a junior faculty member at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Tianci Zhou (Condensed Matter) is a postdoctoral scholar at MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics. We have eleven new postdoctoral scholars this academic year. In astrophysics, we have Jennifer Barnes from Columbia University, Rocio Kiman from CUNY, and Javier Roulet from Princeton. In high energy physics we have Xizhi Han from Stanford and Ying Zhao from the Institute for Advanced Study, while in condensed matter we have Shang Liu from Harvard, Izabella Lovas from Technical University of Munich, and Ryan Thorngren from Harvard. We have three new biophysicists, Fridtjof Brauns from LMU Munich, Wenping Cui from Boston College, and Sarah Kostinski from Tel Aviv University.

Our postdocs remained productive and impactful during the pandemic, writing about 3 papers each, two-thirds of them with collaborators independent of their KITP and UCSB mentors. They gave an average of 5 scientific talks last year (all on Zoom, of course) and mentored UCSB students, reaching eight undergraduates and over fifteen graduate students. The scientific breadth of their research is remarkable, from studying morphogenesis in animals, to the structure of cold, dense filaments of gas in galaxies, quantum gravity and the nature of entanglement in quantum circuits. You can read on page 3 how May Gade Pedersen and her collaborators used the observed oscillation periods of massive stars from the Kepler telescope to better unravel the levels of mixing within them.

The back page has the inspiring story of a new research thread created by UCSB Physics Emeritus Professor Ray Sawyer. Ray was one of the famous “Gang of Four" who wrote the originating proposal to the National Science Foundation that established the ITP. Thank you to Ray and your colleagues for launching such an exciting endeavor.

About 20 years ago, KITP's then Director David Gross initiated our engagement with local artists to ensure that Kohn Hall would always have a vibrant visual atmosphere. The story on pages 6 and 7 gives an excellent overview of this long-standing artistic engagement. David, at the same time, initiated the transformative effort to identify funds for KITP that are outside of our federal support. This effort caused the renaming of the institute in honor of Fred Kavli, and, over time, a large growth in support from philanthropists and scientific foundations across the country. This rise of scientific philanthropy has led to a more stable future for the institute, and is now openly celebrated with the naming of spaces in Kohn Hall and the Munger Residence displayed on pages 4 and 5.

As part of this donor and support recognition effort, led by our Senior Director of Development Kristi Newton, we also took the opportunity to document the purpose of KITP. A sentence in one of our new plaques captures the essence of KITP: "The institute's intellectual environment-- both physical and virtual -- enhances discovery through collaboration and the exploration and promotion of new areas of scientific study." It's a wonderful institution to lead and I look forward to whatever comes next.


~ Lars Bildsten, KITP Director
KITP Newsletter, Fall 2021