Berko Symposium 2012

On Monday, May 14, the Physics Department will hold the Twenty-first Annual Student Research Symposium in Memory of Professor Stephan Berko in Abelson 131. The symposium will end with talks by the Berko Prize winners. This year the prize is being shared by two graduating seniors, Yuri Levin-Schwartz and Sam McCandlish, and two graduate students, Andy Ward and Michael Giver. The whole department then gathers for a lunch of cold cuts, cookies and conversation. “It’s a great way to close out the academic year,” said Professor of Astrophysics and Department Chair John Wardle. “We come together to celebrate our students’ research and hear what the different research groups are doing.”

The undergraduate speakers will describe their senior thesis honors research. This is the final step in gaining an honors degree in physics, and many of them will also be co-authors on a paper published in a mainline science journal. The graduate student speakers are in the middle of their PhD research, and will describe their progress and goals.

The prize winners are nominated and chosen by the faculty for making particularly noteworthy progress in their research. Michael Giver’s talk is titled “Stochastic Chemical Oscillations on a Spatially Structured Medium.” He works with Professor Bulbul Chakraborty.  Andy Ward’s talk is titled “Friction Between Biological Filaments.” He works with Professor Zvonimir Dogic. Yuri Levin-Schwartz’ talk is titled “Going Towards the Light; Single Cell Phototaxis and Collective Dynamics of Algae.” He works with Professor Azadeh Samadani. The final talk is by Sam McCandlish and is titled “Bending and Breaking Time Contours: a World Line Approach to Quantum Field Theory.” Sam works with Professor Albion Lawrence. The schedule for Monday morning can be found on the Physics Department website. Abstracts of all the talks will be posted there shortly.

This Student Research Symposium is now in its 21st year. The “First Annual…..” (two words which are always unwise to put next to each other) was initiated in 1992 by Wardle to honor Professor Stephan Berko, who had died suddenly the previous year. Family, friends and colleagues contributed to a fund to support and celebrate student research in his memory. This provides the prize money which the four students will share.

Stephan Berko was a brilliant and volatile experimental physicist who was one of the founding members of the physics department. He was born in Romania in 1924 and was a survivor of both the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. He came to the United States under a Hillel Foundation scholarship and obtained his PhD at the University of Virginia. He came to Brandeis in 1961 to establish a program in experimental physics and worked tirelessly to build up the department. Together with Professors Karl Canter (dec. 2006) and Alan Mills (now at UC Riverside) he established Brandeis as a world center for research into positrons (the anti-matter mirror image of ordinary electrons). In a series of brilliant experiments they achieved many “firsts,” culminating in election to the National Academy of Sciences for Steve, and, it has been rumored, in a Nobel Prize nomination for the three of them. Steve was as passionate about teaching as he was about research, and when he died, it seemed most appropriate to honor his memory by celebrating the research of our graduate and undergraduate students. During the coffee break on Monday, we will show a movie of Steve lecturing on “cold fusion,” a headline-grabbing but phony claim for producing cheap energy from 1989.

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