Philippov Awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

Assistant Professor Sasha Philippov is one of 126 scientists in the United States and Canada to receive a 2024 Sloan Research Fellowship.

Granted by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the $75,000 award recognizes scientists who have made important research contributions and have demonstrated “the potential to revolutionize their fields of study.” The fellowship, introduced in 1955, is considered one of the most competitive and prestigious awards that an early-career scientist can receive. To date, 71 UMD faculty members have earned this distinction, including 14 from UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences since 2015.

Fellows are nominated by other scientists and selected by independent panels of senior scholars. Philippov was nominated by Eliot Quataert, a theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton University who said that Philippov’s research “stands out” from his peers covering similar topics.

“Sasha has a combination of physical intuition, physics depth, code development skills and computational acumen that is characteristic of the very best computational astrophysicists I have interacted with in my career,” Quataert said.Sasha PhilippovSasha Philippov

Philippov, who holds a Ph.D. in astrophysical sciences from Princeton, was previously named a NASA Einstein and Theoretical Astrophysics Center Fellow at UC Berkeley, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship from 2017 to 2018.

After his postdoc, Philippov worked as an associate research scientist at the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute, where he constructed the first models capable of explaining the mysterious coherent emission of pulsars—magnetized neutron stars that rapidly rotate.

Since joining UMD in 2022, Philippov has been busy with several research projects. He used simulations to show the production of gamma-ray flares from the black hole in galaxy M87, which was the first black hole to be pictured. He also demonstrated how kinetic effects change the flow of plasma and produced proof-of-concept simulations of radiative plasma turbulence.

Philippov also serves as deputy director of a Simons Foundation project called the Simons Collaboration on Extreme Electrodynamics of Compact Sources that models electrodynamic processes related to neutron stars and black holes.

Looking ahead, the two-year Sloan Research Fellowship will enable Philippov to delve deeper into the study of plasmas—hot, ionized gas that surrounds neutron stars and black holes, which he describes as “some of the most mysterious and exotic objects in the universe.”

Part of Philippov’s research will involve the study of magnetars, which are neutron stars with the strongest magnetic fields in the universe. He plans to use advanced 3D simulations to better understand the powerful magnetic flares that occur when pulsars release magnetic energy, enabling scientists to connect the dots between what is observed through telescopes and what is actually occurring at a magnetar’s surface.

He will also investigate black holes that accrete plasma “very efficiently,” meaning more plasma falls into those black holes than ones that accrete low-density plasma, such as the one in M87.

“Depending on how much falls in, the properties of the plasma are quite different because their temperatures and density are different,” Philippov explained.

For Philippov, more plasma means more opportunities to study neutrinos, which are weakly interacting particles that can be generated in the environment surrounding black holes. Philippov’s ultimate goal is to create models that explain how protons accelerate and end up producing neutrinos.

The timing is ideal, considering that the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole recently detected neutrinos from a spiral galaxy called NGC 1068.

“There will be more observations with IceCube and future detectors, so it’s a good time to work on theoretical models,” Philippov said.

Ultimately, Philippov is excited to study the phenomena that help illuminate objects like black holes, which do not emit light on their own. In pictures of black holes, what we sometimes see are accretion disks, or rotating rings of plasma that create a glow.

“We haven’t learned much about black holes themselves yet, but we are able to learn a lot about how they shine,” Philippov said of the study of plasmas surrounding black holes. “Our goal is to understand how all the emission that we see is produced. We can see it, but we cannot really explain why and how, so that’s the underlying question.”


Original story by Emily C. Nunez:

Losert Named MPower Professor

Wolfgang Losert has been named an MPower Professor.  Three professors from UMD and from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB)  received this distinction from the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower), which recognizes, incentivizes, and fosters collaborations between the two institutions.

Losert holds a joint appointment in physics and the Institute for Physical Science and Technology (IPST). He also holds an affiliate appointment in the Fischell Department of Bioengineering, andan adjunct appointment with the University of Maryland Medical System's Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is co-director of the National Cancer Institute-University of Maryland Partnership for Integrative Cancer Research. Losert's research — supported by $2 million-plus a year in funding for the past seven years — is at the convergence of physics, biology, and artificial intelligence and focuses on the nonlinear dynamics of living systems.
Wolfgang Losert. Credit: UMD/Lisa Helfert. Wolfgang Losert. Credit: UMD/Lisa Helfert.

In his research, Losert aims to discover emergent dynamic properties of complex systems at the interface of physics and biology. He currently leads a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research that transformed our understanding of how cells sense their physical environment. He also serves as co-principal investigator on a Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative center grant from the National Institutes of Health focused on information processing in sensory brain circuits.

Losert actively fosters cross-disciplinary interactions and new research and educational opportunities on campus and beyond. He helped launch and currently co-leads the American Physical Society Group on Data Science. He was part of a trans-university initiative of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (called NEXUS) that developed new science and math courses for biology majors and pre-health care students that are being widely adopted. He led the development of and co-directs the NCI-UMD Partnership for Integrative Cancer Research, which provides UMD faculty members and graduate students the opportunity to tackle pressing problems in cancer research in collaboration with National Cancer Institute experts. 

A Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Losert joined UMD in 2000 as an assistant professor and served as an associate dean in CMNS (2014-22) and as interim IPST director (2019-20). He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the City College of the City University of New York in 1998 and his diplom in applied physics from the Technical University of Munich in Germany in 1995.

Also selected were Jessica Magidson and Steven Prior from UMD and Lisa Berlin, Osamah Saeedi and James Polli from UMB.

Buonanno to Receive Oskar Klein Medal

Research Professor Alessandra Buonanno will receive the 2023 Oskar Klein Medal by the Stockholm University and the Nobel Committee of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Each year, a distinguished physicist is invited to deliver the Memorial Lecture and to receive the Oskar Klein medal. Buonanno will give the Memorial Lecture on “Gravitational-Wave Astronomy: Theoretical Advances and Challenges” on November 23 at the AlbaNova Center in Stockholm.Alessandra Buonanno  © Markus Scholz for the Leopoldina Alessandra Buonanno © Markus Scholz for the Leopoldina

Buonanno is the director of the Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity Department at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics  (Albert Einstein Institute) in Potsdam.

Buonanno's research has spanned several topics in gravitational wave theory, data analysis and cosmology. She is a Principal Investigator of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, and her waveform modeling of cosmological events has been crucial in the experiment’s many successes. Her work has merited election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Leopoldina, the German National Academy of Sciences.

In 2018, Buonanno received the Leibniz Prize, Germany's prestigious research award. Other accolades include the Galileo Galilei Medal of the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), the Tomalla Prize, the Dirac Medal (with Thibault Damour, Frans Pretorius, and Saul Teukolsky) and the Balzan Prize (with Damour).

She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the International Society of General Relativity and Gravitation and a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship and the Richard A. Ferrell Distinguished Faculty Fellowship.

Buonanno, Charlie Misner, Peter Shawhan and others detailed UMD's contributions to gravitational studies in a 2016 forum, A Celebration of Gravitational Waves

Originally published by the Max Plank Institute:

Eno Elected to Leadership Line

Sarah Eno has been elected to the leadership track of the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields (APS DPF). She will serve as vice-chair from 2024-26, followed by two years as division chair.Eno has worked on several collider experiments. In 1993, she joined UMD as an Assistant Professor, and began research at the DØ experiment at Fermilab.  The discovery of the top quark—announced by the CDF and DØ teams in 1995—was a milestone in particle physics. Eno’s precise measurement of the decay width and mass of the electroweak W boson helped predict the mass of the top quark. 

Sarah EnoSarah Eno

Since 1999, Eno has worked on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. In 2012, CERN announced experimental verification of the Higgs boson, and the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to François Englert and Peter W. Higgs, whose 1960s calculations determined that mass could not exist without the presence of such a particle.  Since 2020 she has participated in the development of experiments for a potential new electron-positron collider at CERN (FCC-ee). She is also exploring improvement and simulations of calorimeters to better study the momentums of jets and of missing transverse energy, and studies of radiation damage in plastic scintillators.

Eno is a University of Maryland Distinguished ScholarTeacher and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society (APS).