Get to know 10 early childhood theorists

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At this time it could be considered one of the best and most uncertain times of theoretical physics. This is what Symmetry heard in interviews with 10 junior faculty in the field.

After reaching the age of majority during the preparation period and the first executions of the Large Hadron Collider, these researchers found that the incoming experimental data offered more questions than answers. Yes, the Higgs boson was found, but why was it much lighter than expected? And where will all the other proposed particles that the scientists hypothesized be found? Furthermore, what on earth is dark matter?

"We are collectively extremely confused about the rules of the game," says Tim Cohen, assistant professor of physics at the University of Oregon. "It is up to this new generation to find out where the new physics is hiding. It is the thing that terrifies and excites us all."

At the beginning of the university chairs (or recently obtained the mandate), they are moving from young researchers to professors and mentors in charge of guiding the physicists of the future. They are thinking about short-term research projects that could consolidate their place in the field, also considering projects that could go beyond their duration.

"It's a good time to do a little more," says Joe Bramante, assistant professor of physics at Queen's University. "We are in the midst of a golden age. The best circumstance would be if we had a lot of new laboratory results to explain. Instead, we don't have such results and we still have to explain things like dark matter. There's a lot of room for creativity. "

This group is also working to change the paradigms of physics, and to destroy stereotypes: physicists are not all like the characters on the TV show The Big Bang theory, thank you very much and making the community more welcoming than diversity. Physicists like Chanda Prescod-Weinstein want not only to make their mark in the field, but also to act as models for a new generation. "I am very aware of being the first black woman to hold a position in theoretical cosmology," he says. "C & # 39; is an additional pressure to succeed."

By creating theories and models that can explain the results of the past or guide the experiments of the future, this group of physicists is often found to collaborate, to compare notes and to look for the next thread of discovery.

"Each of us has experienced the same anguish for our careers and for the general direction of our field," says Flip Tanedo, assistant professor of physics at the University of California, Riverside. "The fact that we were facing this at the same time made it easier to connect and collaborate with each other."

Clay Cordova

Title / Institution

Long-term member at the Institute for Advanced Study; will start as assistant professor of physics at the University of Chicago in the fall

Current scientific interest

Studying the theory of quantum fields, the laws that govern the interactions of the fundamental constituents of matter. Try to understand the mathematics behind questions like: how do systems like quarks and gluons interact, and how can we understand their collective properties like the confinement of color in mesons and baryons?

Favorite place to think

The Institute for Advanced Study has an afternoon tea, where it takes a coffee and a biscuit and goes to a nearby pond to think about a question it is currently stuck on or to discuss during a walk with another physicist.

Because he has become a theoretical physicist

Although he was interested in science as a child in New Mexico, he did not understand what it meant to be a professional scientist. When his grandmother opened a bed and breakfast near the Los Alamos national laboratory, he often hosted the physicists who were visiting the lab. He would visit and talk to them about their work. "He planted a small seed that was possible to be a professional theoretical physicist," he says.

The most surprising thing about being a theoretical physicist

"Many people imagine a solitary genius, sitting with a cloud of thoughts about them, hoping that the inspiration will strike," he says. But much of the best work is done with a small group of collaborators. "When we are interested in the same idea, but we are confused about how to get there, we will just explain our confusion back and forth and write equations on a blackboard, and maybe for a period of months, we will converge on an idea."

What would you say to a young man interested in becoming a physicist

"If you are a beginner, you might think you should study an area of ​​physics with established rules. But you should go to an area that is intellectually messy. You have a good chance of making new rules or doing something fundamental."

When he is not considering theoretical physics

It runs long distances. He ran his first marathon last fall and will run the Chicago marathon in October.

Did you know

His brother is also an academic, but in a very different field: he is an assistant professor of French literature at Emory University.

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Cindy Keeler

Title / Institution

Assistant professor of physics at Arizona State University

Current scientific interest

Thinking about the shape of space-time. It takes into consideration the ways to probe this idea, looking at the theoretical boundaries of space-time to consider what is inside or probing the "ways" of space-time to know its shape. Collisions with black holes such as those detected by LIGO could provide measurements of these types of modes.

Favorite place to think

"I have no control over when I have good ideas, so I must always be prepared," he says. Once he had an idea before boarding an overseas flight. He spent the entire flight working on math. The person next to her said, "You should get a doctorate for it." He said, "Well, I already have one!"

What keeps her up at night

The thermal death of the universe. What will ultimately happen to all matter, to dark matter and energy? Will it spread enough that nothing interesting will happen anymore?

Because it has become a theoretical physicist

She was always interested in science and mathematics and used to steal her older sister's chemistry book to read it for herself. He read about how atoms worked and wanted to learn more, but the book said: "Any other discussion goes beyond the scope of this book". When she realized that physics was the language of applied mathematics to the universe, she was attracted. "At one level my whole career tried to go beyond the scope of that book."

When he is not considering theoretical physics

He climbs into his local gym. "It's nice to get out of my head and use my whole body to do something," he said. When the gym reorganizes the holds, it must find the best combination to complete the climb. "I can solve it in a week, while my research problems in physics sometimes take months, years or decades."

Did you know

He can ride a unicycle and juggle, generally not at the same time. He prefers to juggle with another person, creating interesting launch patterns. "It's related to the things I like about physics. I like to collaborate and build with other humans."

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Tongyan Lin

Title / Institution

Assistant professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego

Current scientific interest

He studies models and theories of dark matter and is currently interested in models of "light dark matter": dark matter that would have a mass somewhere between 1000 ° of the mass of an electron up to the mass of a proton.

Favorite place to think

Cafes "I can be very demanding," he says. The right coffees have the right mix of ambient music and chatter in the background and, of course, good coffee. "It's a place where ideas can explode and I can think about it for a while before another idea comes up."

What keeps her up at night

He says he sleeps well to deal with the problems of the next day, but "there are a lot of dark matter candidates out there, so it's a really interesting time. We're trying to explore as many candidates as possible."

Because it has become a theoretical physicist

He has always appreciated physics and gravitates towards the approaches of theoretical physics. "I've always been more comfortable developing ideas with paper and pen," he says. "It seems natural to me."

What is surprising to be a theoretical physicist

"He's not just sitting in a room, he thinks," she says. He spends much of his time traveling and giving presentations, and having productive discussions with other physicists. "Some people think that doing theoretical physics means doing the most difficult math problem," he says. "Sometimes it is, but some good theoretical physics is good because it is creative or pushes towards a new direction."

When he is not considering theoretical physics

Many physicists say they always work, because they always think of problems or new ideas. "That's why I'm going outdoors," he says. Surfing and rock climbing allow you to free your mind. "The visceral fear of falling really eliminates every other thought."

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Mariangela Lisanti

Title / Institution

Associate Professor of Physics at Princeton University

Current scientific interest

Trying to understand the nature of dark matter, what its properties could be and how experimentalists could potentially test it. He recently used information on the movement of stars in our galaxy to build a map of how dark matter could be distributed. He is studying numerical simulations of how this could work, based on the initial formation of the galaxy, and then comparing them with the Gaia satellite data.

How he explains his work to relatives and friends

While many people are familiar with the periodic table, many do not know that physicists believe that they constitute only 15% of everything in the universe. "I usually tell them that I spend most of my day trying to figure out what the other 85% is," he says.

What keeps her up at night

You wonder if she and her colleagues are looking for dark matter in the wrong places or in the wrong ways. Although there is a general consensus that dark matter is a particle, they do not yet know the mass range of that particle or if it is something completely different. "There are moments when everything seems pretty overwhelming," he says.

Because it has become a theoretical physicist

He started attending science fairs in middle school, and his parents were baffled at their dining table covered with Petri dishes. In high school he emailed dozens of university labs, looking for opportunities to conduct research. A laboratory at Yale welcomed her and she went to college convinced she wanted to study the physics of condensed matter. A professor took her aside and encouraged her to become a theoretical physicist, but she couldn't understand how it would translate into a career. Once the jump was made, however, it was hooked. "I like being able to ask really important questions and have the freedom to think about them," he says.

When he is not considering theoretical physics

She enjoys doing yoga and hiking, especially with other physicists at conferences.

Did you know

Her parents come from Italy and she and her Italian-American family love food, especially the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of seven fish. "Everything about cooking or exploring new types of food is my thing," he says.

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Joe Bramante

Title / Institution

Assistant professor of physics at Queen's University and the McDonald Institute

Current scientific interest

Understanding the nature of dark matter and its interactions with known particles. He has developed new models to search for dark matter signals in underground experiments, as well as astrophysical models that propose neutron stars as dark matter collectors.

Favorite place to think

Take long walks around water courses. His career took him to the institutions of North America and "every institute I worked in had a very close lake. Walking there just seems to free me from the mind to think."

How he explains his work to relatives and friends

He tells them he is looking for the kind of new particles that could exist in the universe and tries to find ways to find them, often using the most extreme environments, including dense environments (neutron stars), cold and isolated environments (underground detectors) and high-energy environment (particle colliders).

What keeps him at night

The problem of the cosmological constant (a problem that occurs when combining quantum mechanics and general relativity to predict the size of the vacuum energy in the universe, which shows that the universe should be violently torn ) and "how one could come to the surface with that with any kind of observations in my life. It really is something fundamental in our understanding of quantum mechanics, general relativity or cosmology that needs to be solved."

Because he has become a theoretical physicist

When he was young, he learned about circuit design from his father, who worked for IBM. He found himself thinking about how he could organize the atoms in the smallest possible circuits. But in high school, he became much more interested in philosophy, creative writing and mathematics. It wasn't until he took a course in quantum theory at college that he fell in love with physics.

When he is not considering theoretical physics

He heads for the local climbing gym, a popular haunt among local physicists. He also plays Gloomhaven, a fantasy board game, with his research group.

Did you know

In high school he spent a year in Alaska helping his sled dogs ready to run the Iditarod. "I had offers to start driving the dog sled tours, and I could have been sucked up and stayed in Alaska," he says.

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Chanda
Prescod-Weinstein

Title / Institution

Assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Hampshire. It is also part of the central body of women's studies.

Current scientific interest

Trying to understand dark matter, focusing specifically on the idea of ​​"light dark matter", I proposed low-mass dark matter particles. She is particularly interested in hypothesized particles called axions and if they could be candidates for dark matter.

Favorite place to think

Her large oak dining table, which allows her to spread the pages she is writing on. (He once spent so much time writing and working on a problem that developed a thumb injury and now uses gel pens on glossy paper.)

How he explains his work to relatives and friends

"I say I do math all day. The biggest struggle is to convince people that I'm not a rocket scientist."

Because it has become a theoretical physicist

Growing up in the east of Los Angeles, he always loved math, at age six he was writing his schedules, but when his mother took him to see the documentary A brief history of the time, saw what it meant to be a physicist. "What attracted me was that it was removed from the problems of society, from the group violence I saw in my neighborhood," he says. He found an e-mail address for Stephen Hawking and sent him a ticket, asking how to become a physicist. One of her graduate students responded and told her that she needed to earn a bachelor's degree so she could earn a PhD in the field. "So that's what I did," he says.

What was surprising to be a theoretical physicist

How social is the process. "I thought it would be like sitting around and thinking about ideas, but there is a huge element that involves building relationships with other people. In reality, this is how the work is done."

When he is not considering theoretical physics

He writes about issues related to the representation within the physical community and is active on social media. She is also a certified classic Pilates instructor.

Did you know

Every year, he attends the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. This year will be part of the convention's Star Fleet Cheer Squad. "I have a bad sense of humor," he says.

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Flip Tanedo

Title / Institution

Assistant professor of physics at the University of California, Riverside

Current scientific interest

Building models of dark matter, examining both astrophysical possibilities (dark matter in neutron stars) and hypothetical particles such as monopolies. "Dark matter is an excuse to play with old theories in a new light," he says.

Favorite place to think

Swimming pools. It helps to free the mind from "pent-up stress of going to fight with boring calculations." But he does not completely clear his mind – counting turns, assigns a particle to each turn, then thinks about how that particle could interact with dark matter as he swims.

How he explains his work to relatives and friends

"My friends often make fun of me and think that my job as a theorist is to sit in a big comfortable armchair until I suddenly have a moment and then write something bright on the board", He says. "But stereotypes are completely out. Physics is a creative, collaborative, human endeavor like art or music."

Because he has become a theoretical physicist

He fell in love with physics after reading the book The physics of Star Trek in high school. He realized that physicists can play and be creative with the rules of the universe.

When he is not considering theoretical physics

It is helping to break down the barriers in the physics community. As one of the few physics professors of Filipino descent, he understands the value of having a diversity of thought when considering complex problems. "Three people from different backgrounds will find more interesting and creative ideas than this myth of a single, brilliant physicist," he says. "Bringing more diversity into physics will make the field more fun."

Did you know

This summer, he attended a physics conference in the Philippines to build new connections with the National Physics Institute of the Philippines, as they try to build a new research group on particle physics.

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Tim Cohen

Title / Institution

Assistant professor of physics at the University of Oregon

Current scientific interest

As a particle phenomenologist, Cohen studies physics beyond the standard model, looking for unexpected ideas in experimental data. He also tries to invent models to help inform how to design new experimental approaches. A project is examining data from the Gaia satellite for patterns that could be traces of dark matter.

Favorite place to think

Cohen is a jazz drummer and often goes wild at the end of the day with his drums. Practice free improvisation, creating music without preconceived ideas. "It's a very meditative place for me," he says.

What keeps him at night

Although he and his colleagues are sure that physics beyond the Standard Model exists, they are "collectively extremely confused about what the rules of the game are. We don't know the right rock to look under. This also makes a wonderful time to be a physicist."

What surprised him about what it means to be a theoretical physicist

"Physics is extremely social," he says. "This camp is full of wonderful people, and some of the best physics ideas happen as a result of going out late in the evening."

Did you know

Cohen and his father attended the university together in the University of Alabama, Huntsville. His father, a cabinetmaker, was looking for a new career path and had never gone to college. The two took half a dozen classes together, guiding Cohen's mother to distract herself when they did their calculus homework together at night. His father graduated in electronic engineering and had a second successful career as an electrical engineer.

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Fan Jiji

Title / Institution

Assistant professor of physics at Brown University

Current scientific interest

Trying to understand why the Higgs boson has the mass it has. He is building models to explain the origin of the Higgs mass as he explores the cosmological developments associated with it. She is also interested in dark matter and is exploring new theoretical ideas to understand it better.

Favorite place to think

"I'm just happy to have some quiet personal space," he says.

How he explains his work to relatives and friends

Her parents give what she thinks is an interesting explanation: they tell her other relatives that their daughter is a science fiction writer. "It's true, to some extent," he says. "The inventions that appear in science fiction often become reality. We are working hard to find more and more ideas until one of our ideas turns out to be true."

Because it has become a theoretical physicist

She was always interested in mathematics, but eventually found physics more satisfying. "Physics has a direct connection to the world," he says. "I can still do math in a way that is relevant to nature."

What was surprising in being a theoretical physicist

It's not surprising for her, but others find it surprising that she and her colleagues "are not as nerd as Sheldon The Big Bang theory," she says.

When he is not considering theoretical physics

She loves walking and walking, but can often be found curled up with a detective novel, whether it's a Agatha Christie classic or a more recent author of Japanese writer Keigo Higashino.

Did you know

"I'm kind of a culinary," he says. When they get together with friends, she likes to cook for them. His dish of author? "I think I'm pretty good at making meatballs."

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Fernando Febres Cordero

Title / Institution

Visiting professor at the University of Friborg and associate professor of physics at Florida State University

Current scientific interest

As a particle phenomenologist, he studies the signals found in the Large Hadron Collider experiments to look for new clues about the universe. He is currently using calculations and models to try to understand the complex processes related to the Higgs boson.

Favorite place to think

He prefers to think with his collaborators and group members. "It's true that you can sit alone thinking about solutions, but more eyes can see better. You have to work together to be creative to find new ways to reach information that has been inaccessible so far." When you need a place to work, you prefer public libraries. "You're surrounded by people who think about very different things," he says.

How he explains his work to relatives and friends

"I usually tell them I'm looking for new particle fingerprints," he says. "I want to know why things are the way they are and experiments like LHC are a small window on a new energy spectrum that we've never seen before."

Because he has become a theoretical physicist

He was always interested in mathematics and discovered that physics gave him the chance to be a constant student. "Every time you understand something and feel at ease, go ahead in a new direction and experience a new problem," he says. "We have math and we have nature, and it's really crazy that we can sometimes make connections between the two. I like this game of trying to describe something outside our minds."

When he is not considering theoretical physics

As a child, in Venezuela, he studied classical violin, and later tried his hand in various genres, such as the violinist or the mariachi. "It's important to have a break from physics. Otherwise your brain collapses into a small box of the particular thing you're thinking about," he says.

Did you know

He is a big fan of the Go strategic board game and often spends his weekends playing in clubs.

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