KITP ‘Big Hits’ - 2018 Impact Report

The Lasting Impact of KITP

Lars Bildsten, KITP Director; Mark Bowick, KITP Deputy Director (left)

Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics (MESA)

Collaborators led by KITP research fellow Bill Paxton (and including Director Lars Bildsten and former postdoctoral scholar Matteo Cantiello) released the fourth version of their MESA software in 2017.

Professor Eliot Quataert of UC Berkeley writes that in the last three years, MESA “has solidified its position as the most important theoretical tool in modeling stars.” In particular, the hydrodynamics capabilities released
in the third and fourth MESA papers have made it possible to calculate everything from stellar winds to supernovae explosions and lightcurves directly with MESA. These new capabilities are being rapidly adopted by the community and I expect are going to have a huge impact in the coming years, particularly given the parallel observational discoveries on supernovae from observational time-domain surveys.”

Nextflu and Nextstrain

During the 2014 “Evolution of Drug Resistance” KITP program, Richard Neher (former KITP postdoctoral scholar now at the University of Basel) and Trevor Bedford (of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) discussed creating a cloud-based flu surveillance and prediction tool. By 2015, Nextflu was up and running.

Nextflu and its successor, Nextstrain, allow scientists to rapidly share and analyze genomic sequence data and map the evolution and geographic spread of viral strains. Ultimately, Bedford and Neher hope the tool will be used for real-time decision making by epidemiologists and public health officials. Nextstrain won the 2017 Open Science Prize, awarded for work that uses open content and data to advance biomedical research and its applications for human health.

String theory

In 1998, the KITP hosted the annual “Strings” conference in conjunction with a six-month string theory program. The meeting occurred shortly after Juan Maldacena announced the breakthrough insight of the AdS/CFT correspondence, which links certain quantum field theories and string theories.

One of the most highly-cited papers developed from the program was “4D Conformal Field Theories and Strings on Orbifolds” coauthored by Shamit Kachru and Eva Silverstein. The paper showed that the AdS/CFT correspondence could be generalized to non-supersymmetric cases, providing a new class of quantum field theories and extending its extraordinary computational power.

“It’s been a lot of fun being involved with the KITP over the years. I have a keen interest in the interface between physics and biology, which has gotten to be very broad, ranging from neural computation to morphogenesis and evolutionary dynamics. Seeing physics ideas travel so far from ‘home’ has been exciting to witness. The KITP’s unique collaborative engagement of the best scholars from all over the world along with its track record for advancing knowledge represents an incredible opportunity for breakthroughs. I look forward to seeing what’s on the horizon and am confident that the KITP will continue to play a leadership role in helping to foster our understanding of these and other emerging fields of study.”

Gus Gurley, UCSB Alumnus and Philanthropist

Established the Susan F. Gurley Chair in Theoretical Physics and Biology.


KITP Impact Report 2018