Message to the Physics Community, Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

We had three Commencement/Celebration events starting ten days ago: Hooding on Thursday, OneMIT and awarding of degrees Friday, and the Celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021 on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend.  All three reminded me of how far we have come from the dark times of March 2020.  I found the Saturday Celebration tremendously meaningful, especially since over half of our undergraduates returned.

Rafael (aka President Reif) made a few remarks, including, “Our society is like a big, complicated family, in the midst of a terrible argument..” This captured a sense of the times for me and my hope that the Sturm und Drang of these times will resolve before too much longer.  Trying times have fixed in the past, including the (even now) underreported 1918 flu pandemic that pitted masks, and wearers, against non-maks wearers, occasionally violently.

I thank all the staff who showed up for all the events, especially Lindley Winslow and her crew of undergraduates who made the ice cream party in the Pappalardo Room go.

Now we have summer, and I have to wrap up my time as Department Head and clear out my office, 4-304, that has been home for almost nine years.  I hope the next inmate enjoys it as much as I have.

Peter

Physics

  • Neutrinos from black holes here

Announcements

  • The DEN Dynamic Education Node, is a new amenity for meetings and collaboration, open to everyone.  Slides here
  • Texas A&M-Commerce University Teaching Assistantships Available here
  • Tuition subsidy increase from Cindy Barnhardt and Glen Shor here
  • Congratulations to Kylie Yui Dan and Karna Morey for their Fullbright Fellowships

Weekly Message to the Physics Community, Wednesday May 25, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

I listen to the MIT Wind Ensemble practice various pomp and circumstance marches out in Killian Court.  Hooding will be tomorrow, Friday will be Commencement, and then Saturday will be a Celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021.  We have traveled a long road to get here: the pandemic started for me on March 12, 2020, when our wonderful staff put to gather a short ceremony for our seniors as we all left to begin working from home.  Here is a picture from that day:

We have something to celebrate that we can all gather again for commencement — things did not have to turn out this way.  It feels good to hear them practicing that dopey “Hail to MIT” piece that ends Commencements.

See you there,

Peter

Above the Fold

  • MIT News Story about Pablo Jarillo-Herrero’s election to the National Academy of Science
  • What the hell is the commencement schedule?  Cathy Modica’s summary here, Thanks, Cathy!

Announcements

Physics

  • Haystack Observatories observations of our weird black hole from Quanta and MIT News
  • Two black holes merged and got kicked out of their galaxy from Salvo Vitale.

 

Message to the Physics Community, Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

Every Spring in mid-April, I begin to hear the sounds of Commencement. Outside my office on Killian Court, a group of carpenters show up and begin to build all the various platforms for Commencement. Here is today’s picture:

We have passed the last day of classes and will have finals next week.  I’m strongly encouraging everyone, instructors, staff, and students, to wear masks in the coming weeks to ensure that we can all take part (if we wish to) in Commencement.  A positive test next week means being in the gulag while everyone else celebrates the first commencement in 1,069 days.

In exchange for wearing your masks, I promise I will not dun you all again about mask-wearing (or anything else) — we have come a long way, and this looks like the last hurdle.

Peter

Above the Fold

  • Congratulations to Pablo on being elected to the National Academy of Sciences!
  • Lina Necib is running a hackathon for astronomy data – students welcome here!

Physics

  • NSF and Event Horizon Telescope to announce groundbreaking news tomorrow about black holes here
  • Black Hole Echos from Erin Kara and her group here
  • Congratulations to Frank Wilczek, 2021 Winner of the Templeton Prize

Announcements

  • Lecturer position at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology here
  • Teaching and Learning Lab Fellowships, summer school, and other resources here

Message to the Physics Community, Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

I hope everyone had a good three-day weekend.  Patriots Day always signals the start of the end of the term to me.  This year, I ran the BAA 5K road race for the first time in 1,099 days, which I found disconcerting.  Thousands of people, no real sign of COVID protocols, except while riding the T.  We still have to think about new COVID variants – the Deer Island data shows a steady increase in wastewater rates.  I doubt this will result in anything more that having to wear masks and perhaps change large gatherings, but we will live with this kind of contingency in our lives for a time.

The Physics Values Committee, PVC, has worked hard this year and produced a report for the Department about what good graduate advising looks like, with several recommendations for the Department, faculty, and students.  This week, the PVC will finalize the report and it will circulate in the Department.  I believe we can act on their recommendations for the Fall.

I reported in an earlier columns that the Department had requested funds in our FY2022 budget for programs to expand services.  We solicated input from the Physics Community and the PVC priorized the list.  We have received our budget letter that covers faculty and staff salaries and existing operations and been told more funds were coming.  Rather than wait, we have started work on the Basic Service for departmental research computing and begun the hiring process for a new staff member tasked with supporting the Physics Community, with a focus on staff and DEI support.  I’ve asked the PVC to make a prioritized list of the main responsibilities for a new staff member, with particular attention to supporting our staff.

Things seem to go well, but we remain very busy.  Despite this, I want to continue the advising work, bolster the Basic Service plan, and get the job description for our new staff hire underway.

Welcome to Spring (the season, no the term),

Peter

Above the Fold

  • Obituary for Physics Alum Sidney Altman sent by Ed Friedman here
  • MIT Values Statement released here

Physics

  • Congratulations to Long Ju for winning the Outstanding Young Researcher Award (Macronix Prize)
  • New W mass measurement from Christoph Paus’ CDF group here
  • MIT welcomes two from the Heising-Simons Foundation 51 Pegasi b Fellowship for 2022, Drs. Eva Scheller and Malena Rice, here

Announcements

  • Event: “Can We Talk? Difficult Conversations with Underrepresented People of Color: Sense of Belonging and Obstacles to STEM Fields.”, film and discussion, details here
  • NSF graduate fellowships announcement here
  • Professional and team development resources from HR – timely update here
  • Commonwealth School seeking a physics teacher here
  • NSF Early Career Award announcement

 

 

MIT’s New Paul and Daisy Soros Winners – Wenjie Gong

Peers: https://www.chronicle.com/article/who-does-your-college-think-its-peers-are

Special Message to the Physics Community, Monday, May 2, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

On today’s 8 am phone call,  we heard that the number of MIT positive PCR tests shot up last week, despite the wastewater rate flattening or perhaps going down.  Based on this, the COVID-19 team recommends that everyone in the community wear masks when in the presence of others.  Although the COVID Team does not feel the present situation warrants a mask mandate, many of the 400+ people on the call disagreed with the decision and wants a mask mandate imposed on-campus.

This sudden rise in COVID-19 cases comes close enough to finals week and commencement to make us concerned about those testing positive missing exams or commencement itself.  The Department cannot impose, much less enforce, a unilateral mask mandate.  I strongly encourage everyone to wear masks whenever they can and make use of the MIT testing service at least weekly.  Further, if instructors feel the need to move their lectures, recitations, or other contact times to zoom, they should do so in consultation with Associate Head Deepto Chakrabarty.  Any move to zoom must consider any additional burden placed on students and instructors.

I view this situation as the first of many times we will have to react, sometimes on short notice, to changing circumstances.  How we respond will improve with time, and we always have to keep in mind people hold a spectrum of views around balancing public health and the other things people feel they need to get through the day.

Peter

Message to the Physics Community, March 25, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

I hope everyone has had a good Spring Break.  As many may recall, MIT decided to start a week later last year and skip Spring Break, and this was awful.

In the Fall, I asked the Physics Values Committee to produce a short report about how good graduate advising in the Physics Department would look.  The PVC has done a tremendous about of work — much more than expected — and is now finishing their report.  I appreciate their hard work and the leadership of Karna, Rosaleah, and Yen-Jie.  We plan to circulate their report soon and make some provisional plans for implementing their recommendations next Fall.

The war in Ukraine grinds on, no less awful than it was in its first month.  You can help at the link below.  I hope they reach some diplomatic settlement that at least stops the carnage for a while.

Peter

Above the Fold

  • MIT Ukrainian students fundraising campaign here

Announcements

  • ORISE paid internships and fellowships here
  • MCSC Climate and Sustainability Scholars Program here
  • STEM paper competition for your students: up to $10K in prizes here
  • Virtual summer schools in Astrostatistics and Astroinformatics here

Physics

  • Spectroscopy of tri-layer graphene from Long Ju’s group here
  • Photons think inside the box from Martin Zwierlein and Richard Fletcher’s article here,

 

Weekly Message to the Physics Community, Monday March 7, 2022

Dear Physics Community,
Here we are in early March 2022, about two years after I started writing these messages to the community. As the pandemic broke, my intent was mainly to let everyone know what was happening as well as I could. I also added some physics news and other things as a reminder that despite the rising pandemic, some good things were happening with the larger world. In writing these messages, I struggled not to say, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”, because I had no idea if that were true or not.  The war in Ukraine could further divide us and, what I can say, is that MIT has been steadfast that all our students remain part of our community, no matter what.  Rafael had a message about this last week here and Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson sent a message to students and faculty late last week here.

Two years on, writing this message remains a struggle, as the pandemic eases, at least for the moment, other things have arisen that seems to replace the uncertainty the pandemic brought: a war in Ukraine, changes in MIT’s senior leadership, graduate student unionization, a ship carrying 4,000 cars catching fire and sinking in the Atlantic, just to name a few. Some are more important than others, some could be good, but all are confusing. What should I make of it?

I believe the pandemic jolted me, and perhaps others, to the awareness of the messy, complicated things that I ignored in the press of MIT busyness. Before the pandemic, we had: the two endless wars, the growing realization our tech companies were spying on us, serious worries about MIT’s gifts and foreign engagements, and the last invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Back in the pre-pandemic then, I could just focus on the business of the Department. I think the pandemic gave me some space to really respond to George Floyd’s murder, Jan. 6, and other things.  Now I have trouble turning away.

I am responding by focusing on the reporting rather than the analysis. Reporting is “Who, what, where, how, when?” but not “Why?” “Why” will come later for me, maybe. I am focusing on doing my job well and helping those around me. Particularly importantly, managing myself to have the energy for all the aspects of my life, not just work. As we return in person, I’m working on curating who I interact with more carefully: fewer meetings (especially over zoom), fewer and shorter emails, more planning, and prioritizing in-person. Changing gears in the evening and weekends to stop work from spilling over to then. Daily attention to the news without wallowing in it. I work at stopping and thinking before drawing a conclusion about a local or world event. I ask, “Do I know enough to reach this conclusion? Do I need to conclude something about this right now?”

I’m also taking pains to make sure big things don’t crowd out little things: exercising, paying attention to Cambridge Day, The Tech, and the Globe. Even with all these mitigations, I’m still tired at the end of the day and not sleeping very well. I expect my health will improve with time and the coming of Spring.

“In Bed,” Joan Didion’s account of migraine headaches ends with the line, “I count my blessings.” We’ve had a collective migraine, and, in the end, maybe, we can say the Department and MIT are in good shape, classes and research are mainly going okay. We can look forward to no-masks before too long. Each week, more people come to MIT, and some travel and events have been planned. Commencement will be in-person and follow a newer, less protracted format. Much lies ahead, much of it good. I’m hoping to have the wherewithal to embrace it all, good and bad.

Looking forward,

Peter

Above the Fold

Announcements

  • Class of 2024 Brass Rat here.  I’m always amazed at how much they onto the class rings.
  • Nominate a CAST Visiting Artist here
  • Opportunities at Thor Labs here
  • Program Manager position at the Office of High Energy Physics, DOE here
  • Cottrell Scholar Program – Pre-submission Webinar here

Physics

  • Final results on neutrinoless double beta decay from Lindley Winslow’s group
  • New upper limit on neutrino mass from Joe Formaggion’s group.  APS story here, paper here
  • First results from the Hydrogen Epic of Reionization Array (HERA) from Jackie Hewitt’s group
  • Qubits made from voibrating fermions from Martin Z and his group.
  • More new qubit progress from Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, Will Oliver and their groups, paper here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Message to the Physics Community, Friday, February 11, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

On Monday, we had an 8 am phone call discussing reduced COVID-19 protocols, slides here. On Thursday, we learned of reduced COVID restrictions on campus (here) — particularly that we can now serve food (grab-and-go style), and instructors can remove masks in classrooms.  I will take the progress, but I know things remain difficult for many.

I saw this article about an artist who created a fake traffic jam on Google maps by pulling a wagon of 99 cell phones down a street in BVerlin, making Google Maps think this was a jam of cars moving slowly down a street.  I found this a) pretty funny, b) just horrifying, and c) just deserts for Google’s intrusive surveillance of us all.  I would love to hear of similar pranks that show how creepy surveillance technology can be.

Peter

Announcements

  • Postdoc opportunity at Stanford with Giorgio Gratta here
  • Now Accepting 2022 APS Innovation Fund Pre-Proposals here

  • Well bearing webinar series here
  • National Medal of Science Nominations here
  • Seeking participation in a study of STEM Faculty Experiences with Work and Relationships here.

Physics

  • Fusion records: Joint European Torus here, National Ignition facility here
  • Neighbors: our nearest star seems to have an Earth-like planet

Weekly Message to the Physics Community, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

Spring term is underway, and so far, so good. I want to thank everyone for their patience with the continued COVID restrictions. I believe MIT will relax our protocols a little soon. By the end of the month, I hope we can have food, probably of the pre-prepared kind. Here is the most recent information from MIT about where we are in the pandemic.

I keep track of a lot of Course 8 alumni. One of them, David Wargo, BS 1980, works in media finance in New York and makes documentaries. He bought the rights to a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “American Prometheus,” and has set about getting a movie made. We talk every few months about navigating Hollywood. He has lined up Christopher Nolan (Inception) to direct and put together a cast that includes Matt Damon, interestingly cast as Gen. Leslie Groves. Here is a pre-trailer and a newspaper article on the film. I’m going to try to convince David to give us a pre-screening. He did this before with his documentary on radar. Watch the trailer, if only to see how creepy Oppenheimer was.

It began to sleet while finishing this (Friday, 1:45 pm). Be careful; things are a mess outside.

Peter

PS I post links to physics news as I find them. If you see something exciting or write a cool paper, let me know.

Above the Fold

Announcements

  • Lab Director for Undergraduate Laboratory in Quantum Science at University of Chicago here
  • Fellowship Opportunities with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency here
  • Threat Detection Technology Postdoctoral Research Scientist positions here
  • ASU Thesis: Seeking Research Participants here
  • Michigan Tech. Univ. Physics Graduate Program here

Physics

 

Weekly Message to the Physics Community, Monday, January 24, 2022

Dear Physics Community,

Breaking news – Feds drop charges against Gang Chen!  Letter from LRR and Universal Hub article.

The cold weather is really here, and IAP progresses.  The Globe declares, “Omicorn has peaked in Mass.” Deer Island (Globe article on Biobot founders here) continues to drop, slowing slightly.  The mRNA rate in the wastewater still exceeds that of the peak from a year ago — about double.  More people have COVID-19, but also Omicron generates many more virons per person, one reason for Omicorn’s virulence.  While the numbers seem to improve, I think many of us remain a ways from feeling at all safe.

We all hope the number of cases will ease and allow us more freedom to gather, eat together, and so on.  I make risk trades right now: I won’t go into Simons for a cup of hot chocolate because I want to allocate that risk increment for a trip to the tailor.  For me, this will be the way things remain for a time, and I think I will feel I have more risk to allocate.  I’ll have to recalibrate a lot when the term starts, and we all will spend more time on campus.  I felt different a year ago — the vaccine was on the way, and then everything would be fine.  I’ve learned differently.

After reading this comic (while waiting for Mathematica to do something), I looked up the word charge, as in electrical charge, and I wanted to know the entomology.  The QED defines charge as “A material load; that which can be borne, taken, or received” with the verb form meaning “A material load; that which can be borne, taken, or received,” perhaps related via old French to “cargo.”  Very exciting, making “charge” a gerund.

https://fisherp.mit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/MIT-Deshpande-Grants-Available-Please-forward-to-faculty.pdf

Above the Fold

  • MIT tries to do a lot more in professional development for students, faculty, and staff.  Human Resources has just announced their classes and trainers for the Spring term.  I try to do one of these a month and find they are generally pretty good. Their Active Listening Workshop is quite helpful.

Announcements

  • Junior faculty position at Northern Arizona University – here
  • Last call for Alumni Class Funds – proposals due Jan. 28
  • Desphande Grant applications are due Feb. 18.

Physics

  • Observation of the X particle at CMS from Yen-Jie Lee and the Heavy Ion Group
  • TESS observes 5,000th exoplanet, all opportunities for new friends