Science Communication: A Conversation with Hirosi Ooguri

Hirosi Ooguri, the Fred Kavli Professor of Theoretical Physics and Mathematics and the director of the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics at Caltech, recently served as a science advisor for The Man from 9 Dimensions, a 3-dimensional dome movie, produced by Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (also known as Miraikan). The movie follows scientists on a search for a "theory of everything" that would unify all the forces in nature, from microscopic to macroscopic scales.

Ooguri's research focuses on superstring theory, considered the leading candidate for such an ultimate unified theory. Superstring theory (in some formulations) has nine dimensions of space—hence the movie's title.

The Man from 9 Dimensions—which recently earned the 2016 Best Educational Production Award from the International Planetary Society—premiered this spring in Japan. It is currently not playing in the U.S., but Ooguri hopes it will be soon. We spoke with him about his role in the production of the film and about the challenges and rewards of science communication.

How did you get involved with the movie?

Three years ago, Dimitris Kontopoulos, a science communicator, and his colleagues at Miraikan, one of the three national science museums in Tokyo, invited me to serve as a scientific supervisor for their project. Dimitris had read my popular Japanese-language science book, What is Gravity?, and was inspired to make a movie on superstring theory, which is a most promising hypothesis to unify all the forces and matter in nature including gravity. Though it seemed a tall order to explain the theory in a 30-minute film, I accepted their invitation. I wanted to make sure that whatever they were going to produce would be educationally meaningful and scientifically accurate.

What are you hoping people will learn from the film?

It is my hope that the film will inspire school children to learn more about science and will convey the excitement of scientific discoveries to the general public. 

When I visited the museum, I saw a diverse group of visitors ranging from elementary school children and dating couples to tourists and retirees. I am told that about a third of visitors are from abroad. I wanted the film to be something everyone can enjoy and learn from. Thus, we introduced multiple-layered structure in the film.

Can you tell us more about the content of the film?

At a superficial level, it is an adventure story of a group of scientists chasing after "the man from the 9 dimensions," who takes us to the microscopic world of elementary particles to the macroscopic world of the universe, and to its beginning—the Big Bang. Each scene is visually compelling as we were able to hire one of the most talented horror movie directors in Japan, Takashi Shimizu, and one of the best computer graphics companies, Omnibus Japan, to implement the director's vision. It is a beautiful film to look at.

At the same time, the scientific contents are very rich. The film describes the standard model of particle physics [which unifies into a single theory the smallest building blocks of matter and three of nature's four forces] and graphically shows the properties of neutrinos and the Higgs boson—without using any words. In the scene where we go back to the history of the universe, we use the latest computer simulation data on galaxy formation, and the "universal clock" of the scene accurately shows the time after the Big Bang. Visitors with some physics background will find a scientific message in each scene.

Why did you decide to have a character—"the man from 9 dimensions"—represent laws of nature?

We started with the ambitious plan to describe, in 30 minutes, quantum mechanics of the microscopic world; the standard model; the entire history of the universe, including galaxy formation, the first stars, the dark ages, the Big Bang, and the more hypothetical inflation period before the Big Bang; and superstring theory, for the ultimate unification. We needed some organizational principle to present all these materials in a coherent way.

After a few brainstorming sessions, we came up with the idea of a mysterious man and a "catch-me-if-you-can" game between him and a group of scientists, as metaphors of the theory of everything and scientists' quest to discover it.

What was your favorite part about working on this movie?

Hearing about the reactions of young children. Staff members of the museum tell me that they see elementary school kids coming out from the theater talking to their parents and to each other enthusiastically, saying "It was so much fun," and "I want to be a scientist when I grow up," et cetera. When I hear that, I feel that the project was worthwhile.

What was most challenging?

Since there are so many concepts and facts that we want to describe, there is a temptation to try to cram in as much as possible. My advice was to stick to the main theme of the film, showing the quest of scientists for the fundamental laws of nature.

Another point I insisted on, from the beginning and on many occasions during the production, was to present superstring theory as a work-in-progress, i.e., a hypothesis that is not yet verified experimentally. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to show the scientific process of coming up with a hypothesis and testing it with experiments and observations.

What do you enjoy the most about science education and communication?

My primary occupation is in research and in education of college and graduate students. However, I feel I can also contribute by improving public understanding of science. I have published four popular science books in Japan, and they have been translated into Chinese and Korean. One of them, Introduction to Superstring Theory, received the Science Book Award in Japan in 2014. I have a monthly science column in a business magazine with one of the highest circulations in Japan. I write columns, essays, and book reviews for leading newspapers and magazines.

I also enjoy science education and communication as an intellectual challenge to explain concepts in theoretical physics without using equations and other higher mathematics. It is like an obstacle course in athletics. You intentionally handicap yourself and see how far you can go.

These science outreach activities do not directly benefit my own research, but help me to put my research in a broad context—and reminds me why I am doing this at all.  

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Among his many honors, Ooguri is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, recipient of the Leonard Eisenbud Prize for Mathematics and Physics from the American Mathematical Society, and recipient of the Simons Investigator Award. He is also the principal investigator of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo, and recently became the President of the Aspen Center for Physics.

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Ooguri recently served as a science advisor for <em>The Man from 9 Dimensions</em>, a movie that follows scientists on a search for a "theory of everything."
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
JPL

JPL Postdoc Research Day - Poster Session

Lifetime of Numbers: Q&A with Barry Simon

Barry M. Simon, professor of mathematics, emeritus, will be featured on the cover of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society on the occasion of a special math conference being held this month for his 70th birthday. Simon, who is known as the one of the founding fathers of modern mathematical physics, was recently awarded the 2016 Leroy Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement of the American Mathematical Society (AMS).

Simon has made impactful contributions to the mathematical areas of quantum field theory, statistical mechanics, Schroedinger operators, and the theory of orthogonal polynomials. He has published nearly 400 scientific papers and authored 21 books, including the four-volume textbook series, "Methods of Modern Mathematical Physics," written with Michael Reed in the 1970s. He has also coauthored two popular manuals on how to use Windows computers.

We recently spoke with Simon about his career, mentoring students, and future goals.

You are known as a founding father of mathematical physics. Can you tell us more about the field and how you helped establish it?

Modern mathematical physics attempts to establish areas of theoretical physics under the ground rules of rigorous mathematics. There are times that this provides new insights to theoretical physics but, in any event, as my mentor the late Arthur Wightman [Princeton] taught me, intellectual honesty requires the community to understand basic physics at this level of precision.

I regard the founders of mathematical physics to be a generation before me, notably Wightman, Tosio Kato [UC Berkeley], and David Ruelle [Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques]. I advanced the field in several ways. My books with Mike Reed served as an introduction to the field and lured a generation of talented people to the area. And I was fortunate enough to be one of the first researchers in a number of areas that allowed me to write seminal papers still widely cited today.

When you look back at your decades-spanning career, what do you feel most proud of?

The Notices article lists a number of accomplishments and I hesitate to single out only a few, but I'd mention my work on eigenvalue perturbation theory; the work with Francesco Guerra [University of Rome] and Lon Rosen [University of British Columbia] using statistical mechanical methods in Euclidean Quantum Field Theory; my work with Elliott Lieb [Princeton] on Thomas Fermi theory; the work with Jürg Frölich [ETH Zurich], Tom Spencer [Institute for Advanced Study], Freeman Dyson [Institute for Advanced Study], and Lieb on continuous symmetry breaking in statistical mechanics; and my foundational work in ergodic Schoedinger operators and on singular continuous spectrum. Finally, in the past 15 years, I've introduced important new ideas into the spectral theory of orthogonal polynomials.

I'm also proud of my books and the impact they've had. Perhaps most of all, I am proud of my impact on students, postdocs, and collaborators. There is a special thrill to giving a boost to the careers of young people.

The New York Times wrote an article about you winning a math contest when you were 16. Can you tell us about the contest? And did you know then that you wanted to be a lifelong mathematician?

This was the exam sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. Before my year, there were only three perfect scores. I had only one problem wrong but when I was told which one it was, I was dumfounded because I was sure I had it right. The issue was that I interpreted it in a different way from how the exam writers intended it. I appealed and made the case successfully that the wording was ambiguous and thus achieved the second perfect score that year. It was the drama of the appeal that caught the eye of the Times. The actual problem I appealed was part of the article and my brother, Rick, included the text of the article in his contribution to the page of "Barry Stories" put together from my 60th birthday conference.

At that time, I hardly wanted to be a mathematician. The teacher who had the biggest influence on me in high school was Sam Marantz, a physics teacher. So while I knew I liked mathematics, I wanted to be a physicist and both my BA, from Harvard, and PhD, from Princeton, are in physics. I knew I wanted to combine my two interests and went to Princeton to study, where I learned that Wightman had done exactly that. For various reasons, all the courses I taught at Caltech were in math, but at Princeton I taught in both departments including the basic undergraduate quantum mechanics. My research in the recent past has focused more on pure math topics so I am perhaps more mathematician than physicist now, but I've always had a joint appointment and been proud of it.

Can you help explain to non-mathematicians the importance of math, and specifically of your areas of research?

Galileo once said that "the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics." So one importance of mathematics is its central role in all areas of modern science. The remarkable fact is that most mathematicians are not motivated by the applications but by the internal beauty and fascination of the subject. But despite their motivation, what they discover has significant applications in the outside world. For example, something as esoteric as the study of prime numbers is the basis of the encryption you use whenever you connect to your bank's website!

In the American Mathematical Society feature story about your career, several colleagues mention how fast you are at writing papers. Can you share your trick?

No trick to convey. I've been blessed with a mind that thinks logically and manages to see deep connections so that I am able to write clearly on my first draft. Unlike many scientists I know, I enjoy writing, which makes the process quicker. And I've always worked hard.

One of the pictures in the Notices feature story shows you wearing boxing gloves with Greek letters on them. Is there a story behind this?

In about 1995, Caltech decided to redesign its required curriculum. I was the mathematician on the committee chaired by Dave Stevenson, a professor of planetary science. One of things we changed was to decrease the basic calculus classes to one quarter, and I was persuaded to teach the new Math 1a, which I did for six years.

This course was as much to introduce students to rigorous proof, which many of them hadn't seen in high school, and the centerpiece of that was the use of what are called ε-δ proofs. I was fond of saying "ε and δ are a calculus student's finest weapons." One year, I had an especially lively group of students and, on the last day, when I walked into the auditorium where the class was given there was a pair of boxing gloves on my desk, one with an ε and one with a δ. I've received lots of positive comments from other mathematicians about that picture.

I have a story about Math 1a that I especially like. I was aware that many students taking that class who taken several years of calculus were offended that we felt they didn't really understand the subject without rigorous proof and they found the course difficult because the approach we thought was essential for them was so foreign to their experience. One day, I was stopped by a student who introduced himself and said: "I'm a senior now and I took Math 1a from you as a freshman. At the time I thought it was the worst course I'd ever taken. I now think it is the best course."

How did you get involved in writing Windows manuals?

In the mid-1980s as PCs were first coming in, IBM gave a grant to Caltech that let math faculty get IBM XTs. My colleague Rick Wilson, professor of mathematics, emeritus, and I became fascinated with the guts of the machines and developed some expertise in the architecture underlying DOS [disk operating system]. Rick became a first-class assembly-language programmer. This was before there was an active Internet but there was a bulletin board called CompuServe where I met lots of nerds.

We suddenly found ourselves as shareware authors. We got involved in a CompuServe group trying to set up an API [application programming interface] for resident programs to avoid getting in each other's way. One of the other people involved had done some writing for PC Magazine, at the time the leading computing magazine, and he suggested that I go see them to talk about this API. I did, and by coincidence, one of the editors I met with asked if I knew any mathematics! He was looking for a reviewer for a new program called Mathcad. Soon after, I was the standard reviewer of mathematical software for PC Magazine and many other programs like Visual BASIC.

Another person, Woody Leonard, I met through CompuServe who knew of my expertise from this writing suggested we write a book about the soon to be released Windows 95. I wouldn't call it a manual—it wasn't so much a detailed how-to as a book to give the reader background for understanding what they are doing. In an era when DOS for Dummies was a bestseller, one wag dubbed our book "Windows for Dummies Not."

In reference to the phrase popularized during the first gulf war, "mother of all battles," we called our book, The Mother of All Windows Books. We had a version with one of the first CD ROMs of software sold with the book and dubbed that version CD Mom. The books had a fair amount of corny humor and were a lot of fun to write. In all, we published four books together and I had a solo book on Outlook.

I was struck by the following: A typical math book sells 500–1500 copies. Reed and I were proud of the fact that by 1995, 20 years after it was published, we'd sold almost 15,000 copies of volume one. Well, The Mother of All Windows Books sold 15,000 copies on its first day (and about 50,000 total).

You have mentored more than 30 graduate students. What is your favorite part of mentoring?

When a student starts working for me, one of the first things I give them is a warm-up problem. I get to share in the excitement they feel the first time they realize they can make their own original contributions. And for those that go on in academia, it is always a joy when they get tenure.

What is coming up next for you and your research?

I officially retired this past June 30. One nice thing I can do without official responsibilities is spend more time in Israel where the majority of my kids and grandkids live. But I expect to continue working. The English mathematician G. H. Hardy once remarked that "young men should prove theorems, old men should write books." While I violated that by publishing the first volume of Reed-Simon at age 26, it does make sense. My five volume, 3,200-page Comprehensive Course in Analysis was published last December, and I've got three book projects in planning stages.

I also have various research projects under way. Two that excite me are a joint project with two Israeli colleagues that explores some connections between spectral theory and probability theory, and a joint project with two former postdocs that will follow through on our breakthrough last year settling a 40-year-old conjecture in the theory of Chebyshev polynomials. I've also been polishing my website and started an online "Selecta," which will include biographical notes and notes on some sets of my papers.

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Fiona Harrison Honored with Massey Award

Fiona Harrison, principal investigator of NASA's NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission, has been selected to receive the 2016 Massey Award, given by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). Harrison is Caltech's Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics and the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.

The Massey Award, given in honor of the memory of Sir Harrie Massey, a mathematical physicist who served as the Physical Secretary of the Royal Society of London and a member of the COSPAR Bureau, recognizes "outstanding contributions to the development of space research in which a leadership role is of particular importance," according to the COSPAR website.

NuSTAR launched in June 2012, opening a new window to the universe as the first focusing telescope to operate in a high-frequency band of X-rays called hard X-rays. The observatory's accomplishments include the creation of the first map of radioactive material in a supernova remnant; the discovery of emission from a special type of neutron star called a magnetar, which has an extremely strong magnetic field; and the detection of the brightest pulsar ever recorded.

"These and many other discoveries make Fiona Harrison one of the most active leaders of modern high energy astrophysics," the award citation notes.

"It has been great to work with such a strong and talented team on NuSTAR," says Harrison. "The whole team deserves credit in NuSTAR's success."

Harrison has been the principal investigator since the mission was founded in 2005. After earning a doctoral degree in physics from UC Berkeley, she first came to Caltech in 1993 as a research fellow and began her professorial career at the Institute in 1995.

Among other honors, Harrison received the NASA Outstanding Public Leadership medal in 2013 and the 2015 Rossi Prize for high-energy astrophysics. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014.

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Exploration & Collaboration: The JPL-Caltech Connection

Caltech's partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has made possible countless discoveries about our universe—how and why black holes flare, where the water on Mars went, and how Earth's carbon cycle works, just to name a few. Current Caltech faculty are participants on 12 missions.

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Caltech's partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has made possible countless discoveries about our universe.

Ahmed Zewail, 1946–2016

Ahmed Zewail, the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry, professor of physics, and director of the Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology at Caltech, passed away on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. He was 70 years old.

Zewail was the sole recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering developments in femtoscience, making possible observations of atoms in motion on the femtosecond (10-15 seconds) time scale. These developments led to the establishment of the discipline of femtochemistry. More recently, he and his group developed "4D" electron microscopy for the direct visualization in the four dimensions of space and time of materials and biological behaviors.

For his contributions to science and for his public service, Zewail received honors from around the globe. Fifty honorary degrees in the sciences, arts, philosophy, law, medicine, and humane letters were conferred on him, including those from Oxford University, Cambridge University, Peking University, École Normale Supérieure, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, and Alexandria University.

Zewail was decorated with the Order of the Grand Collar of the Nile, Egypt's highest state honor, and was named to the Order of Légion d'Honneur by the President of France, among other state honors. He was an elected member of academies and learned societies including the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the American Philosophical Society, the French Academy, the Russian Academy, the Chinese Academy, and the Swedish Academy. Postage stamps have been issued in commemoration of his contributions to science and humanity.

"Ahmed was the quintessential scholar and global citizen," says Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. "He spent a lifetime developing instruments that interrogate nature in fundamentally new ways, and defining new directions that cut across the physical and biological sciences. Ahmed's fervor for discovery never abated and he serves as an inspiration to colleagues and generations of students. The Caltech community deeply mourns his loss."

"Ahmed Zewail was a great man for chemistry, for science, and for society. All of us at Caltech grieve his loss," says Jacqueline K. Barton, Arthur and Marian Hanisch Memorial Professor of Chemistry and Norman Davidson Leadership Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.

Among the more than 100 international prizes and awards, he was the recipient of the Albert Einstein World Award, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Leonardo da Vinci Award, the Robert A. Welch Award, the Wolf Prize, the King Faisal Prize, the Othmer Gold Medal, and the Priestley Gold Medal. In his name, international prizes have been established in Amsterdam, Cairo, Detroit, Trieste, and Washington, D.C.; in Cairo, the AZ Foundation provides support for the dissemination of knowledge and for merit awards in arts and sciences.

Following the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the government established Zewail City of Science and Technology as the national project for scientific renaissance, and Zewail became its first chair of the Board of Trustees.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Zewail to the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and in the same year he was named the first U.S. Science Envoy to the Middle East. Subsequently, in 2013, Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon invited Zewail to join the U.N. Scientific Advisory Board. In Egypt, he served in the Council of Advisors to the President.

Zewail was the author of some 600 articles and 14 books, and was known for his effective public lectures and writings not only on science but also in global affairs. For his leadership role in these world affairs, he received, among others, the "Top American Leaders Award" from The Washington Post and Harvard University.

Born in 1946 in Damanhur, Egypt, Zewail received his early education in Egypt and earned his BS and MS degrees from Alexandria University in 1967 and 1969. He received a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 and completed an IBM postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley before joining the faculty at Caltech in 1976 as an assistant professor. He became an associate professor in 1978 and a professor in 1982. He was Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Physics from 1990–97, was named professor of physics in 1995, and was named Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry in 1997.

Zewail is survived by his wife, Dema Faham, and his four children, Maha, Amani, Nabeel, and Hani. 

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The Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry, professor of physics passed away on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. He was 70 years old.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Teaching Statement Workshop 2: Peer Review

Chorus of Black Holes Radiates X-Rays

Supermassive black holes do not give off any of their own light, hence the word "black" in their name. However, many black holes pull in, or accrete, surrounding material, and emit powerful bursts of X-rays. Collectively, these active black holes throughout the sky can be thought of a cosmic choir, singing in the language of X-rays. Their "song" is what astronomers call the cosmic X-ray background.

To date, NASA's Chandra mission has managed to pinpoint many of the individual black holes contributing to the X-ray background, but the ones that let out high-energy X-rays—those with the highest-pitched "voices"—have remained elusive.

New data from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has, for the first time, begun to pinpoint large numbers of the black holes sending out the high-energy X-rays. More technically, NuSTAR has made significant progress in resolving the high-energy X-ray background.

"We've gone from resolving just 2 percent of the high-energy X-ray background to 35 percent," says Fiona Harrison, Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Caltech, the principal investigator of NuSTAR, and lead author of a new study describing the findings in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "We can see the most obscured black holes, hidden in thick gas and dust."

The results will ultimately help astronomers understand how the growth patterns of supermassive black holes change over time—a key factor in the development of black holes and the galaxies that host them. For instance, the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is dormant now, but at some point in the past, it would have siphoned gas and bulked up in size.

As black holes grow, their intense gravity pulls matter toward them. The matter heats up to extremely high temperatures and particles get boosted to close to the speed of light. Together, these processes make the black hole surroundings glow with X-rays. A supermassive black hole with an ample supply of fuel, or gas, will give off more high-energy X-rays.

NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of focusing these high-energy X-rays into sharp pictures.

"Before NuSTAR, the X-ray background in high-energies was just one blur with no resolved sources," says Harrison. "To untangle what's going on, you have to pinpoint and count up the individual sources of the X-rays."

"We knew this cosmic choir had a strong high-pitched component, but we still don't know if it comes from a lot of smaller, quiet singers, or a few with loud voices," says coauthor Daniel Stern, the project scientist for NuSTAR at JPL. "Now, thanks to NuSTAR, we're gaining a better understanding of the black holes and starting to address these questions."

High-energy X-rays can reveal what lies around the most obscured supermassive black holes, which are otherwise hard to see. In the same way that medical X-rays can travel through your skin to reveal pictures of bones, NuSTAR can see through the gas and dust around black holes, to get a deeper view of what is going on inside.

With NuSTAR's more complete picture of supermassive black hole populations, astronomers can begin to puzzle together how these objects evolve and change over time. When did they start and stop growing? What is the distribution of the gas and dust that both feed and hide the black holes?

The team expects that over time, NuSTAR will be able to resolve more of the high-energy X-ray background—and better decipher the X-ray song of the universe's black holes.

The Astrophysical Journal study, titled "The NuSTAR Extragalactic Surveys: The Number Counts of Active Galactic Nuclei and the Resolved Fraction of the Cosmic X-Ray Background," is funded by NASA. Other Caltech authors include: Mislav Baloković, Murray Brightman, Karl Forster, Brian Grefenstette, Kristin Madsen, Peter Mao, Hiromasa Miyasaka, and Vikram Rana.

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Charles W. Peck Passes Away

1934–2016

Charles W. Peck (PhD '64)—an eminent physicist, dedicated educator, and former chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy (PMA) at Caltech—passed away on Thursday, July 21, 2016. He was 81 years old.

Peck was born November 29, 1934 in Freer, Texas, and earned his bachelor of science degree from New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts in 1956. He went to Caltech for his graduate studies, receiving a PhD in 1964. Peck spent his entire professional career at Caltech, first as a research fellow (1964–65) and then as assistant professor (1965–69), associate professor (1969–77), and professor of physics. He retired in 2004. From 1983 to 1986, Peck served as executive officer for physics; he was PMA chair from 1993 to 1998.

Peck was a "great scientist, a kind individual, and an amazingly dedicated and successful teacher," says Fiona Harrison, the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics and the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of PMA. He was twice (in 1988 and 2001) the recipient of an award for teaching excellence from the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT) and received an award for teaching excellence from the Graduate Student Council in 1993.

Peck's research was in the area of experimental particle physics, designing and conducting experiments to study the basic constituents of matter. As a graduate student, he used the electron synchrotron at Caltech to investigate a class of exotic short-lived particles known as "strange." He participated in a wide range of accelerator-based studies aimed at probing the structure and properties of quarks—the fundamental building blocks of matter—and at clarifying the nature of the strong and weak nuclear interactions, two of the four fundamental forces of nature.

"The first I heard of the legendary Charlie Peck was when I joined [the late] Bob Walker's group in my first year in the physics program at Caltech," recalls Elliott Bloom (PhD '67) of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. "Charlie was a senior graduate student working with Bob; he had spent a large part of his graduate student career getting the electron synchrotron to work and was finally able to complete his thesis doing physics with this machine. His work on the machine enabled a long line of graduate students to much more rapidly obtain their degrees, including me. We all loved him for that alone."

When the "charm" quark, a previously unknown type of matter, was discovered in the 1970s, Peck and Bloom invented and built a totally new type of particle detector they called the "Crystal Ball." It was a hermetically sealed detector that accurately measured all photons that emerged from particle collisions, enabling important studies of the properties of charmed quarks. This device proved to be both powerful and productive, not only for understanding charm quarks, but for many follow-on experiments, including pivotal studies of the subsequently discovered "bottom" quark.

"Charlie hired me fresh out of graduate school to work on the Crystal Ball, to my considerable good fortune," recalls Professor of Physics Frank Porter (BS '72). "He loved his teaching and his research and was always cheerful when doing either. I remember Charlie best in front of an oscilloscope poking away at some subtlety of an apparatus. It was a great temptation to join him on such occasions, first because I knew it would be fun, and second because I would certainly learn something."

With his longtime friend and colleague Barry Barish, Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Peck was one of the leaders of a large international collaboration that performed a search for magnetic monopoles. Magnetic monopoles are the magnetic analog of single electric charges and have been sought for more than 100 years. They could provide a key confirmation of Grand Unified Theories that seek to unify three of nature's four forces—the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces—into a single force. The experiment, MACRO (Monopole, Astrophysics, and Cosmic Ray Observatory), was located 3200 feet under the Grand Sasso mountain in Italy. Although the experiment did not find magnetic monopoles, it set what are still the most stringent limits on their existence.

"My favorite image of Charlie was 6000 miles from Pasadena deep under the Gran Sasso mountain, where he was patiently sitting and explaining physics to our graduate students," Barish says.

Peck is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and by four children from a previous marriage.

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High School Students Hunt for Pulsars

Hanaa is hunting for a blip in a vast set of data. Although she is only a high school student, she is searching for the signal of a pulsar—a rapidly rotating neutron star that emits a beam of electromagnetic radiation like a lighthouse. She and 19 of her fellow students at Alverno Heights Academy in Sierra Madre are participating in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC), a program that partners high school students with astronomy mentors at local universities. The mentors then train the students how to search a large data set for the signals of pulsars. The PSC, headquartered at the University of West Virginia, was established in 2007 through a grant from the National Science Foundation. As part of the grant, 300 terabytes of data collected by the West Virginia's Green Bank Telescope were set aside for high school students to use to search for pulsars.

This is the first year that the program has been expanded to campuses outside of West Virginia, including Caltech, Cornell, Vanderbilt, and Georgia Tech. PSC collaborator Chiara Mingarelli, currently a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech, contacted the Caltech Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (CTLO) for help in bringing the program to local Pasadena students.

"Chiara brought the program here, and we worked together to identify local teachers in the Pasadena area who might be interested in participating," says Mitch Aiken, associate director for educational outreach at the CTLO. "We reached out to a number of great teachers who participate in our Community Science Events. Monica Barsever, a science teacher at Alverno Heights Academy, offered to bring this opportunity to her students and was thrilled to have them participate in the PSC. Alverno Heights Academy is an all-girls school, and as bringing more young women into STEM fields is always a goal, this was a great collaboration."

Twenty of Barsever's students attended online workshops, led by West Virginia University professor Maura McLaughlin (a founding member of the PSC) and National Radio Astronomy Observatory educator Sue Ann Heatherly, about the science of pulsars and to learn how to search for them. Working closely with Danny Cushey, a Caltech third-year undergraduate in astrophysics and a PSC mentor, the students received data from the Green Bank Telescope and each individual was randomly assigned a portion to study. "Caltech is a critical hub for the PSC," says McLaughlin. "Through this partnership we can reach a diverse population of students in Southern California and make use of the incredible expertise in both astrophysics research and outreach at the university."

Barsever's students are no strangers to research at Caltech. Through her Independent Research in Science course, students have conducted chemistry and synthetic biology studies with Caltech researchers. The PSC offered many students their first experience to do research in astronomy and astrophysics.

As of yet, Alverno students have not discovered any pulsars, but the work will continue throughout the summer and during the next school year. In mid-July, they will travel to West Virginia to spend a week working with astronomers at the Green Bank Telescope, looking at more data.

While the experience of analyzing data is valuable for students, the results are equally important to scientists. Discovering more pulsars is particularly important to researchers like Mingarelli who study and search for gravitational waves. "My colleagues and I at NANOGrav—the North American Nanohertz Observatory of Gravitational Waves—are always looking to add more pulsars to our pulsar timing array," Mingarelli says. "We monitor a large set of pulsars, with precise arrival times at Arecibo and the Green Bank Telescope. Low-frequency gravitational waves, likely originating from supermassive black hole binaries, pass through our galaxy and stretch and squash the fabric of spacetime. The result is that the pulses from the pulsars we time arrive at the Earth early or late in a distinctive way, which can only be caused by gravitational waves."

"What these students are doing is real scientific research," she says. "With a grant from the National Science Foundation, this data has been set aside specifically for them."

On Friday, June 17, the Alverno students visited Caltech and JPL to attend a presentation by Mingarelli and meet scientists in other fields. "Going to Caltech and JPL was wonderful and a valuable experience for the girls," Barsever says. "They really got to picture themselves in this environment doing science."

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Caltech's partnership in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory offers local high school students the opportunity to conduct astronomy research.

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