Charles W. Misner, 1932 - 2023

Charles W. Misner, an eminent theorist and co-author of the classic textbook Gravitation, died on July 24, 2023. He was 91.

Misner received a bachelor’s degree at the University of Notre Dame before his doctoral studies at Princeton University with John Archibald Wheeler.  Following conferral of his Ph.D. in 1957, he remained at Princeton. A Sloan Fellowship enabled him to study at Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, and while there, he met and fell in love with Susanne Kemp, a friend of the Bohr family.  John S. Toll, also in Denmark that spring, greeted the couple as they emerged from their wedding at the Copenhagen cathedral to convince them to move to UMD. Toll's powers of persuasion prevailed, and Misner served on the Maryland faculty from 1963 until his 2000 retirement. The Department of Physics will host a memorial on Saturday, November 11, 2023. On Friday, November 10, at 4:15 p.m. in 1412 Toll,  Nobel laureate Kip Thorne will give a public lecture on the Warped Side of the Universe.

Misner enjoyed a distinguished career in general relativity, devising with Richard Arnowitt and Stanley Deser the ADM formalism, which earned them the American Physical Society Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics in 1994, and was commended by the Albert Einstein Society with its Einstein Medal in 2015. Misner was an elected Fellowand was an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Astronomical Society. 

He is also well-known as the co-author, with Wheeler and Nobel laureate Kip Thorne, of the acclaimed 1973 textbook, Gravitation. The authoritative opus, known universally as MTW, was so comprehensive and unique in its vivid pedagogical style that it has remained a valued resource despite subsequent developments, and was republished in 2017. Earlier this year, the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation (ISGRG) celebrated the book’s 50th anniversary with an online forum; the milestone was also marked in Physics Today.

Following LIGO’s confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, Misner contributed to UMD's popular Nov. 1, 2016 symposium, A Celebration of Gravitational Waves.  When Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish received the 2017 Nobel Prize for LIGO, Misner was quoted in Nature 's writeup.  His student Richard Isaacson (Ph.D., 1967), was noted as an "unsung hero" of LIGO, along with former UMD physicist Joe Weber and Alessandra Buonanno, in a separate article in Nature

The American Institute of Physics interviewed Misner for its oral history collection in 1989, 2001 and in 2020.

In 2018, Susanne Misner spotted a New York Times story announcing that a signed copy of Stephen Hawking's doctoral thesis had sold for $760,000. The Misners authorized the sale of their Hawking correspondence, yielding $260,000 to benefit the Joseph Weber Fund for Gravitational Physics.

More recently, the Misner family established the Charles W. Misner Endowed Lectureship in Gravitational Physics, which debuted in Fall 2022. 

The Charles W. Misner Award, recognizing outstanding Ph.D. thesis work in gravitation and cosmology by a UMD graduate student, was established in his honor.

Susanne Misner died in 2019; the couple is survived by four children and five grandchildren.  Please see this link for further information from the Misner family.  

Yunger Halpern is US Nominee for ASPIRE Young Researcher Award

Adjunct Assistant Professor and Joint Quantum Institute affiliate Nicole Yunger Halpernis the 2023 U.S. nominee for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE), an annual prize for young researchers that is awarded by the APEC trade organization. Yunger Halpern’s nomination by the State Department’s Office of Science and Technology Cooperation comes with its own $3,000 prize. Nicole Yunger Halpern  (Credit: John T. Consoli/UMD)Nicole Yunger Halpern (Credit: John T. Consoli/UMD)

“I'm extremely grateful to NIST and the University of Maryland for their support for my work,” says Yunger Halpern, who is also a Fellow of the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an adjunct assistant professor of the Institute for Physical Sciences and Technology, a member of the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Robust Quantum Simulation, and a founding member of the Maryland Quantum-Thermodynamics Hub.

Yunger Halpern leads a theoretical research group that is modernizing thermodynamics, which traditionally describes large things like steam engines. Her team uses the tools of quantum information theory to make a theory of quantum thermodynamics that describes small things like individual molecules and the qubits that are the basic building blocks of quantum computers. She applies her quantum thermodynamics perspectives to problems from a broad range of fields, including atomic, molecular, and optical physics; condensed matter physics; chemistry; high-energy physics; and biophysics.

In addition to the U.S., APEC comprises 20 other members, including Australia, Russia, Taiwan and Chile. Each member can nominate one individual under 40 years old for the award, and the ASPIRE winner will receive a prize of $25,000.

This year the U.S. is hosting the APEC meeting that will include the ASPIRE award ceremony. As host, the U.S. selected the ASPIRE Prize theme for this year’s competition to be “Inclusive Science, Technology, and Innovation for a Resilient and Sustainable Environment.” Nominees are selected based on criteria including how their work contributes to the annual theme, their history of scholarly publications and their commitment to inclusive and interdisciplinary collaborations with scientists from other APEC regions.

Story by Bailey Bedford


Alumna, Adjunct Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Alumna Ana Maria Rey and Adjunct Professor Paul Julienne were recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Paul Julienne (Credit: Bailey Bedford/JQI)Paul Julienne (Credit: Bailey Bedford/JQI)“I am both gratified and humbled by this honor, which is only possible because of the many excellent colleagues and students with whom I have worked with over the years,” said Julienne, an emeritus Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute. “I owe them a debt of gratitude, for it is by working together that science advances."

Julienne and Rey are among 120 new members elected this year, joining a prestigious group of more than 2,500 scientists around the country who have been elected by their peers in recognition of their research achievementsThe National Academy of Sciences also elected 23 new international scientist who are joining more than 500 other international members.

reyAna Maria Rey. Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Julienne helped establish the research field of ultracold matter, which investigates atoms and molecules near absolute zero. His theoretical research includes developing models that describe how cold trapped molecules and atoms can be precisely controlled using magnetic fields or lasers. This research topic has revealed details of atomic states and chemical reactions of ultracold molecules.

Rey received a B.S. (1999) from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá and a Ph.D. (2004) from the University of Maryland, studying with Charles Clark. She is currently a JILA fellow and University of Colorado professor. Her research group focuses on ultracold atoms, optical lattices and the underlying physics of these systems, with applications in condensed matter and quantum information science. JILA is a research partnership between CU and NIST, In 2013, Rey was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, non-profit society of scholars that was established by an Act of Congress—signed by President Abraham Lincoln—in 1863. The organization works to further science in America and to provide analysis and advice to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions.

JQI story by Bailey Bedford:

Department Rated Highly by US News

The Department of Physics received high ratings in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 Best Graduate Schools lists released on April 25. .Eleven programs and specialties in the University of Maryland’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) earned top-25 accolades.

The college’s graduate rankings are:US News Best Grad SchoolsUS News Best Grad Schools

  • Physics at No. 17 (No. 6 among public institutions)
    • Atomic/molecular/optical specialty at No. 6
    • Quantum specialty at No. 9
    • Condensed matter specialty at No. 17
  • Computer Science at No. 17 (No. 10 among public institutions)
    • Artificial intelligence specialty at No. 15
    • Programming language specialty at No. 20
    • Systems specialty at No. 22
  • Mathematics at No. 20 (No. 6 among public institutions)
    • Applied math specialty at No. 15
    • Analysis specialty at No. 24
  • Earth Sciences at No. 27 (No. 16 among public institutions)
  • Chemistry at No. 46 (No. 27 among public institutions)
  • Biological Sciences at No. 68 (was not surveyed this year)

For a full account of the University's rankings:

The rankings are based on statistical surveys of more than 2,200 programs and reputation surveys sent to nearly 19,000 academics and professionals, conducted in fall 2022 and early 2023. U.S. News said this year that it placed a greater emphasis this year on outcomes, recognizing that students’ ultimate goal in attending graduate school is likely to become a practicing professional.

Hill Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Affiliate Professor Wendell T. Hill III has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies. A professor in the Institute for Physical Science and Technology, Hill is among the 269 new members elected in 2023 for their accomplishments in academia, business, government and public affairs.Wendell Hill. Credit: UMD/Lisa HelfertWendell Hill. Credit: UMD/Lisa Helfert

“We are proud to see one of our longtime faculty members, Dr. Hill, honored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for his trailblazing record of academic accomplishments,” said Amitabh Varshney, dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

Hill joined UMD in 1982 and was promoted to professor in 1996. He has been a Fellow in the Joint Quantum Institute since 2006.

“I am very honored to be recognized by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and humbled to be included in a group of such extraordinary individuals, several of whom are from our campus,” Hill said. “I resonate with the purpose ‘to serve’ and look forward to joining my colleagues in this effort for the common good.”

Hill's research focuses on laser-matter interaction under extreme conditions—ultra-fast, ultra-intense and ultra-cold. His recent work includes ultracold atoms to study fundamental quantum features, attosecond pulses to probe quantum-correlated electron dynamics in atoms and molecules, and super-intense laser pulses to investigate ephemeral particle-antiparticle pairs that reveal the quantum nature of the vacuum.

He has published more than 150 articles, and he has advised and mentored dozens of undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students, and junior faculty members. 

Hill is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the National Academies’ Board on Physics and Astronomy and the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Centro de Lasers Pulsados in Spain. He received the National Science Foundation (NSF) Presidential Young Investigator Award (now known as the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers) and the designation of Science Maker by the History Makers. He also served as director of the NSF’s Atomic, Molecular and Optical Program from 2010 to 2012.  

Hill earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Irvine in 1974 and his Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University in 1980.

His election brings the number of CMNS faculty who are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences to 16, including Charles Misner, Ellen Williams, Sylvester "Jim" Gates, Chris Jarzynski, Roald Sagdeev and John Weeks. 

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. According to the Academy, its dual mission remains essentially the same with honorees drawn from increasingly diverse fields and whose work focuses on the arts, democracy, education, global affairs, and science.