News & Events

Seven Pines Public Lecture: Peter Galison

About the talk: In thousands of atlases depicting the working objects of inquiry—from bodies, clouds, plants, to crystals and insects—physicians and natural philosophers worked out what counted as scientific objectivity. This long-term history, with its various takes on what a reliable scientific image should be, converged in the years-long struggle of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) to produce a picture of a black hole robust enough to make public. On April 10, 2019, the team released the first image of a black hol leased the first image of a black hole, an image viewed within a very few days by more than a billion people. This talk is about how the EHT team of some 200 scientists came to judge the glowing, crescent-like ring as objective.

About the Speaker:Peter Galison is a physicist, historian of science, and filmmaker at Harvard University, where he is the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor and Director of the Black Hole Initiative. In 1997, he was named a MacArthur Fellow; with his Event Horizon Telescope colleagues, Galison shared in the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the first image of a black hole. He is the author of several books, including How Experiments End; Image and Logic; Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps; and (with L. Daston), Objectivity. Galison partnered (as dramaturg) with South African artist William Kentridge on a multi-screen installation, The Refusal of Time (2012) and an associated chamber opera. He and Robb Moss co-directed Secrecy (2008), on national security secrecy, which premiered at Sundance. The two also co-directed Containment (2015), about the need to guard radio-active materials. The latest film produced and directed by Peter Galison is: Black Holes: the Edge of All we Know, which was released in 2020 (and is available on channels like Netflix, AppleTV and others).

About the Lecture: The Seven Pines public lecture is part of an annual symposium held by the Seven Pines Institute. It is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science at the University of Minnesota and The Science Museum of Minnesota.

WiPA de-stress event

There will be arts and crafts! There will be snacks! There will be conversation and hanging out! Among other things, we'll have painting, drawing, coloring, and possibly nail polish. See you there!

Colloquium: Alex McLeod, University of Minnesota; & Student Awards

Unveiling the Realm of Quantum Materials with Nano-optics

Abstract: Tool sets wielded by condensed matter researchers over the past century have expanded meteorically into frontiers of the ultra-small and ultra-fast, today leveraging advancements like atomically precise crystal growth, nano-scale device assembly, and femtosecond spectroscopy with ultrafast photon pulses.  On the other hand, despite breathtaking 20th century advancements in photon sources and detection technologies, our capacity to resolve condensed matter through optical spectroscopies has remained largely arrested by the diffraction limit since its 19th century observation by Ernst Abbe.  However, recent decades have seen the marriage of “conventional” optics with scanning probes to circumvent the diffraction limit, realizing a nanometer-resolved optical spectroscopy mediated fundamentally by electromagnetic near-fields.  In this talk, I review and celebrate the breakthrough of this technique into regimes of low temperature and nanometer spatial scales necessary for fundamental studies of quantum materials.  I showcase seminal investigations of collective excitations in 2-dimensional media like graphene, electronic phase competition in correlated electron solids, and on-demand control of optical properties in strongly interacting materials.  I will share my ambitious perspectives for the future of nano-optical probes for quantum materials, a future that is simultaneously ultra-bright and ultra-small, and fundamentally transformative for optical spectroscopies of complex matter.

This colloquium will have a remote option via zoom: 

Van Vleck Colloquium: William Unruh, University of British Columbia

Abstract: In 1976 I predicted that an accelerated detector in the vacuum would respond as though it were immersed in a thermal bath with temperature proportional to the acceleration. The proportionality factor is very small, so that to see a temperatures of 1K would require and acceleration of about 10^22cm/(second squared). An analogous effect can take place in a fluid where the velocity of sound takes over from the light velocity. In a BEC which remains fluid at temperatures of 10^(-12)K and with a velocity of sound of mm/s, an analog of this effect holds the possibility of seeing this effect in an experiment using a novel energy laser interferometer. I will be reviewing the successes of using such analog systems to measure Hawking radiation, and our proposal of also measuring the acceleration effect in an analogue system.

This colloquium will have a remote option via zoom:


Link to join Webinar

Van Vleck Public Lecture: William Unruh, University of British Columbia

About the Talk: The detection of gravitational waves from events such as the collision of black holes is based on one of the most exquisitely sensitive experiments in the world.  Although the energy released in the original collision is as large as that from anything humans have ever observed, the resulting ripples in space-time are so small by the time they reach the earth that they generate displacements less than a billionth of a billionth of a meter.  This is why gravitational waves resisted detection for a century until their observation in 2015, a feat recognized by the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.  At present, the key source of noise  limiting the sensitivity in these experiments is due to quantum mechanics. Given that the detector mirrors weigh 40 kg, it is astounding that the quantum theory originally developed for atoms matters in this case for macroscopic objects.  This year’s Van Vleck lecture will explore this phenomenon.  Things can go strangely in the quantum world, and Professor Unruh will show how it is possible to reduce the effects of this noise by actually injecting more quantum noise into the detector.

About the speaker:

William Unruh received his Ph.D. in 1971 under John Wheeler (the person who popularized the name "Black Hole" for the phenomenon). In trying to understand the quantum mechanics of black holes, Unruh discovered the Unruh effect  and the Unruh vacuum around black holes. His work has concentrated on the overlap between quantum mechanics and gravity, leading to work on the nature and measurement of time, the study of (non-)non-locality. in quantum mechanics, the quantum origin of matter in early cosmology, the impact of quantum mechanics on the detectors of gravitational waves, and other effects in the same general area. He holds a number of honors including Fellowships in the Royal Societies of Canada and of London, and is a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. At present he is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of British Columbia; Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute; and Research Professor at Texas A&M University.

The lecture is free and open to the public, but registration is requested

Women in Astronomy and Physics Lecture Series (WAPHLS): Ana Maria Rey, University of Colorado, Boulder

Abstract: Harnessing the behavior of complex systems is at the heart of quantum technologies. Precisely engineered ultracold gases are emerging as a powerful tool for this task. In this talk I will explain how ultracold strontium atoms trapped by light can be used to create optical lattice clocks – the most precise timekeepers ever imagined. I am going to explain why these clocks are not only fascinating, but of crucial importance since they can help us to answer cutting-edge questions about complex many-body phenomena and magnetism, to unravel big mysteries of our universe and to build the next generation of quantum technologies.  

Colloquium: The Genesis of the CPT Theorem

Abstract:  The CPT theorem is a well-known and well-established fundamental result in relativistic quantum field theory (QFT), stating that any such theory will be invariant under a sequence of transformations consisting of time reversal (T), spatial inversion (P), and charge conjugation (C). In my talk I will show how this combined transformation arose in the work of Julian Schwinger, Gerhart Lüders, Wolfgang Pauli and John Bell, in particular in the search for an adequate relativistic and field-theoretic generalization of the notion of time reversal in the early 1950s. I will thus aim to explain the surprising fact that the CPT theorem was first proved a couple of years before taking center stage with the discovery of parity violation in 1957. (Based on joint work with Andrés Martínez de Velasco.)

SPA Graduate Student Mental Health and Wellness Survey

At the request of the Climate and Diversity Committee, a survey on mental health and wellness was administered this winter to graduate students in the School of Physics and Astronomy.  The survey was administered by Boynton Health Services in partnership with the Council of Graduate Students' (COGS) and Professional Student Government (PSG) Mental Health & Wellness Committee.  More than a dozen other departments have participated in this survey project since it was first developed in 2013 in cooperation with the Chemistry Department.  This is the second time we have participated in this survey; the last time was in 2018.

The goal is to assess the state of mental health and wellness among graduate and professional students, including risk and protective factors.  Following completion of the survey, each participating School holds a meeting of graduate students,faculty, and staff in which Dr. Lust (Epidemiology and Community Health) shares the results of the survey.  This year we will follow the roughly 30-minute presentation with breakout sessions facilitated by members of the Climate and Diversity Committee where we will explore the implications of the findings and how they might be addressed by follow-up actions.  All this will happen in person in the various conference rooms with refreshments served. An online option is also available.

Colloquium: Physics of Morphogenetic Matter

My lab studies how the movement and shape of living cells is controlled by the dynamic biomolecular assemblies within the cell interior. In this talk, I will describe my lab’s recent efforts to understand the design principles of the active, soft materials that control the shape and motion of adherent cells. In particular, we are interested in the design principles by which protein-based materials generate, relax, sense, and adapt to mechanical force. Here I will describe our current experimental efforts using optogenetic approaches to elucidate design principles of living matter.

Colloquium - Black and Gold: Capturing Neutron Star Mergers from the Ground and Space

Neutron star binary mergers are powerful and distinctive sources of gravitational waves but also leave behind broadband electromagnetic radiation in the form of gamma-ray bursts, afterglows, and kilonovae. Multimessenger observations of them can be remarkably illuminating in topics from fundamental physics to cosmology to nucleosynthesis. To date, LIGO and Virgo have detected several neutron star mergers, one with an exceptionally bright and well-studied electromagnetic counterpart. Electromagnetic follow-up of gravitational-wave sources is highly rewarding but also highly challenging because telescopes may have only hours to scan over the LIGO/Virgo/KAGRA localization before the blast reddens and fades beyond detectability. I will discuss several interconnected topics related to observing neutron star mergers from the ground and space: ground-based kilonova searches with the Zwicky Transient Facility, a proposed NASA mission for rapid ultraviolet observations of mergers, next-generation algorithms and software to optimally coordinate follow-up with networks of telescopes, and what to expect from the upcoming observing run of LIGO, Virgo, and KAGRA.

Here's the link to sign up to meet with him.


School News

Supernova telescope image

Kelly leads first-of-its-kind measurement of the Universe’s expansion rate

Assistant Professor Patrick Kelly of the School of Physics and Astronomy led a team which used a first-of-its-kind technique to measure the expansion rate of the Universe, providing insight that
Fellowship and awards title

2023 Graduate Awards and Fellowships

There are 14 graduate award and fellowship recipients in the School for 2021.
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2023 Undergraduate Scholarship Recipients

There are 28 undergraduate recipients for 14 separate scholarships.
Boris Shklovskii

Shklovskii elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Professor Boris I. Shklovskii of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been elected as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for his excellence in original scientific
Lindsay Gelsener and the image of a solar flare.

Glesener receives College Research Award

Professor Lindsay Glesener of the School of Physics and Astronomy has received the 2023 George W. Taylor Award for Distinguished Research from the College of Science and Engineering at the University
Image from James Webb Space Telescope showing a galaxy cluster

Kelly part of group that discovers tiny galaxy with big star power using James Webb telescope

Using first-of-their-kind observations from the James Webb Space Telescope, a University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led team looked more than 13 billion years into the past to discover a unique,
Ali Sulaiman and the icy moons of Jupiter

Could Jupiter’s icy moons support life? Mission to Jupiter set to launch on April 13

Assistant Professor Ali Sulaiman of the School of Physics and Astronomy is part of the magnetometer instrument team that will study the icy moons of Jupiter. The European Space Agency’s flagship
Elias Puchner in his laboratory.

Puchner receives Biosensing grant

Professor Elias Puchner of the School of Physics and Astronomy received a 2023 grant from the University of Minnesota's International Institute for Biosensing (IIB). Puchner’s research group
Rafael Fernandes

Fernandes named Distinguished McKnight University Professor

Professor Rafael Fernandes of the School of Physics and Astronomy has been named a 2023 Distinguished McKnight University Professor. Fernandes is a condensed matter theorist and Director of
Image of X-ray observation of the sun

Student-planned NuSTAR observation reveals hidden light shows on the Sun

Students at the School played a key role in planning a NuSTAR solar observation which could help shed light on one of the Sun’s biggest mysteries. UMN physics grad students Marianne Peterson and Reed

School of Physics and Astronomy Seminar Calendar