Spring 2024 Pappalardo Fellowships in Physics Symposium

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Introductory Remarks

2:00 – 2:15 pm
Matthew Headrick
Professor of Physics, Brandeis University
2003-2006 Pappalardo Fellow


2:15 – 2:45 pm
Juliana García-Mejía
Pegasi b Fellow, 2023-2026; Pappalardo Fellow in Physics, 2026-2028
Astrophysics Observation, Instrumentation, and Experiment

The Tierras Observatory: An Ultra-precise Time-series Photometer to Characterize Nearby Low-mass Stars and their Terrestrial Exoplanets

Although the study of exoplanets has seen dramatic advances in the past decade, the analogs of many of the denizens of our solar system remain beyond the grasp of current observatories. For example, it is not known whether Mars and Mercury-sized worlds are common, and no extra-solar satellites or rings have been discovered to date. 

Time-series photometry is a path to significant progress on these questions, but we are limited by the photometric precision of our observatories. The Tierras Observatory is a new ultra-precise, fully-automated photometer designed to further our understanding of terrestrial exoplanets, exo-satellites, and the variability of their host low-mass stars. 

I begin this talk by summarizing the design features that enable Tierras to achieve its state-of-the-art, ground-based photometric precision. After overviewing the construction, commissioning, and first-light results of Tierras, I will describe our ongoing observing program and early science results. 

2:45 – 3:15 pm
Kevin Nuckolls
2023-2026 Pappalardo Fellow in Physics
Experimental Condensed Matter Physics
Customizable Unconventional Superconducting Materials” 

Superconductivity is an extraordinary collective electronic phase of matter that supports the conduction of electricity in materials without energy loss or heat dissipation. Our understanding of this remarkable phenomenon is deeply rooted in the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer theory of superconductivity, which impressively describes nearly all of the superconducting materials we know of today. 

Because of this explanatory power, we often refer to this theory as the “conventional” theory of superconductivity. However, this theory is not universal, and there are a growing number of exceptions to this framework that have evaded a complete and quantitative microscopic description. 

So-called “unconventional superconductors” have been discovered in a wide range of materials, and are important exceptions, in part because of their impressive robustness to their environment. 

Unconventional superconductors are stable up to record high temperatures and magnetic fields, and are stable in the ultra-low electron density limit—all of which provide clear and quantitative violations of our conventional theory of superconductivity.

In this talk, I will introduce the major goals and challenges of superconductivity research today, which aim not only to uncover predictive theoretical descriptions for exotic superconducting phases, but also to design new materials capable of supporting the transformative technological impact expected of a room-temperature, ambient pressure superconductor. 

Further, I will discuss recent efforts towards designing, synthesizing, and characterizing unconventional superconductivity in an emerging family of layered materials. 

With these new materials, the close interplay of material synthesis efforts and advanced characterization techniques has begun to present new opportunities for understanding unconventional superconductivity through the careful comparison of material properties within this highly tunable material class.

3:15 – 3:45 pm
Rohan Naidu
NASA Hubble Fellow, 2022-2025; Pappalardo Fellow, 2025-2027
Astrophysics Observation, Instrumentation, and Experiment
Into the First Billion Years with the JWST

One of the last great unknowns in our history of the universe is when and how the first galaxies emerged after the Big Bang. 

These galaxies transformed the cosmos: they illuminated the invisible scaffolding of dark matter that underpins the universe, they ionized the intergalactic reservoirs of hydrogen, and they synthesized the elements that would one day seed life on Earth. 

Thanks to the JWST (James Webb Space Telescope), these enigmatic galaxies are finally coming into view. 

In this talk, I will present early results on these sources, and preview ongoing experiments I am leading. I will discuss new classes of galaxies being revealed at the highest redshifts, such as remarkably luminous early systems and a surprisingly abundant population of obscured black holes. 

Throughout, I will outline how the coming years promise a once-in-a-generation expansion of the astrophysical frontier to the brink of the Big Bang.


4:00 – 4:30 pm
Manki Kim
2021-2024 Pappalardo Fellow in Physics
String Theory; Cosmology
Towards Quantum Gravity in Realistic Universes

Despite string theory providing a perturbative window to understand quantum gravity, its utilities have been restricted to highly unrealistic universes. 

Of the many theoretical challenges for understanding string theory in realistic universes, formulating string theory in a magnetic field background stands out. 

In this talk, I will describe what prevented string theorists from studying more realistic universes and how recent developments of second quantized string theory provide an exciting opportunity to study semi-realistic universes.

4:30 – 5:00 pm
Kevin Burdge
2021-2024 Pappalardo Fellow in Physics
Some Black Holes Are Born Gently

In this talk, I present the discovery of the first confirmed black hole in a stellar triple system. 

This system provides strong evidence that at least some black holes are born in a gentle process that imparts little to no natal kick. The discovery also indicates that some black holes either form through a complete collapse of their progenitor, or inhabit systems in which gravitational interactions between an outer companion and the inner binary drives their evolution. 

This discovery provides new avenues for understanding the formation and evolution of black holes using the dynamics of complex stellar systems.

Other Pappalardo links:

Past Symposia

Thursday, March 16, 2023

    Thursday, March 16, 2023

    Thursday, April 28, 2022

    Or Hen
    Class of 1956 Career Development Associate Professor of Physics
    2015-2017 Pappalardo Fellow

    “Neutron Star Droplets and the Quarks Within”

    Since the discovery of quarks nuclear physicists have been trying to understand the relation between the lower-resolution description of nuclei using protons and neutrons, and their underlying higher-resolution description in terms of quarks and gluons.

    At the intersection of these two paradigms are Short-Range Correlations (SRC): pairs of strongly interacting nucleons whose distance is comparable to their radii.

    Due to their overlapping quark distributions and strong interaction, SRC pairs reach local densities comparable to those existing in the outer core of neutron stars and serve as a bridge between low-energy nuclear structure, high-density nuclear matter and high-energy quark distributions.

    In this talk, I will present results from high-energy electron scattering experiments that probe the structure and properties of SRCs across scales: from their effect on the behavior of protons in neutron-rich nuclear systems through their role in our understanding of strong interactions at short distances, and the impact of nuclear interactions on internal quark-gluon sub-structure of nuclei. 

    Looking to the future I will also discuss next generation studies at the forthcoming Electron-Ion Collider under construction at Brookhaven National Lab.

    Webcast recording: https://youtu.be/Hi5Hb1nciTY

    • April 4, 2021
      Katelin Schutz, 2019-2020 Pappalardo Fellow; 2020 NASA Einstein Fellow
      (Nuclear and Particle Theory)
      “Making Dark Matter Out of Light”
      Introductory remarks: Tracy Slatyer, Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Associate Professor of Physics
    • April 28, 2021
      Anna-Christina Eilers, 2019-2022 NASA Hubble Fellow; 2022-2024 Pappalardo Fellow
      “The Formation and Growth of Supermassive Black Holes”
      Introductory remarks: Robert Simcoe, Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics; Director, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research
    • May 5, 2021
      Rachel Carr, 2016-2018, 2020-2021 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Experimental Nuclear and Particle Physics)
      Chasing Anomalies with Reactor Neutrinos”
      Introductory remarks: Janet Conrad, Professor of Physics
    • May 12, 2021
      Nicholas Kern, 2020-2023 Pappalardo Fellow
      “Ushering in a New Era for High Redshift Astrophysics and Cosmology with the 21 cm Line”
      Introductory remarks: Jacqueline Hewitt, Julius A. Stratton Professor in Electrical Engineering and Physics
    • May 19, 2021
      Hoi Chun “Adrian” Po, 2018-2021 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics)
      “Topology at the Corner of the Table”
      Introductory remarks: Liang Fu, Lawrence C. (1944) and Sarah W. Biedenharn Career Development Associate Professor of Physics
    • Prof. Jeff Gore, Latham Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics
      Introductory Remarks
    • Dr. Taritree Wongjirad, 2014–17 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Experimental Nuclear and Particle Physics)
      “Searching for Neutrino-less Double Beta Decay Using Quantum Dot Nanoparticles”
    • Dr. Inti Sodemann, 2014–17 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Hard Condensed Matter Theory)
      “The Nature of Spin Superfluidity and its Potential Uses”
    • Dr. Meng Su,  2012–15 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Theoretical Astrophysics)
      “From Space to the Tibet Plateau: Probing the Mystery of the Universe in Gamma Ray and Microwave”
    • Dr. Benjamin Safdi, 2014–17 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Theoretical High Energy Physics)
      “Directional Antineutrino Detection”
    • Dr. Yoav Lahini,  2012–15 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Experimental Soft Condensed Matter & Biophysics)
      Towards Optical Measurements of Virus Self-Assembly: How Does a Virus Grow?
    • Prof. Peter Fisher, Head, Department of Physics
      Introductory Remarks
    • Dr. Robert Penna, 2013–16 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Theoretical Astrophysics)
      “Spinning Black Holes”
    • Dr. Jeongwan Haah, 2013–16 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Quantum Information Theory)
      “Protecting Quantum Information”
    • Dr. Inna Vishik,  2013–16 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Experimental Condensed Matter)
      “Adventures in Unconventional Superconductivity”
    • Dr. Guy Bunin, 2013–16 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Biophysics & Non-equilibrium Statistical Mechanics)
      “From Symmetries to Probabilities”
    • Dr. Joshua Spitz,  2011–14 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Experimental Nuclear and Particle Physics)
      “Testing Einstein with Neutrinos”
    • Prof. Marin Soljačić, 2008 MacArthur Fellow; 2000-03 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Condensed Matter Theory)
      Introductory Remarks
    • Dr. David Hsieh, 2009–12 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Condensed Matter Experiment)
      “A New Generation of Insulators for the Electronics Future”
    • Dr. Paul Chesler, 2009–12 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Nuclear & Particle Theory)
      “Applied String Theory: from Gravitational Collapse to Heavy Ion Collisions”
    • Dr. Paola Rebusco, 2007–10 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Theoretical Astrophysics)
      “Astronomers-to-be at MIT”
    • Dr. Yusuke Nishida, 2008–11 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Nuclear & Particle Theory)
      “Universal Physics with Ultracold Atoms”
    • Dr. Jeff Gore, 2007–10 Pappalardo Fellow
      “Is Evolution Reversible?”
    • Prof. Ed Bertschinger, Professor of Physics and Former Head, Department of Physics
      Introductory Remarks
    • Dr. David Tong, 2001-2004 Pappalardo Fellow
      (String Theory)
      “Is String Theory Right or is It Just Useful?”
    • Dr. Robert Simcoe, 2003-2006 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Experimental Astrophysics)
      “Playing with FIRE: The Edge of the Universe as seen from Magellan”
    • Dr. Jocelyn Monroe, 2006-2009 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Dark Matter and Neutrino Physics)
      “Particle Physics at the Dark Frontier”
    • Dr. Michael Fogler, 2000-2003 Pappalardo Fellow
      (Condensed Matter Theory)
      “Graphene Twist and Rock-n-Roll”
    • Dr. Henriette Elvang, 2005-2008 Pappalardo Fellow
      (String Theory)
      “Recent Advances in Amplitude Calculations and Their Applications”