Eisenbud Lectures in Mathematics and Physics, October 27 – 29, 2015

27 09 2015

Eisenbud2015The Departments of Physics and Mathematics are pleased to announce that this year’s speaker for the Eisenbud Lectures in Mathematics and Physics is Jeffrey Harvey, the Enrico Fermi Distinguished Service Professor in Physics at The University of Chicago. The Eisenbud Lectures are the result of a generous donation by Leonard and Ruth-Jean Eisenbud, intended for a yearly set of lectures by an eminent physicist or mathematician working close to the interface of the two subjects.

Prof. Harvey is a leader in nonperturbative quantum field theory and string theory, known for elegant, incisive, and influential work on anomalies, solitons, and instantons; string duality; black holes in string theory; and conformal field theory for string compactifications. He was one of the members of the “Princeton String Quartet” which discovered and developed the heterotic string. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is currently an Academic Trustee at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, and a member of the Fermilab Physics Advisory Committee. These lectures promise to be enlightening and entertaining in equal measure.

The lectures will take place at Brandeis University, from October 27-29, 2015.The first lecture on Tuesday, October 27 will be a colloquium-style lecture titled “A Physicist Under The Spell of Ramanujan and Moonshine”, and will be in Abelson room 131 at 4PM; a reception will follow. The second lecture on Wednesday, October 28, “Mock Modular Forms in Mathematics and Physics”, will take place in Abelson 131 at 4PM. The final lecture, “Umbral Moonshine”, will take place in Abelson 333 at 11AM. Refreshments will be served 15 minutes prior to each talk.

We hope to see you all at what promises to be a very exciting series of talks!
— Albion Lawrence, Dept. of Physics. and Bong Lian, Dept. of Mathematics

Pairs of Supermassive Black Holes May Be Rarer Than Earlier Thought

25 09 2015
Image by David Roberts

Image by David Roberts

Recent research by David H. Roberts, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Astrophysics at Brandeis, has shown that pairs of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies are less common than previously thought. This suggests that the level of gravitational radiation from such systems is lower than earlier predicted. This work was in collaboration with Lakshmi Saripalli and Ravi Subrahmanyan of the Raman Research Institute in Bangalore, and much of the work was done by Brandeis undergraduate students Jake Cohen and Jing Liu. It has recently been published in a pair of papers in the Astrophysical Journal Supplements and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity. Propagating at the speed of light, they are produced in astrophysical events such as supernovae and close binary stars.

No direct experimental evidence of the existence of gravitational waves has been found to date. We know that they exist because they sap energy from the orbits of binary systems, and using ultra-precise radio astronomy it has been shown that the changes in binary orbits of pairs of pulsars (magnetized neutron stars) are precisely as predicted by General Relativity. Hulse and Taylor were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to this work.

The largest source of gravitational waves is expected to be the coalescence of pairs of supermassive black holes in the centers of large galaxies. We know today that galaxies grow by mergers, and that every galaxy harbors a massive black hole at its center, with mass roughly proportional to the galaxy’s mass. When two massive galaxies merge to form a larger galaxy, it will contain a pair of black holes instead of a single one. Through a process involving the gravitational scattering of ordinary stars the two black holes migrate toward each other and eventually coalesce into a single even more massive black hole. The process of coalescence involves “strong gravity,” that is, it occurs when the separation of the two merging black holes becomes comparable to their Schwarzschild radii. Recent developments in numerical relativity have made it possible to study the coalescence process in the computer, and predictions may be made about the details of the gravitational waves that emerge. Thus direct detection of gravitational waves will enable tests of General Relativity not achievable any other way.

In order to predict the amount of gravitational radiation present in the Universe it is necessary to estimate by other methods the rate at which massive galaxies are colliding and their black holes coalescing. One way to do this is to examine the small number of radio galaxies that have unusual morphologies that suggest that they were created by the process of a spin-flip of a supermassive black hole due to its interaction with a second supermassive black hole. These are the so-called “X-shaped radio galaxies” (“XRGs”), and a naive counting of their numbers suggests that they are about 6% of all radio galaxies. Using this and knowing the lifetime of such an odd radio structure it is possible to determine the rate at which massive galaxies are merging and their black holes coalescing.

Roberts et al. re-examined this idea, and made a critical assessment of the mechanism of formation of XRGs. It turns out that other mechanisms can easily create such odd structures, and according to their work the large majority of XRGs are not the result of black hole-black hole mergers at all. They suggest as a result that the rate of supermassive black hole mergers may have been overestimated by a factor of three to five, with the consequence that the Universe contains that much less gravitational radiation than previously believed. In fact, recent results from searches for such gravitational waves have set upper limits below previous predictions, as might expect from this work.

For more information:


Greater Boston Area Statistical Mechanics Meeting on Oct 24

31 08 2015

Brandeis will host the 17th annual Greater Boston Area Statistical Mechanics Meeting (GBASM) on Saturday, October 24, 2015, from 9:30-3:00. GBASM brings together researchers interested in statistical mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, condensed matter physics, biophysics, and related topics for a day-long workshop.  The meeting consists of four invited talks (30 min.), and a larger number of contributed “table talks”. The invited speakers for 2015 are:

Contributed talks will follow the format adopted the last two years. Contributors will give a brief announcement of their work in the lecture hall. We will then move to the adjacent room where each contributor will sit at a table with their laptop or tablet and discuss their research with interested participants. This format eliminates the expense associated with posters and provides greater feedback to contributors. The time preparing for a “table talk” should be similar to preparing for a short talk.

GBASM Sponsors for 2015 include the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Brandeis University; the Department of Physics, Boston University; the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, Harvard University; the Department of Physics, UMASS Amherst; and the Department of Chemistry, MIT. Thanks to these subsidies, bagels, coffee, tea, and lunch will be provided at no cost if you register for GBASM by the deadline of Saturday, Oct 17.

SciFest V is in the books

9 08 2015

The Brandeis University Division of Science held its annual undergraduate research poster session SciFest V on July 30, 2015. Despite the 90 degree heat (and the steam leak) outside, the student presenter in the Shapiro Science atrium admirably kept their cool and showed off the results of their summer’s (or last year’s) worth of independent research. We had a great audience of grad students, postdocs, faculty, proud parents, members of the Brandeis senior administration, visiting neuroscientists at Brandeis helping evaluate our Computational Neuroscience training program, and physicists at Brandeis attending the IGERT Summer Institute.


If you’re a student who didn’t get to present, or you’re a community member who just wanted a chance to talk about science with our energized undergrads, we’re planning another session for Fall Fest 2015. Stay tuned for details.

For a few more impressions of the event, see the story at Brandeis NOW. More pictures and abstract books are available at the SciFest site.

SciFest V by numbers


Science Policy: Science for Policy or Policy for Science?

1 07 2015

selimovicThis article was written by Jacqueline Jeon-Chapman. She is an undergraduate student who attended the MRSEC AAAS Policy event.

The Bioinspired Soft Materials MRSEC invited Dr. Šeila Selimovic, a Brandeis Physics Ph.D.’10, to campus on Wednesday, June 17th. In a room full of students, post-docs, staff, and faculty, Selimovic talked about her experiences working in science policy and gave practical advice to the audience about the career pathway. Her presentation was titled, “Science Policy: Science for Policy or Policy for Science?”

After working as a post-doc in labs at Harvard and MIT, Selimovic began her current fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C. Through this job, Selimovic has attended a UN conference, arranged meetings between diplomats and scientists, and taught a course for educating government workers about nuclear energy. She said her job involves being able to do extensive research in a given field because she provides government officials with the most recent and relevant statistics on scientific questions.

Recently, Selimovic was asked to study nuclear power plants in Poland because many countries rely on Russian nuclear power plants for electricity. These power plants give Russia influence over other countries, so Poland has been considering replacing these power plants with ones built in other countries. Selimovic did research to provide her managers with information for a meeting with Poland.

During her presentation, Selimovic talked about her initial frustrations that she felt that government officials often prioritized economics and politics over science. As she learned more about her job, she came to accept that science is not the only important factor in making decisions.

Selimovic also gave advice about how to find a job as an AAAS fellow. She said she thought that her strong publication record made her stand out as an applicant. Interestingly, she noted that not all of her publications were primary journal articles. Her publication list included many short reviews on recent scientific publications that concisely explained the significance of the work in simpler terms. To future policy fellows, she recommended writing and publishing often and seeking out opportunities to enhance science communication skills. Selimovic also recommended the website Cheeky Scientist Association for learning how to network, writing a resume, and gaining other career skills.

Overall, she said that working in science policy involves more teamwork than in academic research—one person plays a smaller role in a project.



IGERT Summer Institute – July 27 to August 7, 2015

17 06 2015

IGERTBrandeis is hosting a two-week summer institute for graduate students in the mathematical sciences from July 27-August 7.  This will combine the annual summer institute of Brandeis’ Geometry and Dynamics IGERT program, with a sequel to the US-India Advanced Studies Institute on thermalization, held two years ago in Bangalore.


  • Large deviation theory
  • Statistics of extreme events
  • The large N expansion in statistical and quantum physics
  • Statistical fluid dynamics
  • Quantum information and quantum gravity
  • Thermalization in Quantum Systems


Sumit Das (U. Kentucky)
Chandan Dasgupta (IISC, Bangalore)
Rajesh Gopakumar (HRI, Allahabad and ICTS)
Alex Maloney (McGill University)
Satya Majumdar (LPTMS, Paris)
Sanjib Sabhapandit (Raman Research Institute, Bangalore)
Peter Weichman (BAE systems)


Albion Lawrence
Bulbul Chakraborty


There will be no registration fee, but the venue will have limited capacity, so interested students should register by sending an email to Catherine Broderick (cbroderi@brandeis.edu) by July 4. Please list your affiliation, your year in graduate school, any publications, and the name of your PhD advisor.

Additional information can be found at www.brandeis.edu/igert/.

New Faculty Member Joins the Physics Department

10 06 2015

A new faculty member is joining the Physics department starting on January 1, 2016.

W. Benjamin RogersW. Benjamin (Ben) Rogers is currently a research associate in Applied Physics at Harvard University under the supervision of Professor Vinothan Manoharan. Before coming to Harvard, he completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware.

Ben’s research focuses on developing quantitative tools and design strategies to understand and control the self-assembly of soft matter. He is interested in elucidating the role of specificity in complex self-assembly, designing responsive nanoscale materials by controlling phase transitions in colloidal suspensions, and understanding how coupled chemical reactions give rise to active materials, which can move, organize, repair, or replicate. At the intersection of soft condensed matter, biophysics, and DNA nanotechnology, his research utilizes techniques from synthetic chemistry, optical microscopy, micromanipulation, and statistical mechanics.

7 Division of Science Faculty Recently Promoted

2 06 2015

Congratulations to the following 7 Division of Science faculty members were recently promoted:

Donald B. Katz (Psychology) has been promoted to Professor of Psychology. Don came to Brandeis as an Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the Volen Center for Complex Systems in 2002 and was promoted to Associate Professor and awarded tenure in 2008. Don’s teaching and research serve central roles in both Psychology and the Neuroscience program. His systems approach to investigating gustation blends behavioral testing of awake rodents with multi-neuronal recording and pharmacological, optogenetic, and modelling techniques. Broad themes of the neural dynamics of perceptual coding, learning, social learning, decision making, and insight run through his work on gustation. For his research, Don has won the 2007 Polak Award and the 2004 Ajinomoto Young Investigator in Gustation Award, both from the Association for Chemoreception Sciences. Don has taught “Introduction to Behavioral Neuroscience” (NPSY11b), “Advanced Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience” (NPSY197a), “Neuroscience Proseminar” (NBIO250a), “Proseminar in Brain, Body, and Behavior II” (PSYC302a), “How Do We Know What We Know?” (SYS1c). For his excellence in teaching, Don has been recognized with the 2013 Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer ’69 and Joseph Neubauer Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring, the 2006 Brandeis Student Union Teaching Award, and the 2006 Michael L. Walzer Award for Teaching and Scholarship.

Nicolas Rohleder (Psychology) has been promoted the Assistant Professor in Psychology. Nic is a member of the Volen Center for Complex Systems and on the faculty of the Neuroscience and Health, Science, Society and Policy programs. His course offerings include “Health Psychology” (PSYC38a), “Stress, Physiology and Health” (NPSY141a), and” Research Methods and Laboratory in Psychology” (PSYC52a). Nic’s research investigates how acute and chronic or repeated stress experiences affect human health across individuals and age groups. His laboratory performs studies with human participants using methods than span behavioral to molecular to understand how the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) regulate peripheral immunological responses and how these processes mediate cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and aging. His research and teaching fill unique niches for all his Brandeis departmental and program affiliations. Nic’s research excellence has been recognized outside Brandeis with awards including the 2013 Herbert Weiner Early Career Award of the American Psychosomatic Society and the 2011 Curt P. Richter Award of the International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Matthew Headrick (Physics) has been promoted to Associate Professor of Physics. He works at the intersection of three areas of modern theoretical physics: quantum field theory, general relativity, and quantum information theory. In particular, he uses information-theoretic techniques to study the structure of entanglement — a fundamental and ubiquitous property of quantum systems — in various kinds of field theories. Much of his work is devoted to the study of so-called “holographic” field theories, which are equivalent, in a subtle and still mysterious way, to theories of gravity in higher-dimensional spacetimes. Holographic theories have revealed a deep connection between entanglement and spacetime geometry, and Headrick has made significant contributions to the elucidation of this connection. Understanding the role of entanglement in holographic theories, and in quantum gravity more generally, may eventually lead to an understanding of the microscopic origin of space and time themselves.

Isaac Krauss (Chemistry) has been promoted to Associate Professor of Chemistry. He is an organic chemist and chemical biologist whose research is at the interface of carbohydrate chemistry and biology. His lab has devised tools for directed evolution of modified DNA and peptides as an approach to designing carbohydrate vaccines against HIV. Krauss is also a very popular teacher and the recipient of the 2015 Walzer prize in teaching for tenure-track faculty.

Xiaodong Liu (Psychology) has been promoted to Associate Professor in Psychology. Xiaodong provides statistical training for graduate students in Psychology, Heller School, IBS, Neuroscience, Biology, and Computer Science, he serves as a statistical consultant for Psychology faculty and student projects, and he performs research on general & generalized linear modeling and longitudinal data analysis, which he applies to child development, including psychological adjustment and school performance. He teaches “Advanced Psychological Statistics I and II” (PSYC210a,b), “SAS Applications” (PSYC140a), “Multivariate Statistics I: Applied Structural Equation Modeling” (PSYC215a), and “Multivariate Statistics II: Applied Hierarchical Linear Models” (PSYC216a). He is developing a new course on “The R Statistical Package and Applied Bayes Analysis”, and he recently won a Provost’s Innovations in Teaching Grant for “Incorporating Project-based modules in Learning and Teaching of Applied Statistics”.

Gabriella Sciolla (Physics) has been promoted to Professor of Physics. She is a particle physicist working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Sciolla and her group study the properties of the newly discovered Higgs Boson and search for Dark Matter particles produced in high-energy proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider. Sciolla is also responsible for the reconstruction and calibration of the muons produced in ATLAS. These particles are key to both Higgs studies and searches for New Physics.

Nianwen Xue (Computer Science) has been promoted to Associate Professor of Computer Science.  The Computer Science Department is pleased to announce the promotion of Nianwen (Bert) Xue to Associate Professor with tenure. Since joining Computer Science he has made significant contributions to the research and teaching efforts in Computational Linguistics, including growing a masters program from zero up to 18 students this year. His publications are very well regarded, and focus on the development and use of large corpora for natural language processing, especially in Chinese. He has built a sizable lab with diverse funding that students from around the world are vying to enter.

Thank you to the following department chairs for their contributions to this post:

Paul DiZio, Psychology
Jane Kondev, Physics
Jordan Pollack, Computer Science
Barry Snider, Chemistry

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