Jean-Paul Richard, 1936 - 2023

Professor Emeritus Jean-Paul Richard, an experimentalist with numerous contributions to the understanding of gravity, died on September 6, 2023. He was 87.

A native of Québec City, Québec, Richard studied at the Université Laval before moving to France for his graduate work. Following doctoral studies in theoretical physics and physical sciences at the Université de Paris, Richard accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Maryland in 1965. At that time, Joseph Weber was working to detect gravitational waves, which had been predicted by Albert Einstein but never confirmed.  

Following his postdoctoral appointment, Richard accepted a position as an Assistant Professor at UMD, where he would spend his entire career. Over the next three decades, he contributed to several developments, including Apollo 17’s  Lunar Surface Gravimeter.  

In addition, Richard worked to increase the sensitivity of Weber’s aluminum bars by developing a resonant capacitor transducer using field-effect transistors. He also developed a multimode detector achieving higher sensitivity over a wide band of frequencies, and then calculated improvements in the multimode detector by using an optical sensor.

Richard enjoyed visiting appointments at Rome’s La Sapienza and the Université Laval. After his retirement in 1995, he continued his work for three years as a UMD research scientist.

Though early UMD efforts never captured gravitational waves, scientists adapted and persisted. In late 2015, the LIGO experiment succeeded in detecting gravitational waves generated by the merger of two unimaginably distant black holes.

Reflecting on his work after the announcement, Richard said, “When I heard the LIGO news, I was shocked and stunned for a couple of days. It gave new value to my work and justified my efforts. That’s a very big thing."

Funeral arrangements are shown here:

Ph.D. Student’s Initiative Led to Numerous Research Collaborations and Accolades

A big part of research is working with other scientists. As an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Maryland, Jacob Bringewatt (B.S. ’18, physics) put in the work knocking on doors and connecting with professors, which allowed him to explore a broad range of research projects and earned him accolades along the way.Jacob Bringewatt  Jacob Bringewatt

Bringewatt was torn deciding between a small liberal arts college and a bigger state university for college. He came to UMD to interview for a Banner/Key Scholarship and during the visit he spoke with Physics Professor Tom Cohen. Cohen emphasized that a strong research program—like the one UMD has—is an important component of a high-quality physics education. That conversation—and receiving the scholarship—pushed UMD to the top of Bringewatt’s list, and he enrolled in 2014.

As an incoming freshman, Bringewatt was eager to dive into theoretical physics research. During the first couple weeks of classes, he sought out Cohen to ask about joining a theoretical research project.

“He told me that I shouldn't do theory, even though he's a theorist,” Bringewatt said. “One should only do theory if they're like really bad at experiments or can't imagine doing anything else. I’ve learned since this is his standard line for eager undergrads.”


Bringewatt took Cohen’s advice and sought out an experimentalist: Physics Professor Carter Hall. Bringewatt joined Hall’s team and initially crunched numbers—analyzing experimental data instead of getting his hands dirty with experimental equipment. He eventually handled equipment in the lab and quickly realized it wasn’t for him. He still felt drawn to the math and theory side of physics. So he returned to Cohen, who directed him to Physics Professor William Dorland who was on sabbatical at the time. 

The summer before his junior year, Bringewatt wrote some computer code for Dorland to use in an ongoing project investigating how plasmas move. Dorland, who is a computational physicist, was interested in quantum computing and decided to spend some of his time during his sabbatical exploring the basics of quantum computation with Bringewatt. Their discussions developed into a collaboration with Stephen Jordan, who was then an adjunct associate professor of physics at UMD. The group investigated adiabatic quantum computation—a version of quantum computing that involves gradually evolving one quantum state into another. Bringewatt was the first author of a paper the collaboration wrote comparing the adiabatic quantum computing approach to a classical alternative. The experience focused Bringewatt on theoretical physics.

“I haven't really looked back since then,” Bringewatt said. “Maryland is a really good place to be for quantum computing. And, as a highly interdisciplinary field, it really does bring out the things I like most about research.”

Having settled on studying quantum theory, Bringewatt still had to decide where to attend grad school. UMD’s many experts and diverse research opportunities once again moved it to the top of his list. But he wanted to experience working in another group. So, before he graduated in 2018, he started visiting with professors. He found a match that felt right with Alexey Gorshkov, an adjunct associate professor of physics at UMD, and his group, which works on a broad range of theoretical physics topics.

During graduate school, Bringewatt has continued investigating adiabatic quantum computation, including collaborating with Michael Jarret (Ph.D. ’16, physics), who is now an assistant professor in the Mathematical Sciences Department at George Mason University. Together, they wrote a paper comparing classical and quantum adiabatic techniques for simulating quantum physics

Bringewatt also took on other challenges. A significant portion of his graduate research focuses on using quantum physics to push the limits of measurement technologies. This research involves improving sensor precision by optimizing the use of quantum entanglement—a fundamental quantum phenomenon that connects quantum particles and allows them to ignore some constraints of classical physics. The work looks at the smallest parts that contribute to a sensor, how the pieces interact, and how they come together during a measurement. By understanding sensors at this fundamental level, future technologies might be able to operate at the limits of what is allowed by physics.

Bringewatt shared this part of his research during the 2022 Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) competition hosted by UMD. 3MT competitions are hosted by many universities around the world to encourage graduate students to practice communicating technical research clearly and succinctly. In these events, the competitors distill a research project into a three-minute presentation that is accessible to someone unfamiliar with their field. Bringewatt was one of the eight winners in the campuswide competition, earning him a $1,000 prize. 

Jacob Bringewatt  delivers his 3-minute thesis.Jacob Bringewatt delivers his 3-minute thesis.“It was a fun challenge to explain in three minutes the big ideas behind a line of research I've been pursuing for several years with a number of excellent collaborators in Alexey Gorshkov's group,” Bringewatt said. 

As part of one of his projects on quantum sensor networks, Bringewatt, Gorshkov and UMD physics graduate student Adam Ehrenberg investigated the peak performance that networks of quantum sensors can achieve. His project built on previous work that had already established the best performance that is physically possible. Crucially, those results had assumed the maximum amount of entanglement—all the sensors are always connected to all the other sensors. But practically achieving maximum entanglement is difficult work, so Bringewatt and colleagues flipped the problem on its head. They identified the minimum amount of entanglement needed to achieve an optimal measurement, which for some cases didn't require maximum entanglement. They then developed protocols that achieve the theoretical target they had set. The team’s efforts earned them a place among the 12 groups of finalists for the 2022 UMD Invention of the Year Award.

"I'm honored to have gotten a chance to collaborate with Jake on many projects,” Gorshkov said. “I learned a lot from him and am very proud of his numerous achievements and well-deserved awards."

Even while juggling classes and research into both quantum sensors and adiabatic quantum computing, Bringewatt sought out new challenges. For his first four years as a graduate student, he was a Department of Energy (DOE) Computational Science Graduate Fellow. The program requires fellows to spend a summer working at a DOE laboratory, and it encourages them to explore new topics. 

Bringewatt was eager to try something completely new. He knew Zohreh Davoudi, associate professor of physics at UMD, from his undergraduate math methods course. And he was aware she studied nuclear theory and was interested in branching into quantum simulations. He thought a summer of nuclear theory might be interesting and have the additional benefit of providing a foundation to work with Davoudi. So, the first summer after starting graduate school, he requested to spend his summer at Jefferson Lab, which is home to a particle accelerator used for nuclear physics experiments. 

He spent his summer there as part of a team investigating the internal structure of protons. This small sample of nuclear physics research left Bringewatt eager for more, so he reached out to Davoudi. The timing worked out: She was looking for colleagues to collaborate with on developing quantum simulations of nuclear physics

He began attending Davoudi’s group meetings, and they eventually began pooling their skills on a project. Earlier this year, they published a paper on finding the best way to represent fermions—particles like electrons that can’t share their quantum state—and their interactions within quantum computer simulations. 

The topics of nuclear theory, quantum sensor research and adiabatic quantum computing have given Bringewatt diverse challenges and experiences throughout graduate school. As a result of his prodigious work ethic, he has been first author on ten research papers—an unusually high count for a graduate student.

“Being able to pursue these three distinct topics has been a real advantage of being here where there's a lot of experts on a wide array of things,” Bringewatt said. “I've gotten the chance to work with a lot of talented people with different areas of expertise, which has been really nice.”

Earlier this year, the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences acknowledged his hard work and gave him the 2023 Board of Visitors Outstanding Graduate Student Award and a $5,000 prize. 

“I feel very honored to have received this recognition,” Bringewatt said. “Scientific research is never an individual effort, and having pursued both my undergraduate and graduate degree at the University of Maryland, I am extremely grateful to the university and all my mentors here who have enabled me to grow and excel as a young scientist.”

Bringewatt is wrapping up his research at UMD and looking for new collaborations and challenges as a postdoctoral researcher. He plans to graduate in the spring of 2024.

“I've been very happy to be at UMD,” Bringewatt said. “It's a great community, and, I think, the best of both worlds: It has a bunch of resources and world-class research, but people are also very approachable, friendly, and helpful. I feel extremely lucky for the years I’ve gotten to spend here.”

Written by Bailey Bedford


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From Particle Physics to Artificial Intelligence

Brian Calvert (Ph.D. '15, physics) grew up in southern Colorado in a rural community where “big world” opportunities were few and far between.

Brian CalvertBrian Calvert

“Right before you hit New Mexico there’s a tiny little town called Trinidad and we moved 40 miles northeast of there to the total boonies,” he recalled. “Our closest neighbors were a quarter of a mile away, we had no running water and no central heat. It was pretty wild.”

Calvert’s surroundings back then may have been simple, but his dreams were definitely not. As a teenager inspired by the problem-solving power of science and mathematics, he knew he wanted to take on challenges that impact people’s daily lives. But even he couldn’t have imagined that 20 years later he’d be blazing a trail on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence (AI) as co-founder of the San Francisco tech startup Graft.

“I had heard about robots and AI in the context of science fiction stories as a kid, but I had no exposure to what it meant to work on AI as it was back then,” Calvert said. “And AI has gone through such a massive renaissance that I'm not sure I could have imagined I'd work on it in the capacity that I have. But it’s exactly where I want to be.”

At Graft, Calvert is on a mission to make a difference by making AI more accessible.

"A lot of companies like nonprofits would love to be able to capitalize on the power of AI for their data, often for very clear social good, but it’s just really hard for them to do it—there are a lot of barriers to entry,” Calvert explained. “The core idea here is to help democratize access to the state-of-the-art infrastructure and techniques that are powering the AI giants of the world; let’s bring that to everybody else. That’s our mission: the AI of the 1%, for the 99%.”

Starting with physics

Calvert’s interests began with physics, first as an undergraduate at Princeton and then as a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland. At UMD, Calvert quickly connected with Physics Professor Emeritus Nicholas Hadley. Intrigued by Hadley’s work in experimental particle physics, Calvert joined the CMS experiment at CERN, working in an inspiring collaboration with thousands of other scientists around the world to search for new physics at the world’s highest energy accelerator. Contributing to the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson—the fundamental particle that enabled matter to form after the Big Bang created the universe billions of years ago—helped to focus the trajectory of Calvert’s Ph.D. dissertation research from 2013 through 2015.

“After the Higgs boson discovery, there were still more unanswered questions. One really elegant way to address a bunch of these questions is to introduce this notion of supersymmetry, where every fundamental particle has a mirror version of itself. If supersymmetry is correct, then we should find signatures of these supersymmetric partners,” Calvert explained. “Specifically, I was looking for the top squark, the supersymmetric partner to the heaviest fundamental particle, the top quark. For context, the two lightest quarks, the up- and down-quarks, are the primary building blocks of protons and neutrons, and the top quark can be thought of as the big brother of the up quark. If I could just find the top squark it would answer many other questions about the building blocks of the universe.”

Through his research in particle physics, Calvert saw the cross-disciplinary problem-solving power of science and mathematics in a whole new light.

“These particle physicists were working on algebraic stuff and math like I’d never seen and a bunch of computer science, too,” Calvert said. “We were analyzing petabytes and petabytes of data and there was a lot to the software part of it, like how do you analyze that much data at scale, particularly in the context of some problem you’re trying to solve. It’s like climbing a mountain. But it’s a mountain you want to climb.”

Wafers, hearing aids and self-driving cars

After earning his Ph.D. in 2015, Calvert landed a job as a senior imaging scientist at Intel’s wafer fabrication and manufacturing facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, working on the design of lithography photomasks used to print computer chips and performing large-scale analysis of electron microscope wafer images. At the time, concepts like machine learning (ML) and deep learning and the overall idea of AI were beginning to gain momentum and Calvert realized his skill set was a good fit.

He moved from Oregon to San Francisco to pursue opportunities in the space starting with some contract work building deep learning models for an audio detection system designed to enhance the function of hearing aids. In 2017, he went all in on ML and AI as a data scientist at Cruise Automation, a self-driving car company.

“That was a transformative experience,” Calvert recalled. "I initially worked on assessing the safety of the cars with a combination of ML and statistical models using data collected across the entire fleet of cars, then focused more on scalable data and machine learning infrastructure, as I knew from my Ph.D. experiences how important that was. That work got the attention of engineering leadership, and I was chosen to lead the whole overall machine learning infrastructure team. This included the AI models running on the car making real-time, safety-critical decisions and models running in the cloud analyzing data from the entire fleet. My team was building the structure to support that at scale and the work really energized me.”

After four years at Cruise, Calvert met Adam Oliner, CEO of Graft. Excited about the possibilities ahead, Calvert joined the company as a co-founder in 2021.

“I definitely think AI is the future,” Calvert said. “Humans keep generating data at larger and larger rates, so AI has to be the future. There’s no way you can manually process that much data at scale, nor should you.”

Graft’s aim is to create AI technology that can quickly perform large-scale analysis of unstructured data—including text, images, and graphs—to meet the needs of any client, whether it’s a customer-driven sales business or a search-and-rescue team trying to locate a missing hiker.

“Whether it’s a lost hiker and there are miles and miles worth of images to search through or it’s a business that wants a real-time customer churn prediction, Graft provides a platform,” Calvert explained. “You connect us to your data, we have ML science modeling experts and ML infrastructure experts on staff, and our system provides an automated workflow to help you get to the goal.”

The company—and venture capital support for its mission—have already come a long way.

“We did a pre-seed round of $4.5 million a few years ago in early 2021 and then we just closed a seed round of $10 million, so we’re at $14.5 million in venture capital funding so far,” Calvert said.

Though Graft’s AI platform is still in beta testing, Calvert is optimistic about the future.

“We ran a private beta starting in fall 2022. After the feedback from this beta, we've now expanded to a wider, controlled rollout,” he said. “We definitely think we have a product that people would pay money for.”

A strong foundation

For Calvert, Graft’s mission of bringing the capabilities of the world’s biggest AI companies to every business is as demanding as it is inspiring. He’s quick to point out he never would have gotten here without physics and his time at UMD, which provided a strong foundation for the challenges he faced on every step of his journey.

“150,000%—UMD helped me grow in so many ways,” Calvert noted. “My Ph.D., which focused on experimental particle physics, was effectively a data science Ph.D. It gave me higher-order systems-level thinking that I draw upon all the time, as well as statistics and large-scale data analysis and AI/ML skills. I’m really grateful for that.”

Twenty years ago, Calvert never could have envisioned a future in AI—now he can’t imagine being anywhere else.

“I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else right now,” Calvert reflected. “Will it be that way forever? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, right now this is a really good place for me to be.”

Written by Leslie Miller

Physics on the Field

On a Saturday in April 2023, an unusual event unfolded on the grassy greens by the University of Maryland’s Memorial Chapel. Nearly 50 students, staff and faculty gathered to play in the inaugural Physics Champions League, an amateur soccer tournament run by the UMD Physics Undergraduate Committee (PUC). Created to bring together waldych soccer 2physics majors looking for some outdoor fun, the tournament also welcomed the greater campus community, plus friends and family, to participate.

For junior physics major and PUC co-president Sarah Waldych, the idea for the tournament began last fall when she overheard classmates chatting about soccer between classes.

“I realized that a lot of us enjoyed playing soccer in our free time. Many physics majors are involved in intramural sports,” Waldych explained. “Once that clicked, it seemed so obvious to me that we had to organize a way for all of us to come together and just have fun. And it just took off from there.”

Waldych still remembers the excitement and cheering crowds from that spring afternoon. She and other PUC members ran the whole event, from facilitating team sign-ups to refereeing the games. Although many of the players were physics undergrads, graduate students, non-physics students and even a faculty member—Physics Assistant Research Professor Chandra Turpen—played on the soccer pitch that day. 

The Physics Champion League is just one of Waldych’s ideas on how to connect students outside of the classroom and build a better, stronger, tighter-knit physics community. As a member of PUC, Waldych helped organize many other programs and events for physics majors—from free hot chocolate and games during exam times to undergraduate research colloquia that help students practice their presentation skills. 

“Growing up, I realized that there wasn’t much of a science community for me to really share my experiences with. In fact, there’s sometimes a taboo about physics; it’s too hard, too intimidating, too unwelcoming, or not fun at all,” Waldych explained. “I want to help create a space where we can gather, get to know each other, share research or present anything that we find interesting, and help each other grow.” 

To reach those goals, Waldych often collaborates with Donna Hammer, the director of education programs and public engagement in physics and PUC advisor. Together, they work with students, faculty, staff and alums to ensure their needs—both research-related and recreational—are met. Hammer believes that Waldych’s work is essential to maintaining a physics community that is both vibrant and diverse. 

“Sarah’s sincere and tireless effort to make sure all physics majors feel included and their accomplishments celebrated is truly outstanding,” said Hammer. “She’s not only committed to her studies and research but also to her peers and the broader physics community.”

A journey to Germany

This summer, Waldych focused her outreach efforts on the broader physics community, spending two months in Hamburg, Germany, at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), a national research center operating particle accelerators and conducting groundbreaking research in particle physics. Waldych worked with the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, a general-purpose detector at the Large Hadron Collider that can see a wide range of particles and phenomena produced in high-energy collisions.

Waldych, wearing a special gown, hairnet and gloves, is applying isopropyl alcohol to a cloth that will be used to clean all the equipment before an experiment. All the experimental work is performed in a clean room to prevent extra dust or oils from contaminating a very sensitive thermal experiment inside the vacuum chamber. Waldych, wearing a special gown, hairnet and gloves, is applying isopropyl alcohol to a cloth that will be used to clean all the equipment before an experiment. All the experimental work is performed in a clean room to prevent extra dust or oils from contaminating a very sensitive thermal experiment inside the vacuum chamber.

“I worked with the scientists at DESY and students from all sorts of backgrounds,” Waldych said. “We analyzed the systematics of a custom experimental setup designed to measure a sample’s thermal conductivity, or its ability to conduct or transfer heat. We studied the behavior of sapphire glass under multiple operating conditions and specialized criteria that aren’t usually recognized in commercial settings. Our findings will be used later to calibrate other experimental setups at DESY.” 

Waldych will bring her new knowledge and hands-on experience with particle physics back to Physics Assistant Professor Christopher Palmer’s lab, where she studies the Higgs boson, an elusive elementary particle believed to be linked to a field that gave mass to everything in the universe.  

“Sarah truly has the potential to become a great physicist,” Palmer said. “I hope that this program gave her the opportunity to see what being a particle physicist is like in the real worldbeyond the classroom.” 

Waldych hopes that she can apply the skills she learned in the lab to practice as a researcher. And she’s hopeful her experiences will also help her develop new plans to make physics more fun and welcoming when she returns to Maryland. 

“I’ll still be coming up with ways to support UMD Physics, including holding another Champions League—which we would like to run again next spring—and also promoting immersive learning experiences like the DESY program to other students like me,” Waldych said.


Written by Georgia Jiang