Sankar Das Sarma Named Highly Cited Researcher

Sankar Das Sarma has again been included on Clarivate Analytics list of Highly Cited Researchers, a compilation of influential names in science.

Das Sarma is the Richard E. Prange Chair of Physics, the Director of the Condensed Matter Theory Center and a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute

After receiving his Ph.D. from Brown University in 1979—studying under UMD alumnusSankar Das SarmaSankar Das Sarma John Quinn (Ph.D., '58)—Das Sarma joined the UMD faculty in 1982. He was named a Distinguished University Professor in 1995, and in 2008 received the Kirwan Faculty Research Prize for his groundbreaking work in topological quantum computing.

In 2013, Das Sarma received the CMNS Distinguished Faculty Award in recognition of his stellar career. In 2020, a paper he co-wrote was included in Physical Review B's list of the "milestone" papers published in its first 50 years of existence. 

Das Sarma has been included in all previous listings of highly-cited researchers: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2001.

College Park Professor Chris Monroe also appeared on the list.



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Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023,  Eastern Standard Time (UTC -05:00)

9:00-9:25      Registration and Coffee
9:25-9:30   Opening Remarks
9:30-10:15    Ted Jacobson: Charlie Misner and “the beauty and intelligibility of the Universe”
10:15-11:00   Saul Teukolsky: Black hole perturbations, ringdowns, and all that
11:00-11:30   Coffee break
11:30-12:30   Remarks and Reminiscences
12:30-2:00   Lunch
2:00-2:45   Steve Carlip: (Mostly) Quantum Cosmology
2:45-3:30                 Kip Thorne: The Huge Impact that Charlie and His Students Have Had on Me: Black holes, wormholes, singularities, gravitational waves, chronological pathologies, and MTW
3:30-4:00   Coffee break
4:00-5:00   Remarks and Reminiscences, plus Closing Remarks 

Dragt Awarded Robert R. Wilson Prize

The American Physical Society (APS) has honored Professor Emeritus Alex Dragt with the 2023 Robert R. Wilson Prize for Achievement in the Physics of Particle Accelerators. He was cited "for pioneering contributions to the development and application of Lie methods in accelerator physics and nonlinear dynamics," and will receive a $10,000 award.

Dragt studied chemistry and mathematics at Calvin University before earning his Ph.D. in theoretical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, under Robert Karplus.  After an appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study, Dragt joined the Department of Physics as an assistant professJohn Toll and Alex DragtJohn Toll and Alex Dragtor in 1965, and served as department chair from 1975-78.  He led the Dynamical Systems and Accelerator Theory Group, whose work included the computation of charged particle beam transport and the computation of electromagnetic fields and beam-cavity interactions.  He received the University of Maryland Regents' Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1967 and was named a University of Maryland Distinguished Scholar-Teacher in 1984.

Dragt (rear, white shirt) with colleagues in the Center for Superconductivity Research (now QMC).Dragt (rear, white shirt) with colleagues in the Center for Superconductivity Research (now QMC).In 2002, Dragt served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the APS Division of Physics of Beams.  From 1985-1993 he was as an editor of Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena. He was recognized with the 2013 IEEE Particle Accelerator Science and Technology (PAST) award for substantial contributions to the analysis of nonlinear phenomena in accelerator beam optics.

He has had several visiting appointments, including at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques; the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Los Alamos National Laboratory; the SSC Design Center at the Lawrence Berkeley Laborator; and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

Dragt is a Fellow of the APS and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the IEEE, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Mathematical Society.

APS Wilson prize announcement:

Maryland Quantum-Thermodynamics Hub Launches With $2M Grant

The Maryland Quantum-Thermodynamics Hub, supported by a grant from the Templeton Foundation, will bring together researchers from several universities to galvanize a field that is central to understanding the workings of our universe and to developing robust quantum technologies, ranging from a new class of computers to secure communications networks. It will be based in the Institute for Physical Science and Technology at UMD.

Leading the project at UMD are Christopher Jarzynski, a Distinguished University Professor with appointments in chemistry and biochemistry and in physics, and Nicole Yunger Halpern, a fellow in the Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science (QuICS) and a scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“We’re delighted at the support that UMD institutions, including IPST, have demonstrated for establishing this hub and for quantum thermodynamics in general,” said Yunger Halpern. “We look forward to building a North American lodestone for quantum thermodynamics, inspired by our international peers.”

[Mapping the Quantum Frontier: UMD Expands Its Footprint as the ‘Capital of Quantum’]

In the quantum world, you don’t need to just think about the movement of energy and particles—as in traditional thermodynamics—but also about the movement of information in uniquely quantum ways. The thermodynamic rules of quantum systems require significant additional research before physicists can understand them as well as they do the established laws of thermodynamics that govern heat flow in things like refrigerators, steam engines and rocket thrusters.

The Maryland hub team is not scrapping traditional thermodynamics completely, however. Instead, it is combining physicists’ established understanding with the modern tools of quantum physics and information processing to develop deeper insights.

The scientists involved in the Maryland Quantum-Thermodynamics Hub say they’re not only interested in a richer understanding of quantum physics and its use in technology, but also how it connects to the flow of time and the laws of classical physics we constantly see playing out in everyday life.

In addition to cutting-edge research, the hub team also plans to organize symposia, seminars, an international conference, a visitors program and a science-fiction short-story contest.

In addition to Jarzynski and Yunger Halpern, senior personnel involved include University of Maryland, Baltimore County Associate Professor of Physics Sebastian Deffner; UMD Assistant Research Scientist Luis Pedro García-Pintos, who is also a member of the Joint Quantum Institute and QuICS; University College Dublin Assistant Professor Steve Campbell; University of Southern California Quantum Information Scientist Amir Kalev, who was formerly a Hartree postdoctoral fellow at QuICS; and Arizona State University Assistant Professor Kanu Sinha, Ph.D. ’15.

Story by Bailey Bedford

Read a blog post on the establishment of the hub by Nicole Yunger Halpern, or Maryland Today’s previous story on her recent book on the field of quantum steampunk.

From Unexpected Opportunity to Game-changing Discovery

In the world of startups, opportunity can come knocking in strange ways. Six years ago, Didier Depireux (Ph.D. ’91, physics) was doing research at the University of Maryland when he was approached by Sam Owen, a young scientist who said he’d developed a device to treat motion sickness. Depireux was skeptical but decided to check it out. 

“Since I get very severe motion sickness, I made a deal with him,” Depireux recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll come over with my car and you can drive me around while I use the device. If I haven’t thrown up after 20 minutes while I’m in the back of the car reading, I’ll join the effort.’”

The two made plans to meet in Washington, D.C., on a muggy July afternoon.  Didier DepireuxDidier Depireux

“So, I go to Georgetown. The windows are down, it’s hot, it’s humid and I’m thinking I will not make it past the first turn,” Depireux explained. “Owen is driving and I’m in the back seat using his device and reading my cellphone. And for the first time in my life—and I’m over 50 years old—I was able to read in the back of a car and not get sick. I thought, ‘I need to join this, this is amazing.’”

Thanks to that strange summer ride-along, Depireux joined Owen in launching a startup called Otolith Labs to address inner ear-related conditions and their often debilitating symptoms. Otolith’s noninvasive vestibular system masking technology—designed for acute treatment of vestibular vertigo—received the FDA’s Breakthrough Device designation and clinical trials are ongoing, with support from investors including AOL founder Jack Davies and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban.

All of this sets the stage for a major test that could lead to the startup’s ultimate goal—FDA approval as early as next year.

“In July we told the FDA we want to do a large-scale pivotal trial with hundreds of participants,” Depireux explained. “If all goes well, we’ll have a meeting next summer where the FDA will approve us and then the device will become available.”

For Depireux, it’s the latest step on a bigger mission that has guided his career.

Didier DepireuxDidier Depireux“It’s mostly relevance,” he explained. “I would like my life to make a difference, that’s the one thing that keeps me going.”

From philosophy to physics

Depireux was raised in Belgium. A bright, thoughtful boy, he grew up with a strong interest in science and theory, thanks to his father, a physics professor, and his mother, a chemistry teacher.

“I was always very science-y,” Depireux recalled. “Initially, I wanted to become a philosopher and I read this 800-page book—I think it was Kant—and at the end of it I was like, ‘I still don’t know the answer, and I’m not even sure I understand the question anymore.’ That’s when I thought that’s not a good fit for me.”  

Depireux eventually gravitated toward physics. After receiving his B.S. in physics from the University of Liège in Belgium in 1986, he began his graduate work in physics at the University of Maryland, where he focused on string theory and met Distinguished University Professor of Physics Sylvester James Gates Jr., who quickly became a mentor and friend.

“Jim had a huge impact on me. He was a fantastic person to work with and he had so much positive energy,” Depireux said. “I still remember late one night I was working on something, and I was stuck and I wrote to him, and he said, ‘I’ll come over, let’s work this out.’ So we had office hours at 10:30 p.m. just because I couldn’t solve a problem.”

Depireux earned his Ph.D. in 1991 and went on to do postdoctoral work in Quebec, Canada, before returning to College Park in 1994. Inspired by his wife Pamela, who was getting her Ph.D. in neuropharmacology, Depireux took on the challenge of modeling the brain and studying how it processes sound. By 2001, he was also teaching a gross anatomy class at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“I think, to this day, I am the only string theorist who has taught gross anatomy,” he reflected.

From his research on the brain and hearing, Depireux shifted his focus to tinnitus—disruptive ringing in the ears. He explored possible treatments and eventually teamed up with former UMD Bioengineering Professor Benjamin Shapiro who was already working on the drug delivery challenges Depireux was trying to solve.

“I wanted to get drug delivery to the ear but I didn’t know how to do it,” Depireux said. “He had this method with nanoparticles to deliver drugs and I had the target so we started working together.”

In 2013, the two launched Otomagnetics, a startup that has made major strides in developing noninvasive methods to treat inner ear diseases and more.

“We’ve gotten very nice results as far as drug delivery goes and Otomagnetics is still an ongoing concern,” Depireux explained, “But raising money for drug delivery is the real challenge, because to get drug delivery to the ear is going to take hundreds of millions of dollars, and that hasn’t happened yet.”

Going all-in on Otolith

Depireux balanced his time between Otomagnetics, his UMD research and teaching at the School of Medicine until 2016, when he experienced Owen’s experimental motion sickness device for the first time. Depireux saw so much potential with the device that he went all-in on Otolith. 

“You have to have pretty strong resilience to join a startup—I went for a year and a half without a salary or anything,” Depireux explained. “It’s not like we didn’t have money, we just needed all of the money to develop the device, get the patents in, all of the things we had to do.”

Though Otolith started with a motion sickness device, its co-founders hoped to make an even bigger impact by developing a device for vertigo, debilitating dizziness often caused by problems in the inner ear.

And they had a plan.

“For tinnitus or ringing in the ears, some patients get relief from a noise masker—they can still perceive their tinnitus, but the noise masker allows them to ignore the tinnitus,” Depireux explained. “So Sam, my cofounder said, ‘Why don’t we come up with a noise masker for the vestibular system?’”

That’s exactly what they did. Their novel device, worn like a headband, treats vertigo by applying localized mechanical stimulation to the vestibular system through calibrated vibrations. 

Depireux says he never would have made it this far without physics.

“My physics training really helped me,” he explained. “In physics, you have this huge problem and you have to break it down. If it’s intractable, you make it tractable, break it into small, simple things we can understand and then we can solve it.”

Promising results and personal stories

Clinical trials of Otolith’s investigational headband have yielded promising results. In the first of a series of ongoing clinical studies, 87.5% of the 40 participants reported a reduction in their vertigo within five minutes of turning on the device. But for Depireux, it’s the personal stories that are most rewarding.

“Somehow my phone number was listed as an emergency contact on, which I thought would be for emergencies only,” he said. “I’d have patients calling me in tears, telling me, ‘When my grandkids visit, I can finally bend down and pick them up, and it used to be that just bending down would send me into such vertigo that I would have to go to bed for days.’ Or ‘For the first time in years, I’ve been able to walk around the block.’ That’s what really motivates me.”

It's been Depireux’s goal all along—doing relevant research that changes people’s lives.

“We cannot help 100% of vertigo patients, no device does that,” he reflected. “But if we can help even half of those patients, that’s really my hope.”

Looking back on a career path that’s been anything but predictable, Depireux appreciates every challenge and setback that got him to where he is today.

“Something can feel like a failure when things go wrong, but then later you realize you really learned something from it,” he reflected. “I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity to come to the U.S. and study physics and do research in College Park, do this random walk in my career and finally end up doing something that I feel has given me great meaning in my life.”

Written by Leslie Miller