Juan Maldacena Awarded Prange Prize

Juan Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study has been named the 2018 recipient of the Richard E. Prange Prize and Lectureship in Condensed Matter Theory and Related Areas. Dr. Maldacena will receive a $10,000 honorarium. He delivered a public lecture entitled "Black Holes and the Structure of Spacetime” at the University of Maryland, College Park on October 2, 2018, and also gave a Condensed Matter Theory Center/Joint Quantum Institute seminar entitled “Wormholes and Entangled States” on Monday, October 1.

The Prange Prize, established by the UMD Department of Physics and Condensed Matter Theory Center (CMTC), honors the late Professor Richard E. Prange, whose distinguished professorial career at Maryland spanned four decades (1961-2000). The Prange Prize is made possible by a gift from Dr. Prange's wife, Dr. Madeleine Joullié, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania.

Maldacena received his Ph.D. in 1996 at Princeton University, focusing on black holes in string theory. Just a few years later, he received a MacArthur Fellowship and tenure at Harvard University. He studies quantum gravity, string theory, quantum field theory and quantum entanglement. Among his honors are the Albert Einstein Medal, the Lorentz Medal, the Fundamental Physics Prize, the Dirac Prize and Medal, the Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics, the Sackler Prize, a Packard Fellowship and a Sloan Fellowship. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Maldacena is most known for his 1997 solo theoretical discovery of a deep connection between gauge theories, which describe the world of particle physics at the microscopic scale, and quantum gravity, which describes the physics of gravitational forces holding the universe together. This famous Maldacena gauge-gravity (or AdS/CFT) duality, arguably the most important theoretical physics result of the last 30 years, has remained a topic of great fundamental interest in particle physics, string theory, gravity, nuclear physics, and condensed matter physics, and is one of the most actively-studied topics in theoretical physics. In particular, Maldacena conjectured that certain strongly-interacting quantum field theories are equivalent to certain weakly-interacting theories of gravity, leading to new insights in all of physics. This work of Maldacena, receiving in excess of 10,000 citations, is among the most cited papers in all of science over the last 20 years.

Maldacena’s Prange Prize lecture was given in Room 1412 of UMD’s John S. Toll Physics Building at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 2.

At the University of Chicago, Richard Prange received his Ph.D. under Nobelist Yoichiro Nambu and also worked with Murray Gell-Mann and Marvin Goldberger. At the University of Maryland, he edited a highly-respected book on the quantum Hall effect and made important theoretical contributions to the subject. His interests extended into all aspects of theoretical physics, and continued after his retirement. Dr. Prange was a member of the Maryland condensed matter theory group for more than 40 years and was an affiliate of CMTC since its inception in 2002.

"Richard enjoyed a fascinating and fulfilling career at the University of Maryland exploring condensed matter physics, and even after retirement was active in the department," said Dr. Joullié. "He spent the very last afternoon of his life in the lecture hall for a colloquium on graphene, followed by a vigorous discussion. And so I was happy to institute the Prange Prize, to generate its own robust discussions in condensed matter theory."

"The Prange Prize provides a unique opportunity to acknowledge transformative work in condensed matter theory, a field that has proven to be an inexhaustible source of insights and discoveries in both fundamental and applied physics,” said Dr. Sankar Das Sarma, who holds the Richard E. Prange Chair in Physics at UMD and is also a Distinguished University Professor and director of the CMTC.

Since its initiation in 2009, the Prange Prize has been awarded to Philip W. Anderson, Walter Kohn, Daniel Tsui, Andre Geim, David Gross, Klaus von Klitzing, and Frank Wilczek.




Peter Shawhan Awarded 2018 Kirwan Faculty Research and Scholarship Prize

University of Maryland Professor Peter Shawhan received the 2018 Kirwan Faculty Research and Scholarship Prize during the campus’ annual Faculty and Staff Convocation ceremony on September 12, 2018. The prize, which provides a $5,000 stipend, recognizes a faculty member for a highly significant work of research, scholarship or artistic creativity completed within the last three years.

“The Kirwan Prize for 2018 recognizes [Shawhan’s] leadership on a variety of aspects regarding the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment, which provided the first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars, and [his] work in multimessenger astronomy,” said UMD President Wallace D. Loh.

Shawhan also received the USM Board of Regents faculty excellence award earlier this year.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Washington University in St. Louis, joined the UMD Department of Physics in 2006.

“I came to the University of Maryland because it has an excellent physics department with a lot of different research specialties,” Shawhan said. “I was also familiar with the university because I lived nearby when I was in high school. I participated in the Physics Olympics here and still have a pin from the event.”

Prior to joining UMD, Shawhan was a senior scientist at the California Institute of Technology working on gravitational waves. He first learned about the research field as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, where he earned a Ph.D. in physics in 1999.

“I was studying particle physics at Chicago,” Shawhan said. “But near the end of my Ph.D., my advisor, Bruce Winstein, called me up one evening. He said, ‘[LIGO Co-founder] Kip Thorne is going to be my house tomorrow. Why don’t you come over and talk about LIGO?’ And I got interested.”

Gravitational waves—which Albert Einstein predicted in 1916 as part of the theory of general relativity—are ripples in the fabric of spacetime. In 2015, the LIGO detectors located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, detected gravitational waves for the first time. The finding led to the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics for Thorne, Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish.

As data analysis committee chair and a principal investigator of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), Shawhan helped the collaboration conclude that the first gravitational waves detected came from the merger of two black holes that produced a single, more massive spinning black hole. In particular, Shawhan helped validate the analysis software that identified the black-hole merger signal a few minutes after the LIGO detectors recorded it. Shawhan also acted as a liaison with collaborating astronomers, performing rapid data analysis and sharing the results with them.

The detection of gravitational waves made it possible to study cosmological events using both gravitational wave detectors and electromagnetic telescopes, which can collect information about events using the entire spectrum of light. Shawhan led the LSC in developing this combined approach, called multimessenger astronomy.

“I first got into multimessenger astronomy in 2007, when a colleague donated telescope time so that some students and I could observe galaxies that our gravitational wave data suggested could be interesting,” Shawhan said. “We realized pretty quickly that it was hard work and we should leave it to professional astronomers, so we switched to collaborating with them.”

To quickly share information with astronomers collaborating with the LSC on multimessenger astronomy studies, Shawhan and his students developed a pipeline to rapidly process and check data from possible gravitational wave events. In addition, Shawhan recruited interested astronomers and helped them strategize about how to best follow up on gravitational wave observations.

Shawhan is particularly proud of the intense multimessenger astronomy campaign that followed the first detection of a merger event between two neutron stars—the dense, collapsed cores that remain after large stars die in a supernova explosion.

On August 17, 2017, gravitational waves from the merger arrived at the twin LIGO detectors. About two seconds later, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected a gamma-ray burst from the same source. Then, astronomers around the globe directed more than 70 space- and ground-based telescopes toward the event for follow-up observations.

Shawhan called the event one of the best moments of his research career.

“The neutron star merger event was the really spectacular breakthrough that we’d been hoping for,” Shawhan said. “It was just such a rich discovery. The fact that we had so many astronomers lined up to be ready to follow it up really paid off. “

UMD’s long history in the field of gravitational waves provided a boost to his research, Shawhan said. He specifically cited the influence of Physics Professor Emeritus Ho Jung Paik, who developed more sensitive detectors for gravitational waves and helped create the job opportunity that led Shawhan to UMD in the first place.

Today, UMD continues to provide Shawhan with opportunities to further his research.

“The physics department has been very supportive of my work on gravitational waves over the years,” Shawhan said. “It is also great to be able to collaborate with the Department of Astronomy, the Joint Space-Science Institute and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Through my involvement with them, I’ve become more involved in astrophysics. I’m actually getting involved in some space missions now!”

shawhan regalia pic 2018Provost Rankin, Peter Shawhan and President Loh

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Ted Jacobson Named Distinguished University Professor

Ted Jacobson has been named a University of Maryland Distinguished University Professor. This designation is the campus’ highest academic honor, reserved for those whose scholarly achievements “have brought distinction to the University of Maryland.” He was cited for his highly innovative work in black hole thermodynamics, the nature of spacetime, and gravitational physics.

Jacobson received his Ph.D. at the University of Texas and held postdoctoral appointments at the Observatoire de Meudon and Institute Henri Poincaré, Paris; the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Brandeis University before joining UMD as an assistant professor in 1988. He has since held appointments at the University of Bern, the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, the Université de Paris VII and the Institute d’Astrophysique in Paris, the University of Utrecht and the Schrödinger Institute of Vienna. Jacobson is a Distinguished Visiting Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, where he spent part of a 2013-14 sabbatical. He has been a Simons Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, and in 2015 was co-coordinator of its six-month research program Quantum Gravity Foundations: UV to IR.

Jacobson is a member of the Maryland Center for Fundamental Physics and the Joint Space-Science Institute and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Physical Society. He was an invited speaker at Stephen Hawking’s 75th birthday conference in 2017, where he spoke on "Hawking radiation, infinite redshifts, and black hole analogues”.

He is a UMD Distinguished Scholar-Teacher, and he co-developed the College Park Scholars Program Science, Discovery and the Universe

His work has been featured in the lay press, including The Economist and Salon.com. He has written for Scientific American, including a cover story, “Echoes of Black Holes.  In 2010, the New York Times published a feature story on gravity and highlighted Jacobson’s 1995 paper “Thermodynamics of Spacetime: The Einstein Equation of State”.  This paper showed that Einstein's equation for the curvature of spacetime derives from thermodynamic principles applied to entanglement entropy of the quantum vacuum. The idea was inspired by black hole thermodynamics, one of his main research foci. His other research interests have included laboratory analogs of black holes, astroparticle and gravitational tests of relativity, and relativistic plasma physics.

Maissam Barkeshli Receives NSF CAREER Award

Ten University of Maryland faculty members earned Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation in the past fiscal year.

The five-year awards are the NSF’s most prestigious in support of junior faculty members who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Additions to the Physics Teaching Faculty

Hailu B. Gebremariam has accepted an appointment as a full-time lecturer.  He holds a bachelor's and a master's degree in physics from Addis Ababa University, an ICTPHailuHailu Gebremariam diploma in high energy physics from the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics and a master's degree in physics from Syracuse University. He received his UMD doctorate in 2005 under Ted Einstein, with the thesis Terrace Width Distribution and First Passage Probabilities for Interacting Steps. Prior to accepting his new position, he was an assistant professor at Montgomery College and a part-time lecturer in the Department of Physics.

Matt sjpgMatt SeversonMatt Severson has accepted an appointment as a full-time lecturer. He holds bachelor’s degrees in atmospheric sciences and meteorology and in physics and mathematics from the University of South Alabama, and received his UMD Ph.D. in 2015 under Rabi Mohapatra, with the thesis Neutrino Mass and Proton Lifetime in a Realistic SUSY SO(10) Model.  Prior to accepting his new position, he was a part-time lecturer in the Department of Physics.