The best battalion in the National Guard

Gregory Widberg is the Sr. Mechanical Engineer in the Physics department who also works with other departments in the Division of Science repairing scientific equipment.  Greg was called to active duty and served in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 as the Command Sgt. Major for the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment.  Greg is shown accepting the Walter T. Kerwin Jr. Readiness Award in a ceremony in Washington, DC on October 23, 2012.  The award is presented to the battalion with the highest level of readiness in its respective component.

General Raymond Odierno, chief of staff, U. S. Army, Lt Col. Ron Cupples, commander, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, Command Sgt. Maj. Greg Widberg, senior enlisted advisor, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, and Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler III, Sgt. Maj. of the Army, pose for a picture after Odinero presented the Walter T.Kerwin Jr. Readiness Award to Cupples and Widberg during a ceremony at the Association of the United States Army Eisenhower Luncheon as the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington D.C., Oct. 23, 2012. The Kerwin Award, which is open to Army National Guard and Army Reserve battalions, is presented to the battalion with the highest level of readiness in it’s respective component. In order to be considered each battalion must have been rated as having superior performance in eight specific areas as well as meeting other specific criteria. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jerry Saslav, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs)

New England Complex Fluids Workshop at Brandeis Sept 21

The 52nd New England Complex Fluids Workshop will be held on September 21, 2012. hosted by the Brandeis MRSEC. The workshop will feature a panel of researchers from industry exploring the academic / industrial relationship. Additionally, we will have one session of invited academic speakers, plus  two contributed “sound bite” sessions. Please consider submitting your work for an oral presentation.

In addition to taking questions from the floor, the panel will address questions such as  what kind of training and education do industrial labs seek in job applicants? What (scientific) knowledge should applicants possess? experience? skills? creativity? business knowledge? What should the universities do to better prepare students for a career in industry? What opinion do the industrial scientists and managers have on the research being done at universities? And how does research done in industry compare to that done in universities?  How common are collaborations between industry and academic researchers? What makes a successful collaboration? When does industry use academic consultants?

Registration (free) required: (deadline: 8am, September 19, 2012)


 Registration & Coffee9:00 – 9:30 AM Shapiro Campus Center, Room 236.1 Talk9:30 PM – 10:10 AM  (30 mins + 10 disc)
Shapiro Campus Center Theater

Michael Aizenberg, Wyss Institute, Harvard
     Responsive Gel-Based Dynamic Materials

Sound Bites10:15 AM – 11 AM
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
            Five minute updates of current research

Coffee11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Shapiro Center, Room 236

Panel11:30 – 1:00 PM 
Shapiro Center, Room 236
Industry / Academic relations
Rick Jacubinas (BASF), Darren Link (Raindance), Ian Morrison (Harvard)
Chris Harrison (Schlumberger), Patrick Spicer (Procter & Gamble)

Lunch1:00 – 2:00 PM
 Shapiro Center, Room 236

1 Talk2:00 PM – 2:40 PM  (30 mins + 10 disc)
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
Shekhar Garde, Chem & Bio Eng, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Hydration Phenomena at the Interface of Physics and Biology

Sound Bites: 2:45 PM – 4:00 PM
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
            Five minute updates of current research

Coffee4:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Shapiro Center, Room 236

Baskaran Wins NSF-CAREER award to pursue research on active fluids

Dr. Aparna Baskaran of the Physics Department has been awarded the prestigious CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation that is a highly competitive development grant for early career tenure track faculty members. This grant will fund the research ongoing in Dr. Baskaran’s group on dynamics in active materials. Active materials are a novel class of complex fluids that are driven out of equilibrium at the level of individual entities. Examples of such systems include bacterial suspensions, cytoskeletal filaments interacting with motor proteins and inanimate systems such as self-propelled phoretic colloidal particles. The theoretical challenge in understanding these systems lies in the fact that, unlike traditional materials, we no longer have the scaffold of equilibrium on which to base the theoretical framework.  At the practical front, these materials exhibit novel properties not seen in regular materials.  Further, they form the physical framework of biological systems  in that regulatory mechanisms modulate the mechanical properties of this material in response to environmental stimuli.  Dr. Baskaran’s research in this field will be done in collaboration with the groups of Dr. Michael Hagan, Dr. Zvonimir Dogic and Dr. Bulbul Chakraborty. It will enhance and complement the MRSEC research activities in the active materials thrust.

Figure Caption : Videos of example systems for active materials. A) A fish school exhibiting complex collective swimming. B) Swarming at the edge of an E. Coli Bacterial Colony. C) Cytoplasmic streaming inside the yolk of a fertilized cell.

LHC announcement of new particle that could be the Higgs Boson

Today at CERN joint seminars were given by the two major experiments (ATLAS and CMS) at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in which they announced the observation of a new particle that could be the Higgs Boson. The mass of this particle is 126 GeV, roughly that of a Barium atom. The level of statistical significance of the new particle is five standard deviations, which is general considered the threshold level of observation needed to make a claim of discovery. Higgs Boson has been long sought to complete the Standard Model of Particle Physics. The Brandeis High Energy Physics Group, along with many colleagues from around the world, has been working for the last 18 years designing, building, commissioning, running and analyzing data from the ATLAS experiment (at CERN).

The Standard Model of Particle Physics is our best understanding of the laws of nature that govern the behavior of all the things in the universe that we can see. One outstanding question in this theory has been: “where does mass come from?”. One proposed solution to this problem (by Peter Higgs) was the addition a field to our picture of the universe that adds a drag on each particle, different for each kind of particle, which we interpret as inertia or mass. This theory predicts a new particle, the Higgs Boson. Finding this particle is considered proof of this version of the standard model. One comment on “physics speak”, a particle being “consistent with the Higgs Boson” is not the same as “discovery of the Higgs Boson”. The predicted properties of this particle are very specific and much more work needs to be done to establish the exact nature of this new object. Is it the object that completes that Standard Model or is it a slightly different object that will point to a new direction in the understanding of nature? This question will be hotly pursued in the future running of the experiments.

On a local note, in a more technical vein; one of the two decay modes that were used by the ATLAS experiment to look for the Higgs Boson decays into four leptons, either four muons or four electrons or two of each. The electron and muon being two of the three leptons (meaning these particles don’t participate in the strong or nuclear force) of the Standard Model. The Brandeis HEP group has been instrumental in the design, construction and operation of the system that identifies and measures muons produced in the collisions at the LHC.

Jim Bensinger
July 4, 2012

editor’s note: see also interview at Brandeis NOW

Video Poster: One Dimensional Rings of Coupled Oscillators

Brandeis Physics grad students (IGERT trainees) Michael Giver and Nathan Tompkins have a “video poster” in the NSF IGERT Video & Poster Competition on “One Dimensional Rings of Coupled Oscillators – Turing’s Theory Realized”. You can check out and comment on their poster on-line at

award ribbonUpdate: Michael and Nathan’s poster received a Judge’s Choice award ($2,000.00) in the competition!

Six scientists secure fellowships

One current undergraduate, and five alumni, from the Brandeis Sciences were honored with offers of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships in 2012. The fellowships, which are awarded based on a national competition, provide three full years of support for Ph.D. research and are highly valued by students and institutions. These students are:

  • Samuel McCandlish ’12 (Physics) , a current student who did research with Michael Hagan and Aparna Baskaran, resulting in a paper “Spontaneous segregation of self-propelled particles with different motilities” in Soft Matter (as a junior). He then switched to work with Albion Lawrence for his senior thesis research. Sam will speak about “Bending and Breaking Time Contours: a World Line Approach to Quantum Field Theory” at the Berko Symposium on May 14.  Sam has been offered a couple of other fellowships as well, so he’ll have a nice choice to make. Sam will be heading to Stanford in the fall to continue his studies in theoretical physics.
  • Briana Abrahms ’08 (Physics). After graduating from Brandeis, Briana followed her interests in ecological and conversation issues, and  in Africa as a research assistant with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, Briana previously described some of her experiences here in “Three Leopards and a Shower“. Briana plans to pursue as Ph.D. in Ecology at UC Davis.
  • Sarah Robinson ’07 (Chemistry). Sarah did undergraduate research with Irving Epstein on “Pattern formation in a coupled layer reaction-diffusion system”. After graduating, Sarah spent time with the Peace Corps in Tanzania, returning to study Neurosciene at UCSF.
  • Si Hui Pan ’10 (Physics) participated in a summer REU program at Harvard, and continued doing her honors thesis in collaboration with the labs at Harvard. Her award is to study condensed matter physics at MIT.
  • Elizabeth Setren ’10 was a Mathematics and Economics double major who worked together with Donald Shepard (Heller School) on the cost of hunger in the US. She has worked as an Assistant Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and her award is to study Economics at Harvard.
  • Michael Ari Cohen ’01 (Psychology) worked as a technology specialist for several years before returning to academia as  PhD student in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Barry awarded Joseph Katz Fellowship from Argonne Natl Lab

Edward Francis Barry (PhD ’11) has recently been awarded the prestigious Argonne Scholar-Joseph Katz Postdoctoral Fellowship at Argonne National Laboratory. Ed began his scientific career studying the self-assembly of fd virus with Zvonimir Dogic, during the latter’s Junior Fellowship at the Rowland Institute at Harvard University. When Dogic joined the physics faculty at Brandeis, Ed also came to Brandeis as a Ph.D. student and helped to start the Dogic lab. Ed published seven papers describing various novel assemblages found in the fd system. Most notably, his 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper describing the physical properties of colloidal membranes won the 2010 Cozzarelli Prize for scientific excellence. As the Katz fellow, Ed will be working between Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago, where he is working with Experimental Condensed Matter Professor Heinrich Jaeger studying the self-assembly of monolayers composed of nanoparticles.

The Higgs boson – what it is and how you would find it

The Higgs Boson is an elementary particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics. It is associated with the Higgs mechanism that was developed with the contributions of physicists Brout, Englert, Guralnik, Hagen, Kibble and Higgs in 1964. This mechanism proposed an elegant solution to one of the standing problems in particle physics – how particles acquire mass. The elementary particles of nature have masses varying by many orders of magnitude. For instance, the top quark, the heaviest known particle yet, has a mass that is roughly 340000 times that of the electron. Neutrinos on the other hand, have masses that are constrained by experiment to only a small fraction of the electron mass. The Higgs mechanism suggests that all particles acquire their mass by the strength of their couplings to a field that permeates the whole universe – the Higgs field. The top quark does not get its higher mass because it is bigger in size; in fact it is probably no larger than an electron. It simply couples more strongly to the Higgs field to get its enormous mass at around 173 GeV. Photons do not couple to this field at all and hence are massless. The much sought after Higgs boson is the quanta of this hypothetical field, very similar to the photon being the quanta of the electromagnetic field. One of the main goals of the LHC physics program is to find evidence of this quanta, the Higgs boson.

Higgs bosons, if they exist, can be created in proton – proton collisions at the LHC but would decay instantaneously. Any search for them has to be carried out by analyzing data for signatures of Higgs decay. This is not a trivial task however, because such decays are impossible to distinguish from some other well known Standard Model processes. Collision data from LHC would have to be analyzed, and deviations from known background processes would point towards some form of new physics and possibly the existence of the Higgs boson. One would then have to compare the rates in different Higgs decay channels to see if the observed rates match those from predictions for a Higgs decay.

In December 2011, ATLAS and CMS, the two main experiments at LHC, announced their 2011 Higgs search results which led to much hype in the physics world and the media – both experiments were indeed seeing some excess in several Higgs decay channels around 125 GeV. The mass of a proton is about 0.94 GeV, so the finding suggests a Higgs boson mass that is about 133 times heavier than the proton (notice the bump in the above plot from ATLAS at around 125 GeV).

However, it is still very early to come to a conclusive statement about a discovery. Standard Model backgrounds are subject to statistical fluctuations which show themselves at various levels in experiments. A discovery would only be claimed if the deviations from expected backgrounds are over 5 standard deviations. The results announced by CMS and ATLAS in December 2011 were 1.9 and 2.6 standard deviations above expected backgrounds respectively. Though this is interesting, it is far from sufficient to provide a conclusive answer about the existence of the Higgs boson. The search will have to continue in 2012 as more data from LHC becomes available, and physicists will finally be able to give a conclusive answer to either confirm or exclude the Standard Model Higgs boson, ending a puzzle that has been around for several decades.

Serdar Gozpinar is a 5th year graduate student in the high-energy physics group at Brandeis working on the ATLAS experiment at CERN.

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