6301 Stevenson Center
VU Station B #351807
Nashville, TN 37235
Colloquia are held on Thursdays at 4pm in room 4327 (building 4) of the Stevenson Science Center unless otherwise noted. Click here for directions, or phone the department. A reception with the speaker is held at 3:30pm in Stevenson 6333.
Fall Faculty Assembly, no colloquium
J. Davy Kirkpatrick, Caltech
From Nashville to the Solar Neighborhood: The Discovery and Characterization of Brown Dwarfs
Brown dwarfs are a type of star that have insufficient mass to sustain thermonuclear fusion in their cores and burn steadily for billions of years as true stars do. They enable the study of star formation efficiency at the lowest masses and provide ideal laboratories for exoplanet atmospheric research due to their similarity in temperature and chemical makeup to planets. Although first predicted to exist in the early 1960s, brown dwarfs eluded detection for decades because of their intrinisic faintness. Their discovery in the mid- to late-1990s led to the establishment of spectral classes L and T, the first additions to the time-honored stellar classification system of OBAFGKM spectral types. These discoveries have helped bridge the gap in temperature between the lowest mass stars (~1700K) and planets (~125K for Jupiter), but until recently no brown dwarfs cooler than ~500K had been identified. The recent launch of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has now enabled the discovery of these colder objects, which have been designated as "Y dwarfs". Early results hint at there possibly being as many brown dwarfs as true stars in the Milky Way, meaning that WISE may have already imaged a brown dwarf closer to the Sun than our current nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri.
Host: R. Scherrer
Hod Lipson, Cornell University
Automating Science: Distilling Natural Laws from Experimental Data
Can machines discover analytical laws automatically? For centuries, scientists have attempted to identify and document analytical laws that underlie physical phenomena in nature. Despite the prevalence of computing power, the process of finding natural laws and their corresponding equations has resisted automation. A key challenge to finding analytic relations automatically is defining algorithmically what makes a correlation in observed data important and insightful. By seeking dynamical invariants and symmetries, we show how we can go from finding just predictive models to finding deeper conservation laws. We demonstrated this approach by automatically searching motion-tracking data captured from various physical systems, ranging from simple harmonic oscillators to chaotic double-pendula. Without any prior knowledge about physics, kinematics, or geometry, the algorithm discovered Hamiltonians, Lagrangians, and other laws of geometric and momentum conservation. The discovery rate accelerated as laws found for simpler systems were used to bootstrap explanations for more complex systems, gradually uncovering the "alphabet" used to describe those systems. Application to modeling physical and biological systems will be shown.
Schmidt M., Lipson H. (2009) "Distilling Free-Form Natural Laws from Experimental Data," Science, Vol. 324, no. 5923, pp. 81 - 85. Try it on your own data.
BIO: Hod Lipson is an Associate Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and Computing & Information Science at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. He directs the Creative Machines Lab, which focuses on novel ways for automatic design, fabrication and adaptation of virtual and physical machines. He has led work in areas such as evolutionary robotics, multi-material functional rapid prototyping, machine self-replication and programmable self-assembly. Lipson received his Ph.D. from the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in 1998, and continued to a postdoc at Brandeis University and MIT. His research focuses primarily on biologically-inspired approaches, as they bring new ideas to engineering and new engineering insights into biology. For more information visit http://www.mae.cornell.edu/lipson.
Host: J. Wikswo
Sandra Rosenthal, Vanderbilt University
Host: S. Hutson
Alexey Petrov, Wayne State University
The physics of flavor
Abstract: We know of three generations of matter particles: there are 12 types (flavors) of quarks and leptons. Their observed properties, such as patterns of masses and mixing angles, however, remain a mystery. This mystery constitutes the "flavor problem." In this talk, I will discuss how this flavor puzzle is (not) solved in the Standard Model of particle physics. I will provide an overview of flavor physics and its implications for physics beyond the Standard Model, as well as what hints about the solution to the flavor puzzle could be given by upcoming results from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and beyond from the point of view of a theorist.
Host: P. Sheldon
Kalman Varga, Vanderbilt University
Quantum dynamics at the nanoscale
Recent experimental advances of ultrafast laser pulses and ultrafast high-resolution imaging allow the study of nanoscale dynamics. Electrons and nuclei play an equally important role in the dynamical behavior of matter at the nanoscale. In this talk we show how time-dependent density functional theory can be used to simulate the electron and nuclear dynamics in nanostructures probed by time-dependent external fields.
Host: R. Scherrer
An-Ping Li, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Probing Electron Transport at the Nanoscale: Application of the Four-Probe Scanning Tunneling Microscopy
Electron transport in low-dimensional materials is the key to the novel applications of nanomaterials in electronic and energy technologies. Due to the restricted dimensionality, one distinctive character of these systems is that the transport properties are critically dependent on the structural details. Therefore, an important requirement for transport research of a specific low dimensional system is to examine its structures and properties in a coherent manner. As a “nano” version of a four-probe station, ORNL Four-probe STM combines STM local imaging and spectroscopy functions with four-point contact electrical transport capability in a well-controlled sample environment to allow for simultaneous measurements of transport and local structure on the same nanomaterials . In this talk, I will give a brief overview on this unique facility, and then present a few examples to demonstrate how we are using this platform to study the electron transport properties and the structure relationships over multiple length scales, from individual atoms, molecules, to nanowires and mesoscopic systems[2-5]. My focus will be on the measurements of individual grain boundary resistance in copper interconnect nanowires  and the manipulations of electronic phases near the Mott metal-insulator transition in a ruthenate surface. The goal of this research is to establish the relationship between transport functionalities and local structural and electronic properties down to atomic scale. This research was sponsored by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences, U.S. Department of Energy. 1.Tae-Hwan Kim, Zhouhang Wang, John F. Wendelken, Hanno H. Weitering, Wenzhi Li, and An-Ping Li, Rev. Sci. Instrum. 78, 123701 (2007). 2.C. Zeng, P.R.C. Kent, Tae-Hwan Kim, An-Ping Li, Hanno H. Weitering, Nature Mater., 7, 539 (2008). 3.Tae-Hwan Kim, M. Angst, B. Hu, R. Jin, X. G. Zhang, J. F. Wendelken, E. Ward Plummer, and An-Ping Li, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 101, 5272 (2010). 4.Tae-Hwan Kim, X. G. Zhang, Don M. Nicholson, Boyd M. Evans, Nagraj S. Kulkarni, B. Radhakrishnan, Edward A. Kenik, and An-Ping Li, Nano Lett., 10, 3096 (2010). 5.Wangyang Fu, Shengyong Qin, Lei Liu, Tae-Hwan Kim, Sondra Hellstrom, Wenlong Wang, Wenjie Liang, Xuedong Bai, An-Ping Li, and Enge Wang, Nano Lett., 11, 1913 (2011).
Host: Y. Xu
Michael Lubell, CUNY and APS Director of Public Affairs
Science: What the Public is Thinking, What Congress is Doing, How You Can Contribute
Recent polling of public attitudes toward science contains very mixed results. By a margin of 93 to 7 the public believes the U.S. should be a global leader in science, and 2 out of 3 people approve using taxpayer funds to support research. But 46 percent of the respondents in the sample of 1200 give the federal government a grade of C, D, or F for its efforts to promote technological innovation, and 50 percent believe the federal science budget is too large, with a significant fraction of the respondents naming science as their number one target for cutting. In their actions and public statements Washington policymakers also reflect mixed attitudes. The president has been a champion of science, as have many lawmakers. But with Congress and the White House having struck a deal on deficit reduction, science funding could fall victim to major cuts in discretionary spending scheduled to begin in FY 2013. Whether lawmakers elect to make science funding an exception to fiscal austerity measures will depend in part on public attitudes. The polling data suggest a rocky road ahead and point to the need for scientists to engage with the public in far more effective ways than the have until now.
Host: R. Haglund
Thomas J. Weiler, Vanderbilt University
Phantoms at the OPERA -- Faster-than-Light Neutrinos (!?) and the Negation of Cause and Effect"
The original purpose of the OPERA neutrino-detection experiment at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy was to observe oscillations of muon neutrinos into tau neutrinos over the 732 km baseline between Gran Sasso and the neutrino source at CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland. Remarkably, OPERA has recently released a paper (arXiv:1109.4897) which claims a space-like separation between neutrino production at CERN and the "subsequent" detection at Gran Sasso. Their interpretation of this result is that the neutrinos travel superluminally, i.e. faster than light. If this experimental result is reproduced by other experiments, then profound alterations to our understanding of cause and effect result. After a brief discussion of the OPERA paper, I will discuss the meaning of their result in the context of relativity, and then discuss the myriad of models proposed to accommodate the result. Constraints on model-building will also be discussed. My own conclusion is that most probably the data is wrong, or else we are forced to consider baroque models such as sterile neutrinos propagating in extra dimensions.
Zhenyu Zhang, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and U. Tennessee
"Quantum Energy" refers to the emerging discipline that utilizes quantum mechanics as the primary working principle in the precise design and control of the microscopic quantum states of novel functional materials, so as to maximize the macroscopic energy outputs to meet the energy needs of the society for sustainable development. The potential thriving success of Quantum Energy demands revolutionary conceptual breakthroughs in the respective fields. In this talk, we will first give a brief overview of the advances and challenges in the utilization of solar energy as a clean and sustainable energy source. Next we focus on some recent examples of quantum design of advanced materials for enhanced solar energy conversion, including intermediate-band solar cell materials, photolysis for hydrogen generation, and plasmonic solar cell materials. Those progresses hopefully will serve as steppingstones on our marching towards the ultimate goal of solving the energy crisis.
Host: S. Pantelides
Michael Fuhrer, U. Maryland
Graphene: Scratching the Surface
Graphene is of interest for its unique electronic structure: electrons in graphene obey the Dirac equation for massless particles, complete with a two-component spinor degree of freedom that mimics the spin of a relativistic particle. But graphene is also composed entirely of surface atoms, making the techniques of surface science useful in studying its properties. I will discuss experiments which combine ultra-high vacuum (UHV) surface science with electronic transport measurements to understand graphene and the adsorbed species on its surface. Surface science techniques can be used to controllably modify graphene's properties: potassium atoms can be deposited to form charged impurity scatterers; ice can be deposited to modify the dielectric environment of graphene and tune the electron-electron interaction strength; and ion irradiation can be used to create atomic vacancies which act as Kondo impurities. Graphene's transport properties are extraordinarily sensitive to surface adsorbates, and can be used to detect e.g. correlations in the positions of potassium atoms at concentrations below 1/1000th of a monolayer, and phase transitions in few-monolayer water.
Host: K. Bolotin
Abbas Ourmazd, U. Wisconsin
Structure and Dynamics from Random Snapshots
Structure often determines function, and there is increasing evidence that structure is neither immutable, nor static. The study of structural variability and dynamics represents a crucial but difficult frontier in biology, soft condensed matter science, and atomic, molecular, and optical physics. I describe how advanced graph-theoretic techniques, augmented with concepts from Riemannian geometry and general relativity, can be used to determine the structure and dynamics of evolving systems from a random collection of ultra-low-signal snapshots emanating from unknown orientations and conformations. * In collaboration with D. Giannakis, G.N. Phillips, Jr., P. Schwander, and C.H. Yoon
Host: S. Pantelides
Rocky Kolb, U. Chicago
The Decade of the WIMP
Most of the mass of the universe is dark. The best explanation at present is the dark matter is a new species of elementary particle. The hypothesis that the dark matter species is a massive relic particle should be confirmed or refuted in the next decade by a combination of experiments and observations that attempt to detect directly the relic WIMP, to detect the relic WIMP through its present-day annihilation products, and produce and detect it at accelerators.
Host: R. Scherrer
Thanksgiving Holidays, no colloquium
Jan Tobochnik, Kalamazoo College
Physical Insight From Computational Algorithms
After a brief discussion of the importance of introducing computational physics into the undergraduate curriculum, I will provide a number of examples of how computational algorithms can aid in providing physical insight, particularly about abstract concepts that students frequently have difficulty appreciating. ADDITIONAL TALK: The ``Scandal" of Quantum Mechanics - Wednesday November 30. After providing a very simple explanation of Bell's Theorem, I will provide a variety of points of view concerning quantum interpretation drawn from a series of Letters to the Editor of the American Journal of Physics and a Reference Frame essay by David Mermin in Physics Today. I will end my presentation with some analogies to other controversial topics in science.
Host: S. Hutson
Bharat Ratra, Kansas State University
Dark Energy: constant or time variable? (... and other open questions)
Experiments and observations over the last decade have persuaded cosmologists that (as yet undetected) dark energy is by far the main component of the energy budget of the universe. I review a few simple dark energy models and compare their predictions to observational data, to derive dark energy model-parameter constraints and to test consistency of different data sets. I conclude with a list of open cosmological questions.
Host: R. Scherrer
Heinrich Poes, Technische Universiat Dortmund
Neutrinos at the Terascale - a Tale of 3.5 Frontiers
Neutrinos are the only hint for physics beyond the Standard Model, while the hierarchy problem, gauge coupling unification and dark matter give rise to hope for a direct discovery of new physics at the LHC. Occam's razor suggests that there might be a relation. In this talk I discuss 3.5 frontiers, where neutino physics might directly be related to new physics to be discovered in the unkwon realm of the Terascale: *the Majorana frontier *the Unification frontier *the Flavor frontier *the Exotics frontier
Host: T. Weiler
Zenghu Chang, University of Central Florida
The attosecond laser-A new solution seeking problems
The field of ultrafast optics has experienced a revolution during the last decade. Coherent XUV and soft x-ray pulses as short as 80 attoseconds can now be generated, which is quickly approaching one atomic unit of time-the natural time scale of electron motion in atoms and molecules. However, physicists are struggling to identify problems that can be tackled by this new tool. I will give a few examples on our attempts to shed new light on fundamental issues in atomic physics such as Autoionization and the AC Stark shift.
Host: N. Tolk
Natalie Batalha, San Jose State University
The Kepler Mission's Year Three Census of Transiting Exoplanets
Humankind's speculation about the existence of other worlds like our own turned into a veritable quest with the launch of NASA's Kepler spacecraft in March 2009. The mission is designed to survey a slice of the Milky Way Galaxy to identify planets via transit photometry. The last year of science operations has been a year of milestones in terms of exoplanet characterization: rocky, Earth-size, circumbinary, Habitable Zone, and even invisible planets have made headlines. However, the real work lies in the large sample statistics of the catalogs of viable planet candidates -- statistics that will drive us toward a determination of eta-"rocky". In the coming weeks, the Kepler team will be releasing its third catalog, consisting of 2,324 viable candidates associated with 1,971 stars. Dr. Batalha will describe some of the milestone discoveries that have marked the last year, the make-up of the new catalog, and the strategies moving forward. Now completeing its third year of operation, Kepler is honing in on the answer to the question that drives the mission: are potentially habitable worlds abundant in our galaxy.
Host: K. Stassun
Dave Piston, Vanderbilt University
Molecular Communication Underlying Hormone Secretion
The islet of Langerhans is the functional unit responsible for glucose-modulated insulin and glucagon secretion, and thus plays a key role in blood glucose homeostasis. Over the last 20 years, we have been interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of islet function, and their role in the regulation of blood glucose under normal and pathological conditions. In many ways, the islet appears to function as a syncytium, which exhibits synchronous behavior across all b-cells in the islet. In other ways, the islet works as individual cells. Using quantitative optical imaging of metabolism, membrane potential, free Ca2+, and enzymatic activation, the dynamics of these mechanisms can be measured in islets and even in living animals. Glucose-stimulated insulin secretion is controlled by the activity of glucokinase (GK), and we have shown that GK is regulated by association with other cellular constituents. To determine the preferred interaction partners for GK, we have utilized Foerster resonance energy transfer (FRET), which is widely used to study biomolecular dynamics and protein interactions in live cells. Many issues complicate FRET measurements. We have developed two novel approaches approach for absolute and high precision measurements of FRET efficiency, one based on lock-in detection of an optical switch acceptor and a second based on snapshot hyperspectral imaging. These approaches will be described and their use for measuring intracellular protein interactions will be discussed. Glucose-stimulated insulin secretion also depends on electrical depolarization of cell membranes that causes vesicle exocytosis. We have shown that gap junction coupling between islet cells regulates their membrane polarization, although other work suggests possible roles for other coupling mechanisms as well. We have introduced precise experimental perturbations in both the gap junction coupling and the individual cell membrane potentials. We find that decreasing gap junction coupling can lead to sub-regions becoming electrically active, but that these active sub-regions do not lead to increased insulin secretion. Mathematical models of coupled -cell electrophysiology describe the variation in electrical activity as a function of coupling, but do not accurately predict the changes in secretion.
Host: R. Scherrer
Alyssa Goodman, Harvard University
Watching Stars Form
Star formation is the key process in our Universe that turns cold gas in galaxies into the hot stars whose light dominates the visible sky. In spite of this fundamental role, though, the details of how interstellar gas arranges itself into the small blobs called "cores" that collapse under their own weight to form stars are still murky. On the theoretical end, the lack of clarity is due mostly to our inability to include all the physics that might be relevant (gravity, magnetic fields, thermal effects, chemistry, and radiative transfer) in even the best modern simulations. New telescopes are clearing up our view on the observational end, but not yet to the point where we understand the images. In this talk, I will describe new statistical and visualization techniques that have allowed us to measure and understand: 1) the role of self-gravity as a function of scale in star-forming regions; 2) the contribution of bipolar outflows from young stars, as well as spherical winds from older stars in stirring star-forming gas; and 3) the confusion caused by observational biases associated with observing particular "tracers"(e.g. molecular lines) of interstellar matter. I will conclude with a discussion of how the high-dimensional visualization and statistical techniques used in our studies apply in the world of medical imaging, and beyond.
Host: K. Stassun
Eric Agol, U. Washington
New approaches to finding and characterizing planets orbiting other stars
The discovery and characterization of planets orbiting other stars is challenging due to their small size and mass. A solution to this problem is to search for planets orbiting smaller stars: either smaller in mass, or smaller in size. One of the smallest types of stars, white dwarfs, turn out to be good targets for searching for second-generation, short-period planets using the detection of transits or eclipses. I will discuss several coincidences that would favor detection of earth-sized and earth-temperature planets, should they exist around white dwarf stars. I will conclude by discussing some new ideas for for mapping the infrared emission of planets; for measuring the masses of small planets; and for finding dynamically interacting planets using the Kepler satellite. This work has involved undergraduate students through the Pre-Major in Astronomy Program.
Host: K. Stassun
Herbert Levine, Rice University
Statistical Mechanics of Darwinian Evolution
Motivated by experiments on laboratory-scale evolution in both microorganisms and biomolecules, we introduce and study a class of multi-locus evolution models. For these models, the population advances via being dragged forward by its most fit members and can be quantitatively studied using ideas from the theory of non-equilibrium spatially-extended processes. A key finding is the anomalously large dependence on population size and the related anomalously large usefulness of genetic recombination. Using this approach, insight can be obtained regarding the indirect selection for mechanisms which speed up adaptation, including becoming mutator-like and going into a state competent for genetic exchange.
Host: E. Rericha
Alan Boss, Carnegie Institute
Kepler, Microlensing, and Direct Imaging: New Constraints on Exoplanet Formation Theories
Doppler and ground-based transit searches have discovered over 700 exoplanet candidates to date. These discoveries have generally supported the core accretion mechanism for giant planet formation. However, more recent discoveries have raised questions about the core accretion mechanism as the sole mechanism for exoplanet formation. NASA's Kepler space telescope has now detected 2326 exoplanet candidates, with many of these candidates occupying an oasis in discovery space that was predicted to be a desert on the basis of population synthesis models based solely on core accretion. Similarly, ground-based microlensing surveys, as well as direct imaging detections, have demonstrated the existence of significant numbers of giant planets on orbits wide enough to be difficult to explain purely by core accretion. These new constraints on planet formation theories suggest that future population synthesis models need to consider hybrid formation mechanisms, where at least some of the giant planets are formed by the disk instability mechanism, coupled with the formation of rocky planets, hot and cold super-Earths, and some giant planets by the traditional core accretion mechanism.
Host: D. Weintraub
Saul Teukolsky, Cornell University
Simulations of Black Holes, Neutron Stars and Gravitational Waves
Gravitational wave detectors like LIGO are poised to begin detecting signals. One of the prime scientific goals is to detect waves from the coalescence and merger of black holes and neutron stars in binary systems. Confronting such signals with the predictions of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity will be the first real strong-field test of the theory. Until recently, theorists were unable to calculate what the theory actually predicts. I will describe recent breakthroughs that have occurred and that have set things up for an epic confrontation of theory and experiment.
Host: R. Scherrer
Spring Faculty Assembly, no colloquium
The impact of the LHC and direct detection experiments on Supersymmetric Dark Matter
The nature and identity of the dark matter of the Universe is one of the most challenging problems facing modern cosmology. Only ~5% of the energy density of the Universe can be associated with known forms of matter. Supersymmetry is an extension of the Standard Model of particle interactions and predicts the existence of dark matter. Searches for supersymmetry have begun in ernest at the LHC and these searches are intimately connected to the search for the Higgs boson. The effect of 2011 LHC data are discussed in connection to the potential for the direct detection of supersymmetric dark matter. The impact of the recent direct detection results are contrasted to these predictions. Expectations for indirect detection are also discussed.
Host: R. Scherrer
Deborah Jin, JILA, U. Colorado-Boulder
Ultracold Polar Molecules
Gases of atoms can be cooled to temperatures close to absolute zero, where intriguing quantum behaviors such as Bose-Einstein condensation and superfluidity emerge. A new direction in experiments is to try to produce an ultracold gas of molecules, rather than atoms. In particular, polar molecules, which have strong dipole-dipole interactions, are interesting for applications ranging from quantum information to modeling condensed matter physics. I will describe experiments that produce and explore an ultracold gas of polar molecules.
Host: R. Scherrer
Christopher White, Illinois Institute of Technology
Observation of Electron Antineutrino Disappearance by the Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment.
Many experiments have demonstrated the neutrino's ability to change flavor while traveling through space. One of the last remaining unknown parameters describing these oscillations, theta_13, is crucial in defining the magnitude of possible CP-violation in the lepton sector, and examining the neutrino's role in the universe's matter-antimatter asymmetry. The Daya Bay experiment has measured theta_13 with unprecedented precision by observing the disappearance of reactor antineutrinos with identical detectors at multiple locations. With roughly two months of data, the experiment has measured the value of sin^2(2theta13) to be 0.092 +/- 0.017, and excluded the theta13=0 hypothesis to five standard deviations. This talk will describe the Daya Bay experiment and current results.
Host: P. Sheldon
Kate Jones, U. Tennessee
CANCELED, to be rescheduled in the fall
Host: J. Hamilton
Konrad Gelbke, Michigan State University
From NSCL to FRIB at MSU
NSCL (National Superconducting Cyclotron Facility) is currently funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) under a cooperative agreement to operate NSCLs Coupled Cyclotron Facility (CCF) as a national user facility and to support research and education in nuclear science, nuclear astrophysics, and accelerator and beam physics and engineering. In 2009, Michigan State University (MSU) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have signed a cooperative agreement to design and establish the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) on the MSU campus. FRIB will be a world-leading research facility to advance understanding of rare nuclear isotopes and the evolution of the cosmos. FRIB will be built adjoined to NSCL. CCF operations will cease and the NSCL infrastructure will merge into the FRIB laboratory when FRIB construction nears completion. FRIB was approved for CD-1 in September 2010 and is scheduled for its baseline review on April 24-26, 2012, hopefully clearing the path for approval of CD-2 and CD-3a. The FRIB project is technically ready to begin of civil construction in Spring 2012, but funding issues are likely to cause some delays. In this talk, I will provide a high-level summary of the NSCLs current facility and research plans, the envisioned integration into FRIB, the FRIB project status, emerging new opportunities, and planned user interfaces.
Host: A. V. Ramayya
Copyright 2010, Vanderbilt University