Director's Letter - Spring 2017

Lars Bildsten.
Photo by Jakub Ostrowski.

We housed our first physicists and their families in the Charles T. Munger Physics Residence on January 1, 2017. The image above is of Charlie Munger, Fred Gluck and me walking down the Hall of Flags. Those flags represent the nationalities of KITP’s visitors staying in the Munger Residence and are a stunning visual representation of our international reach. This accomplishment, plus KITP’s lasting impact on science discovery, is what we emphasized at our recent Site Visit to the National Science Foundation where our grant renewal is under consideration. The NSF represents more than 75% of our yearly support and is a key partner in our goals of international collaborative research at the intellectual frontier. 

Our 3-month programs are the hallmark of KITP and lead to over 1,000 scientists a year visiting for long periods. Here you will find KITP participant Zohred Davoudi’s article describing the science undertaken by the Fall 2016 program on “Frontiers in Nuclear Physics”, which was well timed for the field. KITP postdocs are with us for about three years and are offered complete freedom to pursue their own research. We highlight the large supercomputer simulations of the outer layers of massive stars being led by KITP postdoc Yan Fei Jiang and former KITP postdoc Matteo Cantiello, read here. Too bad we can’t show movies in the Newsletter! 

We continue to host Public Lectures, Chalk Talks, and Cafe KITP events so that our Santa Barbara community learns more about the frontiers of physics. One of our recent talks was by KITP visitor Nigel Goldenfeld from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He spoke about the origin of turbulence in fluids, a long-standing problem that was the focus of a KITP program in winter 2017. Stephanie Pernett, a third year UCSB undergraduate student studying mechanical engineering, attended the talk and spoke at length with Nigel afterwards. This resulted in an article she wrote for the Daily Nexus, UCSB’s student newspaper. 

The faculty at KITP continue to receive recognition for their research. The highlights this year include the election of David Gross to the Russian Academy of Sciences and an honorary doctorate degree from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (read here). Joe Polchinski received the very prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (read here), allowing him the opportunity to meet both high-tech moguls and celebrities! I was also very honored to receive the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics (read here).

We continue to enhance our visitors’ experience further. Beginning in January of this year, we established an agreement with the Campus Daycare Center to provide care for children of our visiting scientists. This comes as a huge relief to our visitors, as finding reliable child care is a challenge for their short stays (see highlights). Thanks to the Munger Trust for funding the first three years of this new program. 

We have also had a few recent staff transitions. Many of you know Laura Lambert, KITP’s Development Officer of a few years, decided to stay in Austin, Texas after a one-year stint away. I have now recruited Kristi Newton to the KITP as our new Development Officer. Kristi is rapidly working to understand KITP, meet all of our strong supporters and reach out to new people. Kristi and I just returned from two days of meetings in Manhattan, where we made contact with both old and new Friends of KITP. Viena Zeitler, my long-time assistant, has moved to a new position on campus. She kept me running smoothly in my first five years as Director, and I will miss her daily joyful presence! 

In closing, I am very pleased to report that, not only did we open the Munger Residence on time, we also came in under budget! This is a testament to the strong collaborative relationship that Charlie Munger forged between the KITP team, the University and our contractor, the Towbes Group. Our success was bittersweet, as Michael Towbes passed away on April 13, 2017. Michael was a long time supporter of the KITP, UCSB, and the broader Santa Barbara community. He will be missed by many.

~ Lars Bildsten, KITP Director
KITP Newsletter, Spring 2017