Colloquium: Simon Caron-Huot, McGill University

Abstract: "Please read these lectures last week," the late Sydney Coleman once joked.  Causality is so ingrained in our daily experience that this request seems absurd.  This talk will focus on relativistic causality: the notion that signals cannot move faster than light.  I will review its central role in modern physics and how it leads to surprising properties like analyticity in spin of various physical observables, gives insight on the dynamics of some strongly interacting systems, and restricts potential modifications to Einstein's gravity.

Professor Simon Caron-Huot, McGill will deliver a lecture in his area of research, Quantum Field Theory. He is the recipient of the 2023 Larkin Award for a Junior Researcher. There will be a brief award ceremony before his lecture.

Read more about the Larkin Award here

MIFA Public Talk 2024: Ali Sulaiman, University of Minnesota

About the Talk: 

Jupiter and Saturn’s internal magnetic fields carve out a cavity in the interplanetary medium to form two of the largest magnetospheres in our solar system. Immersed within their magnetic environments are geologically active moons. Two notable examples are Io’s volcanoes at Jupiter and Enceladus’ geysers at Saturn. The activities of these moons drive ebbs and flows of the magnetospheres. One obvious manifestation is powerful polar auroras. Another consequence of this coupling is the opportunity to sound the interior of moons, leading to discoveries of global oceans beneath their surfaces.

In the past decade, NASA’s Juno spacecraft undertook the first polar orbits of Jupiter, and NASA/ESA’s Cassini spacecraft performed its final orbits, which were highly inclined and adjusted to pass through the gap between Saturn’s atmosphere and innermost ring - both providing unprecedented coverage and proximity to their planets.

Dr. Sulaiman will highlight some discoveries enabled by planetary explorers that have revolutionized our view of the solar system, ushering in a new and exciting era for space plasma processes and the question of habitability beyond our planet. He will introduce the future ESA Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (launched in April 2023) and NASA Europa Clipper (launch late 2024), as well as a proposed orbiter to the Uranus system, which was listed as the highest priority during in the 2023-2032 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.


Van Vleck Public Colloquium: Paul Chaikin, New York University

About the Talk: 

While the equilibrium properties, states, and phase transitions of interacting systems are well described by statistical mechanics, the lack of suitable state parameters has hindered the understanding of non-equilibrium phenomena in divers settings, from glasses to driven systems to biology. Here we introduce a simple idea enabling the quantification of organization in non-equilibrium and equilibrium systems, even when the form of order is unknown. The length of a losslessly compressed data file is a direct measure of its information content. We use lossless data compression to study several equilibrium and out-of-equilibrium systems, and show that it identifies ordering, phase transitions, critical behavior and critical exponents in thermodynamic and dynamic phase transitions. Our technique should provide a quantitative measure of organization in systems ranging from condensed matter systems in and out of equilibrium, to cosmology, biology and possibly economic and social systems. More recently we have demonstrated that similar techniques can reveal local entropy production and the ability to extract work from non-equilibrium systems.

About the Speaker: 
Paul Chaikin is originally from New York City. He earned his Bachelors at Caltech in 1966, and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971 working with Kondo superconductors. He joined the physics faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1972 where he studied thermopower, density waves, and high field phenomena mostly in organic superconductors. The lure of actually seeing the microscopics of a system led him to soft matter. He helped develop techniques to measure elasticity and motion and understand colloidal interactions. Hard and soft matter interests continued after joining the faculty at UPenn (1983), the staff at Exxon Research (1983) and the faculty at Princeton University (1988).

His interests in geometry/topology led to his founding contributions to diblock copolymer nanolithography, and studies of defects, annealing, and pattern formation. He helped demonstrate and explain why ellipsoids pack more densely than spheres. In 2005 he helped found the Center for Soft Matter Research at New York University. His more recent research centers on artificial self-replication, self-assembly, active matter, DNA nanotechnology, topological defects on curved surfaces, and quantifying order far from equilibrium.

Professor Chaikin is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Science and a Oliver Buckley Prize recipient (2018). He is currently a Silver professor of Physics at New York University.


Van Vleck Public Lecture: Paul Chaikin, New York University

Public Lecture, Free and open to the public

Physics & Astronomy Colloquium: Chris Quigg, Fermilab

Title: A Century of Noether’s Theorem

Abstract: In the summer of 1918, Emmy Noether published the theorem that now bears her name, establishing a profound two-way connection between symmetries and conservation laws. The influence of this insight is pervasive in physics; it underlies all of our theories of the fundamental interactions and gives meaning to conservation laws that elevates them beyond useful empirical rules. Noether’s papers, lectures, and personal interactions with students and colleagues drove the development of abstract algebra, establishing her in the pantheon of twentieth-century mathematicians. This talk traces her path from Erlangen through Göttingen to a brief but happy exile at Bryn Mawr College, illustrating the importance of “Noether’s Theorem” for the way we think today.


Public Observing Night

Free and open to the public

MIFA Colloquium: Hayley Roberts, UMN Zooniverse Group

Mergers play a significant role in the evolution of galaxies due to the profound impact on several key properties, including their physical structure, black hole growth, and star formation rates. Current methods for identifying and cataloging galaxy mergers predominantly rely on sensitive, high-resolution imaging and suffer from high misclassification rates - issues that are severely exacerbated outside the local universe. Next-generation telescopes from optical to radio, however, are now enabling novel approaches to find galaxy mergers. I will present methods for identifying major mergers in neutral hydrogen (HI) surveys using OH megamasers (OHMs). OHMs are luminous masers found in ultraluminous infrared galaxies and are signposts of major gas-rich mergers. HI surveys on next-generation radio telescopes, such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and its precursors, will detect unprecedented numbers of OHMs out to redshift z~2, as exemplified through multiple recent discoveries. At shorter wavelengths, I will discuss how JWST is already revolutionizing our understanding of galaxy mergers and helping us prepare for future surveys from the Rubin Observatory and Roman Space Telescope with the help of citizen scientists.

Physics & Astronomy Colloquium: Ben Margalit, UMN

Title: Cosmic Fireworks and the Physics they Reveal

Abstract: Advances in time-domain and multi-messenger astronomy provide a fresh view of the dynamic Universe and herald a new era in astrophysics. Through gravitational waves and across the electromagnetic spectrum, explosive astrophysical phenomena hold enormous potential as probes of extreme physics and cosmic scales. In this talk I will give an overview of recent developments in time-domain astronomy. Focusing on neutron star mergers as a frontier research area, I will demonstrate how transients can be harnessed to study fundamental open questions with far-reaching implications. I will conclude by briefly discussing the future of the field and the opportunities ahead. 


School of Physics & Astronomy Colloquium: Michael Wilking, UMN

Title: The Search for CP Violation in Neutrinos
Abstract: The standard model of particle physics, formulated in the 1970's, was a tremendous achievement that unified 3 of the 4 known forces, was consistent with all known terrestrial phenomena, and successfully predicted the existence of the as-yet-undiscovered final pieces of the theory (top quark, tau neutrino, and the higgs boson). However, in 1998, it was discovered that neutrinos have a small, but non-zero, mass, which is not naturally predicted by the standard model. This discovery suggests very interesting new physics phenomena, particularly if Charge-Parity (CP) violation is discovered in leptons. This talk will review the status of the search for CP violation in leptons, and the plans for the next-generation Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE).


Physics Force 2024 Northrop Shows

Physics Force is back with exhilarating new shows in Jan 2024. These theater productions feature big demos—with physicists dropping from the air and lightning being controlled through science—and they never disappoint! The wonders of physics are brought to life in an educational and spectacular display. Intended for all ages, Physics Force hopes to bring the wonders of physics and science to all.


For ticketing information, please visit Northrop Auditorium's event page

School News

Sabrina Savage and Lindsay Glesener at the launch site in Alaska.

Glesener part of NASA's first solar flare observation campaign

Professor Lindsay Glesener, of the School of Physics and Astronomy is part of a research team launching a sounding rocket to study solar flares. The rocket, named Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager (
Alexander McLeod, Nitzan Hirschberg and Alyssa Bragg

Inside Professor McLeod’s Nano-Imaging Laboratory

Professor Alexander McLeod’s nano-imaging lab creates novel ways to study materials as well as looking for new physics in those materials. Nano-spectroscopy is a technique that attaches conventional
Zhen Liiu smiling man in glasses and a blue polo shirt

Liu receives prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship for early-career researchers

School of Physics and Astronomy Assistant Professor Zhen Liu is one of only 126 early-career researchers who will receive a prestigious 2024 Sloan Research Fellowship.
Michael Coughlin and Alexander Criswell

Coughlin and Criswell part of comprehensive UV light survey

Assistant Professor Michael Coughlin and graduate student Alexander Criswell of the School of Physics and Astronomy are part of a new NASA mission that has just been selected to conduct a
Three School Alumni elected to engineering society

Three School Alumni elected to National Academy of Engineering

Three alumni of the School of Physics and Astronomy:  Martha C. Anderson (Ph.D., Astrophysics ‘93), Kei May Lau (B.A.,’76, M.S. ‘77), and Jeffrey Puschell (Ph.D., Astrophysics ‘79) have been elected
Michael Coughlin smiling man wearing glasses

Coughlin receives McKnight Professorship

School of Physics and Astronomy Assistant Professor Michael Coughlin has been awarded a 2024 McKnight Land-Grant Professorship.
Wall of Discovery shows the plot for the Humphreys-Davidson Limit, Professor Humphreys stands near it with Prof. Davidson.

Humphreys Awarded Medal from Royal Astronomical Society

Professor Emerita Roberta Humphreys of the School of Physics and Astronomy will receive the 2024 Herschel Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society for her discovery of the empirical upper luminosity
John Broadhurst

John Broadhurst, 1935 - 2023

Professor Emeritus John Broadhurst of the School of Physics and Astronomy passed away on October 17 th , 2023. He was 88 years old. John was born in England in 1935 and received all of his degrees
Fiona Burnell

Burnell elected APS Fellow

Associate Professor Fiona Burnell of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. 
Michael Wilking

Moving Target: New Faculty member does neutrino research with a twist

Professor Michael Wilking is a new faculty member in high energy physics. Wilking’s research is focused on neutrinos and he is a member of several international neutrino collaborations, including

School of Physics and Astronomy Seminar Calendar