Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Thirty Meter Telescope Groundbreaking and Blessing

Sunday, October 5, 2014
Beckman Mall – Beckman Mall

Okularfest

Sunday, October 5, 2014
Beckman Auditorium – Beckman Auditorium

Okularfest

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Center for Student Services 360 (Workshop Space) – Center for Student Services

Caltech Peer Tutor Training

Gerry Neugebauer

1932-2014

Gerry Neugebauer, Caltech's Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Physics, Emeritus, and one of the founders of the field of infrared astronomy, passed away on Friday, September 26. He was 82.

Neugebauer earned an AB in physics from Cornell University in 1954 and a PhD in physics from Caltech in 1960. He then served two years in the United States Army, stationed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, before returning to Caltech in 1962 as an assistant professor of physics. He was named an associate professor in 1965, professor in 1970, Howard Hughes Professor in 1985, and Millikan Professor in 1996. He retired in 1998.

He served as the director of the Palomar Observatory from 1980 to 1994 and as the chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1988 to 1993.

In addition to his leadership of the Two-Micron Sky Survey—the first infrared survey of the sky—Neugebauer led the science team for the first orbiting infrared observatory, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which conducted the first far-infrared sky survey and detected hundreds of thousands of objects. He and his colleagues also obtained the first infrared view of the galactic center, and he was the codiscoverer of the Becklin-Neugebauer Object, a massive but compact and intensely bright newly forming star in the Orion Nebula, previously undetected at other wavelengths of light.

Neugebauer also played a key role in the design and construction of the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His numerous prizes included the Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1986), the Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1998), the Space Science Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (1985), and lifetime achievement awards from the American Astronomical Society (the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1996) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Medal, 2010). He was named California Scientist of the Year in 1986.

A full obituary will follow at a later date.

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Thomas A. Tombrello

1936-2014

Thomas A. Tombrello, Caltech's Robert H. Goddard Professor of Physics, passed away on Tuesday, September 23. He was 78.

Tombrello was an expert in the application of theoretical and experimental physics to problems in materials science, surface physics, and planetary science. His research studies included understanding the damage processes caused by megavolt ions in solids, characterizing the sputtering of materials by low-energy ions as well as growing and studying novel light-emitting materials.

A native of Texas, he received his bachelor of arts degree in physics in 1958, his master's degree in physics in 1960, and his doctoral degree in physics in 1961, all from Rice University. He was a research fellow at Caltech from 1961–1963, then an assistant professor at Yale University from 1963–1964 before returning to Caltech, again as a research fellow. He was named assistant professor of physics in 1965; associate professor in 1967; professor in 1971; William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics in 1997; and Robert H. Goddard Professor of Physics in 2012.

He served as the chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1998 to 2008.

Tombrello was a fellow of the American Physical Society and the recipient of an honorary doctor of philosophy from Uppsala University. At Caltech, he was noted for his commitment to student education, receiving awards for teaching excellence from the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT) for 1982–1983 and 1986–1987, and, in 1994, the inaugural Richard P. Feynman Prize for Excellence in Teaching, given annually to a teacher who exhibits "unusual ability, creativity, and innovation in teaching."

A full obituary will be posted at a later date.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A chance to meet Pasadena Unified School District Leadership

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Avery Dining Hall – Avery House

RESCHEDULED to Sept 24th: A chance to meet Pasadena Unified School District Leadership

Superstring Theorist Honored with Science Writing Prize

Theoretical physicist and superstring expert Hirosi Ooguri, Caltech's Fred Kavli Professor of Theoretical Physics and Mathematics and founding director of the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics, has been selected to receive the Kodansha Prize for Science Books, Japan's only major prize for science books, for his popular science work, Introduction to Superstring Theory.

Superstring theory is considered the leading candidate for the ultimate unified theory of the forces and matters in nature, and Ooguri's Japanese-language book offers the general reader a "clear explanation of the essence of the theory," notes Nobel Laureate Makoto Kobayashi, who served on this year's award jury.

Ooguri will receive the award, which comes with a cash prize of approximately $10,000, at a ceremony to be held on September 19, 2014, at the Tokyo Kaikan, adjacent to the Imperial Palace.

"I am honored to receive such a prestigious prize, and I am particularly delighted by the fact that the location of the award ceremony, the Tokyo Kaikan, is where I received the Nishina Memorial Prize five years ago for my research on topological string theory"—research that is also described in Introduction to Superstring Theory. "As a scientist, it is particularly rewarding to be honored twice, once for the original research and this second time for the popular science book conveying the research to general public."

Introduction to Superstring Theory is the final installment in Ooguri's Trilogy on Forces in Nature; the series, which also includes What is Gravity? and Strong Force and Weak Force, has sold a quarter of a million copies in Japan in the last two years.

"Fundamental research may not immediately lead to profit, and support by the society is essential," Ooguri says. "With this book, I tried to return my gratitude to society. It is particularly gratifying to receive letters from high school students saying that the book inspired their interests in science."

In addition to the Nishina Memorial Prize, Ooguri has also been awarded the Leonard Eisenbud Prize for Mathematics and Physics from the American Mathematical Society, the Humboldt Research Award in Physics, and the Simons Investigator Award in Physics. He is a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society, a trustee of the Aspen Center for Physics, and a principal investigator of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo.

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Quantum Information Meets Condensed Matter: Inside the Mind of Xie Chen

Perhaps you have heard of Schrödinger's cat, a fictional feline created by physicist Erwin Schrödinger as a thought experiment in 1935. According to her inventor, Schrödinger's cat can be simultaneously alive and dead inside a sealed box, although upon an observer's opening the box, the cat will always be found either alive or dead.

If you are among the quantum confused—those who think Schrödinger was engaged in some serious crazy talk when he invented his dead-and-alive superposed cat—take heart. You are in good company. Xie Chen, who joined the Caltech faculty as an assistant professor of theoretical physics on July 1, admits that she too finds quantum properties of matter, like superposition and entanglement, counterintuitive . . . though impressively congruent with experimental results.

Chen comes to Caltech after a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. Originally from China, Chen received her BS from Tsinghua University in Beijing and her PhD from MIT. She recently discussed with us her research interests and ambitions for her Caltech career.

What will you be working on at Caltech?

I'm a theoretical physicist, and I work in both condensed matter and quantum information. Work at this intersection is being pursued here at Caltech in the physics, math, and astronomy division, and also through IQIM [the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter]. It's a new trend to bring these two areas of theoretical study together.

What is quantum information?

At the heart of quantum information is the idea that computers or cell phones, and the computation and communication protocols through which they operate, can run more efficiently and securely if we make use of the quantum properties of matter. For example, if a cell phone's hardware relies on the quantum behavior of its components, it will be possible to develop encryption protocols that, at least theoretically, are totally secure.

When did you first become interested in quantum information?

My interest started in college, and it was the focus of the first part of my graduate study. My goal was to devise ways to make quantum computing more resistant to noise, such as heating or the effect of stray electromagnetic fields from the environment. The quantum properties of things can be so fragile. If you raise the temperature a little bit or have a little disturbance in your lab, that could cause a quantum computer to break down. This has been bothering people for the last 20 years. The principle of quantum computation is well established, but the conditions to make it work in the lab are just not there. This continues to be a big part of my work: making quantum computation more reliable and more resistant to noise.

How do quantum information and condensed matter relate to one another?

Condensed matter is a much older and broader topic in physics. Analyzing the properties of solid and liquid materials—particularly things like semiconductivity, superconductivity, and magnetism—has been around for hundreds of years. I shifted into it in the second half of my graduate study, as people began to realize that ideas about quantum information could be very helpful in the study of condensed matter.

That need came out of the laboratory: peculiar quantum properties of condensed matter were appearing in the lab and people wanted to understand them. Previously, classical physics or simple quantum theories were able to account for everything that was seen in condensed matter. However, with modern technologies it's now possible to access and observe the quantum aspects of materials at a deeper level. For example, strange conducting materials were found which do not allow current to flow through the interior but only on the surface of the material with precisely quantized conductance. Conventional methods cannot explain such a topological property of the material. We need new methods to explain that observation. This is where quantum information ideas are very useful.

Quantum properties are so counterintuitive for the average person. Does that change when you're immersed in quantum physics on a daily basis, as you are?

No. Quantum mechanics has never fully become part of my intuition. I think that people still haven't truly understood the quantum level yet. The quantum community generally takes the attitude that we can set those questions aside for a while, because quantum theory predicts experimental results so well. But if you think deeply enough about quantum reality, and sometimes I do, you get confused. There are so many fundamental questions that we cannot yet fully explain. The quantum level is more a mathematical formulation than an intuition we are born with, because we mostly deal with the classical world.

But if technologies are developed that rely on quantum properties, do you think that will change—that we will start to internalize a quantum view of things?

Eventually, maybe. When we deal with the quantum world frequently enough and have reached a better consensus on how to interpret it, it may be possible to develop a quantum intuition of the world. That would be an amazing state of mind to have, because with it we could not only push science forward but also have a totally new perspective on the universe and the meaning of life!

What are you looking forward to at Caltech?

Putting "quantum" and "materials" together isn't easy and it's an amazing subject that's developing quickly as people are trying to figure out what's going on. With IQIM and all the specialized faculty here, Caltech is a leader in this. People on the quantum side and the materials side talk to each other and work on projects together at Caltech. I'm very excited to be a part of that.

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Cynthia Eller
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Quantum Information Meets Condensed Matter
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