Peter Shawhan Honored by USM Board of Regents

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents has selected Professor Peter Shawhan of the UMD Department of Physics for the 2018 Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, Scholarship or Creative Activity. This award is the Board’s highest honor for exemplary faculty achievement.

Shawhan was cited for his work on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), which in 2016 reported the first detection of gravitational waves. The detection of these waves—caused by the collision of two massive black holes 1.3 billion years ago—verified Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and generated immense acclaim, culminating in the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish.

Just two weeks after the Nobel announcement, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) and the European Virgo Collaboration described another major finding: the collision of two neutron stars. A distinctive “chirp” of gravitational waves was first detected by the two LIGO interferometers, with a weaker signal recorded by the Virgo interferometer. About two seconds later, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope logged a burst of gamma rays. These nearly simultaneous signals triggered an alert to scores of observatories on Earth and in space to turn to the direction of the source and collect data over the whole electromagnetic spectrum. They gathered images and information about the neutron star collision that can be studied for years to come. This coordinated approach—multi-messenger astronomy following a gravitational-wave event—was an innovation developed and championed by Shawhan with various collaborators over many years.

Within the LSC, Shawhan is currently the Data Analysis Council Co-Chair and a member of the Executive Committee. For the initial detection of gravitational waves, the LSC and the Virgo collaboration were honored with a 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, the 2016 Gruber Prize in Cosmology, the 2017 Bruno Rossi Prize, and the 2017 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.

Shawhan received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Chicago, and was appointed a Millikan Prize Postdoctoral Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. He continued at Caltech as a Senior Scientist before accepting a faculty appointment with UMD Physics in 2006. He serves as the Physics Associate Chair for Graduate Education and is a member of the UMD-Goddard Joint Space-Science Institute and its Executive Committee. In addition, he is Chair of the recently-established Division of Gravitational Physics of the American Physical Society. In August 2016, Shawhan received the Richard A. Ferrell Distinguished Faculty Fellowship from the UMD Department of Physics.

Assistant Professor Maissam Barkeshli Receives 2018 Sloan Research Fellowship

Maissam Barkeshli, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Maryland and fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, has been awarded a 2018 Sloan Research Fellowship. Granted by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this award identifies 126 early-career scientists based on their potential to contribute fundamentally significant research to a wider academic community.  

Barkeshli, a theoretical condensed matter physicist interested in complex quantum many-body phenomena, will use the fellowship to further his research into the collective behavior that emerges in systems of strongly interacting particles governed by the laws of quantum mechanics.

“I am honored to receive this prestigious fellowship,” said Barkeshli. “It represents an affirmation of my work by distinguished members of the physics community, and it encourages me to continue my efforts in understanding the complexities of quantum matter.”

Barkeshli’s research mixes physics with mathematics and draws motivation from the ongoing pursuit to build next-generation computing devices ruled by quantum physics. Beyond the applications, his research explores the many ways that atoms and electrons—prototypical quantum particles—can combine in large numbers to produce a range of novel behaviors.  

For example, interesting things seem to happen at the interface between two different quantum materials. In 2014, Barkeshli and several colleagues showed that, at least theoretically, electrons can lose their electric charge or shed a quantum property called spin when they hop between two quantum materials. With the Sloan Research Fellowship, Barkeshli hopes to continue studying the novel ways that electrons and other, more exotic particles behave at these interfaces. This research could uncover new ways of building quantum computers that are virtually immune to noise, and has led to experimental proposals that could soon be tested in the lab.

Barkeshli has authored more than 35 peer-reviewed journal articles. Before joining the UMD faculty in 2016, Barkeshli worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research’s Station Q (2013-2016) and at Stanford University (2010-2013). He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and a second bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2004. He received his doctoral degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010.

Barkeshli joins the list of 39 current UMD College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences faculty members who have received Sloan Research Fellowships.  

The two-year $65,000 Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded to U.S. and Canadian researchers in the fields of chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics.  Candidates must be nominated by their fellow scientists and winning fellows are selected by independent panels of senior scholars on the basis of each candidate’s independent research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in his or her field.

“The Sloan Research Fellows represent the very best science has to offer,” said Adam Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “The brightest minds, tackling the hardest problems, and succeeding brilliantly—Fellows are quite literally the future of twenty-first century science.”

Media Relations Contact: Abby Robinson, 301-405- 5845, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Writers: Abby Robinson and Chris Cesare
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About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college’s 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary researchcenters foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $175 million.

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