Math Hires 1st Berger-Leighton Professor of Mathematics

Bonnie BergerThis spring, the Brandeis Department of Mathematics completed their search for the first Berger-Leighton Professor of Mathematics with the hiring of Dr. Daniel Alvarez-Gaviella, currently an Assistant Professor at MIT. Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella will be joining Brandeis in July 2024, after staying for one more year at MIT.

This new tenure-track faculty position is the result of the generous gift by Bonnie Berger ’83, a former Brandeis trustee and the Simons Professor of Mathematics at MIT, and her husband, Dr. Tom Leighton, Professor of Applied Mathematics at MIT and CEO and cofounder of Akamai Technologies. Brandeis Mathematics Chair Olivier Bernardi had this to say about the hire: “Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella is a superb scholar, and an individual who embodies all the qualities that Brandeis ought to represent. Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella is already collaborating with Brandeis Professor Kiyoshi Igusa on an ambitious research project aimed at importing sophisticated algebraic results (first developed by Prof. Igusa and his collaborators), to bear fruition in the context of symplectic geometry. The Math Department was unanimously enthusiastic about Dr. Alvarez-Gaviella and excited to see him come and develop at Brandeis, and contribute to the renewal of the Department.”

Piasta Receives the Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Kene PiastaKene Piasta, Assistant Professor of Biology, has been presented the 2023 Louis Dembitz Brandeis Prize for Excellence in Teaching. This prestigious award is given each year to a faculty member of any rank that exhibits outstanding teaching skills. Piasta was selected by Dorothy Hodgson, the Dean of Arts and Sciences based upon recommendations from a faculty committee (including previous prize recipients) and input from the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Decisions are based on student nominations, teaching evaluations, Faculty Activity Reports and CVs.

Liz Hedstrom, Professor of Biology and Chemistry and Biology Department Chair, said “Kene is a remarkable educator and an exceptionally worthy recipient of the LDB Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Kene has a gift for making dry subjects like statistics engaging without losing rigor and he somehow manages to create personal interactions in the largest introductory courses.  We are very lucky to have him at Brandeis.”

Piasta received his PhD in Biochemistry from Brandeis University in 2011.

Congratulations, Kene!

Pre-Applications to Sprout Program Due 4/17

Sprout logoThe Sprout Program is back!

Funded by the Provost’s Office and the Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), Sprout is designed to encourage and support translational research activity within the Brandeis community for faculty, postdocs, and student researchers (graduate and undergraduate) in the Division of Science. The awards (up to $25,000 – no overhead!) are intended to help to advance early-stage technologies to industry adoption thereby bringing your research and entrepreneurial ambitions to life.

Successful pre-applicants will be invited to submit a final application due in late May and to pitch to a panel of industry judges in early June. Pre-apply by April 17.

Physics Participates in the GSAS 70th Anniversary Celebration

On February 15, around 40 Physics faculty, current graduate students, and graduate alumni zoomed in for a celebration of the Physics graduate program. The celebration included fascinating presentations by Bennett Sessa and Bibi Najma, current students in Guillaume Duclos’ lab, about their work on active matter and biomimetics, as well as the benefits of being Brandeis students. There were also happy reunions between faculty and old students, and reminiscences about various periods of the department’s history, from the 1960s all the way to today. The positive impact that Brandeis had on the students’ careers, both inside and outside academia was clear from their many stories.

One interesting theme was how some of the department’s research areas have shifted over the generations, starting with a heavy focus on atomic beams and hard condensed matter (or solid state physics as it was called then) to today’s focus on soft matter and biological physics, while in other areas, such as high-energy experiment and theory, the department has maintained its tradition of strength.

Eva Silverstein is 2023 Eisenbud Lectures speaker

Eisenbud poster The Mathematics department is pleased to announce that this year’s speaker for the Eisenbud Lectures in Mathematics and Physics is Eva Silverstein of Stanford University. The lectures will take place at Brandeis University from March 28th – March 30th. 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.

Professor Silverstein is an eminent theoretical physicist who has done creative, pioneering and influential work in string theory, quantum field theory, and both conceptual and observational aspects of cosmology. She was a Sloan Fellow and a MacArthur Fellow; she is currently a Simons investigator; a fellow of the American Physics Society; and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Silverstein is a fascinating speaker, and these lectures promise to be enlightening and entertaining in equal measure. Here’s the lecture schedule (refreshments will be available before each talk):

  • Tuesday, March 28th at 4pm in Abelson 131: “The accelerating universe and rigid Einstein manifolds”.  For Zoom link, please contact Catherine Broderick.
  • Wednesday, March 29th at 11am in Abelson 333: “The accelerating universe and integrable deformations of quantum field theories”
  • Thursday, March 30th at 10am in Abelson 333: “Optimization and sampling from energy-conserving Hamiltonian dynamical systems”

There will be a reception held on campus at Feldberg Lounge in the Hassenfeld Building after the first colloquium on Tuesday, March 28th.  All are invited to attend.

Prof. Albion Lawrence and Prof. Bong Lian are hosting the 2023 lecture series.

Herzfeld paper named “2023 Hot PCCP article”

images from Herzfeld paperIn a new paper (DOI: 10.1039/d2cp05648h), selected as a “2023 Hot PCCP article”, the Herzfeld group has shown that the “Lewis dot” representation of electrons can predict states that have otherwise been predicted only by the most advanced implementations of quantum mechanics.

Basically, the structures and reactions of molecules are controlled by the interactions of electrons with each other and with atomic nuclei. However, the process is complicated by the fact that wave properties are important for particles as light as electrons. The gold standard is to explicitly model these properties using wave mechanics. But it is convenient to have an implicit description that is more accessible and intuitive. These are the “Lewis dots” that are generally used to represent bonds and reaction mechanisms in chemistry courses and journal articles. Lewis dots are semi-classical particles: classical in the sense of being associated with a location in space, but non-classical in that they don’t stick to the oppositely charged nuclei and can have two different spin states.

In recent years, the Herzfeld group has sought to quantify this picture. A subtlety is that the interactions between electrons is spin dependent due to the antisymmetry of electron wave functions. This explains why electrons of unlike spin often form pairs. However, the charges of electrons should always repel one another and Linnett suggested already in 1961 that two electrons should only co-localize if they are both sufficiently attracted to the same inter-nuclear region. In their new paper, the Herzfeld group shows that, a careful representation of the effects of wave function anti-symmetry, leads to Linnett-like structures when there are not enough internuclear basins to induce all the electrons to form simple pairs. A striking example is given by benzene. The traditional semi-classical representation of benzene, as a resonance between two structures with alternating single and double bonds, is obviated by a structure with three electrons in each carbon-carbon bond (shown here with the six carbon kernels in teal, six hydrogen kernels in white, and 15 valence electrons of each spin in pink and magenta).

Publication: Emergence of Linnett’s “double quartets” from a model of “Lewis dots.” Judith Herzfeld. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, Issue 7, 2023.

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