Director's Letter - Fall 2022

Lars Bildsten
Photo by Mia Nie.

I have many highlights to share this fall. The banner image above is the new playground at the Munger Physics Residence. Generously funded by Alec & Claudia Webster representing the Helen and Will Webster Foundation and our good friend Charlie Munger, this provides the 5-12 year old visitors to the Residence a place to play while their parents enjoy the stunning mountain views. Thank you Alec, Claudia and Charlie!

We are now back to our full cadre of in-person visitors coming from around the world. There is not a spare bed at the Residence, nor an empty office in Kohn Hall. KITP's amazing staff gets all the credit for keeping pace with this return to business. We are submitting our renewal grant to the National Science Foundation this fall, requesting five years of support for our programs, conferences and other convening activities. We emphasize there that our ability to seamlessly enable attendance via Zoom in addition to our in-person visitors has increased the number of scientists participating in KITP's programs by 50%!

In the academic world, fall is the time of transition. Here at KITP, the biggest yearly changes are the departures and arrivals of KITP's postdoctoral scholars. By the time you read this, eleven will have departed for their next adventures. Here are their worldly, diverse destinations. Isabel Garcia-Garcia will be a postdoc at New York University and member at the IAS next year, and then take up a faculty position at the University of Washington in fall 2023. Xizhi Han is pursuing a career in private industry and is now a quantitative researcher at Citadel Securities. Eyal Karzbrun is now an assistant professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Rocio Kiman has moved to a prize postdoctoral position at Caltech. Sarah Kostinski will take up a faculty position at New York University in early 2023. Zhu-Xi Luo moved to a postdoctoral position at Harvard. Nick Noll is now a senior computational biologist at Karius. May Gade Pedersen moved to Sydney University to take up a prize research fellowship. Sean Ressler is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto. Javier Roulet has moved to a prize postdoctoral position at Caltech. Josephine Suh went to IAS and Princeton for one year as a postdoc and then will take a faculty position at the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology. We wish them all the best of luck in their new adventures and look forward to seeing them return to KITP as program participants.

Five new postdocs arrived this fall. In astrophysics, we have Logan Prust from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Hang Yu from Caltech. In high energy physics, Jessica Howard came from UC Irvine, while in condensed matter physics, we have Utkarsh Agrawal from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Ali Lavasani from University of Maryland. All are actively engaged in our programs and our revived “Local’s" gatherings, where we all learn from each other through talks and conversations.

For many years, KITP has invested in postdoctoral scholars in astrophysics who pursue large scale computation. Like an experimentalist who builds, over time, a large apparatus, these scientists have a similarly long-term focus to create the “instruments" that allow for new exploration. In the story here, two KITP Postdocs (Sean Ressler and Chris White) developed three-dimensional computations of the radiation emitted from gas flowing near super-massive black holes. This involves the physics of the radiation and the hydrodynamics of the gas, but also, the bending of light as it passes near the black hole. As you will read in the article, their efforts are enabling the interpretation of the iconic black hole ``images" you have been seeing in the popular press.

One of KITP's goals is to do all we can to ensure that theoretical physicists remain impactful throughout their careers. We primarily do this through our programs, but our flexibility to enable other visits also has impact. With our constant influx of visitors eager to interact, our intellectual environment is unlike any other, and therefore attracts scientists who come here to move in new directions or even write a book. Here, R. Shankar from Yale University shares with us his experiences here at KITP. KITP also strives to engage the local community via science outreach. Here you can read about the wonderful work that KITP Postdoc Rocio Kiman did this summer in the planetarium at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum. She had prior experience in communicating her science, but can now add the ability to run a planetarium to her CV!

Under the leadership of KITP's Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Stewart, KITP has undertaken a new initiative aimed at supporting faculty with heavy teaching loads at minority-serving undergraduate institutions. The research mentoring offered by these faculty encourages the transition of very talented undergraduates into graduate school. The resulting KITP Fellows program supports a 6-8 week faculty visit to the KITP that is fully funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation. We are now in the first year of our three-year pilot project. Please read the story here of how this came to be, and some initial stories from those Fellows who have already visited.

Every year, we work with our Scientific Advisory Board and the international physics community to create the dozen long programs that we run the subsequent year. The culmination of these efforts yields over 1300 visitors coming to the KITP annually to interact and form new collaborations. To advertise these opportunities, we ask that each program draft a brief write-up describing the program’s goals and also create a Logo that assists the community in identifying the program. The visual appearances of these logos (see here) often lead to them having a life of their own beyond the program itself! I look forward to telling you about these exciting outcomes soon. Wishing you all the best for the fall and holiday season!



~ Lars Bildsten, KITP Director

KITP 2022 Fall Newsletter