MIT Pappalardo Fellowships in Physics


Wednesdays @ 12 via Zoom

A weekly series of Pappalardo 'luncheon' talks, featuring former Pappalardo Fellows from the program's 21-year history.

All talks will be open to the MIT Physics community, and designed for broad appeal to researchers in all of the Department's subfields, and across all constituencies, from students to staff, postdocs to faculty.

Questions? Email Carol Breen, Communications & Pappalardo Fellowships Program Administrator.

Speakers Series Schedule

Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Or Hen, 2015-2017 Pappalardo Fellow; Assistant Professor of Physics, MIT Introductory remarks: Prof. Robert Redwine, MIT Physics

“From radioactive nuclei to neutron stars: experimental probes of strongly interacting QCD matter"

Presenting first results from a new research program Or initiated as a Pappalardo Fellow, the program brings together concepts and tools from the atomic physics of strongly interacting many-body systems with nuclear ab-initio theory and experimental studies, using radioactive nuclear beams to shed new light on the properties of the highest density forms of visible matter in the universe.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Lu Li
, 2008-2011 Pappalardo Fellow; Professor of Physics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Introductory remarks: Mallika Randeria, Pappalardo Fellow

"Metal or insulator? That is the question."

Lu will talk about the dual nature of the topological Kondo insulators. They are perfect insulators like pure silicon, and their electrical resistivity diverges by more than a million times during cooling down. Yet, they show a characteristic feature of good metal---oscillations in magnetization under magnetic fields.

In this talk, Lu will review his discovery of this contradiction: his quest to observe insulators’ oscillations, not only in magnetization but also in electrical resistivity. His experiments demonstrate that the oscillatory carriers are just like electrons, following the Fermi-Dirac distributions, even in this perfect insulator. So, can the compound be both metal and insulator? Or can a fermion exist in solids even without electrical charge? Let's find the answer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Mustafa Amin
, 2008-2011 Pappalardo Fellow; Associate Professor of Physics, Rice University
Introductory remarks: Nick Kern, Pappalardo Fellow

"Smashing Solitons of Cosmology"

In Wednesday’s talk, Mustafa will explore what happens when cosmological solitons form, cluster, and smash into each other. He will argue that certain types of solitons, called oscillons, can arise in abundance both at the end of inflation, and in dark matter in the present day universe. 

He will then show that the formation, clustering, and collisions of such solitons can leave signatures in cosmological structure formation, give rise to gravitational waves, and potentially lead to highly energetic bursts of light.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Jacob Taylor
, 2006-2009 Pappalardo Fellow; Fellow, Joint Quantum Institute, and Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland
Introductory remarks: Rachel Carr, Pappalardo Fellow

"Frontiers in Quantum Information Science"

Quantum information science (QIS) promises dramatic improvements in our ability to understand the physical world and in our capabilities for measurement, communication, and computation.

Over the past five years, a worldwide expansion of government-funded research and development has combined with an unprecedented investment from the private sector to dramatically accelerate progress in realizing the potential of quantum systems. In this talk, Jake will discuss the re-envisioning of the U.S. research and development approach to QIS enacted over the past two years through the National Quantum Initiative and other efforts, and consider future opportunities and challenges for academia, industry, government and the public.

Jake will also touch upon several research frontiers of personal interest in the space, specifically the interplay between quantum device development and physical understanding, from probing many-body systems with qubits to searching for dark matter using advanced quantum sensors to even exploring terrestrial tests of the quantum nature of gravity.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Guy Bunin
, 2013-2016 Pappalardo Fellow; Assistant Professor of Physics, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology
Introductory remarks: Adrian Po, Pappalardo Fellow

"Ecosystems as Complex Systems"

Natural ecosystems exhibit astounding richness. This suggests that we treat them as many-variable interacting systems, but is there any evidence to support this perspective?

Guy will discuss two possible directions to address this question. The first looks for classical footprints of complex systems, such as phase-transitions. The second direction asks how species interact in complex ecosystems in order to coexist, and leads to theoretical predictions that are validated in data from plant-competition experiments.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Carlos Nunez
, 2002-2005 Pappalardo Fellow; Professor of Physics, Swansea University, UK
Introductory remarks: Adrian Po, Pappalardo Fellow

"Aspects of Duality"

In physics, the idea of ‘duality’ is an old and elusive one. Examples of dualities appear scattered throughout various branches of theoretical physics. For a long time, dualities were seen as mere curiosities.

In this talk, Carlos will discuss the idea of duality, why it is interesting and how dualities can be useful in learning new physics, and perhaps put or see old physics under a new light.

Some dualities in string theory will also be discussed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Carl Rodriguez
, 2016-2019 Pappalardo Fellow; Assistant Professor of Physics, Carnegie-Mellon University
Introductory remarks: Christina Eilers, Pappalardo Fellow

"The Lives and Deaths of Star Clusters, and the Gravitational Waves They Make Along the Way"

The lives of star clusters are inextricably linked to the assembly and evolution of their parent galaxies. While significant progress has been made in understanding galaxy formation and the dynamics of star clusters as separate systems, our understanding of their symbiotic connection remains in its infancy. 

In this talk, Carl will describe how massive and old clusters, such as the globular clusters in the Milky Way, are an ideal site for the production of heavy binary black holes, and how repeated binary mergers in these environments can produce black hole masses that cannot be explained though the collapse of single stars.

Carl will then describe a recent project to model these clusters self-consistently from collapsing giant molecular clouds in an MHD simulation of a Milky Way-sized galaxy.

Finally, he will connect these results to the binary black holes formed from isolated binaries and dense star clusters, including GW190412 and GW190521, two recent gravitational-wave detections with unique masses and spins.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
David Tong
, 2001-2004 Pappalardo Fellow; Professor of Theoretical Physics and Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Introductory remarks: Assistant Professor of Physics Or Hen, MIT

"Are we living in the matrix?"

No. Obviously not. And it's got something to do with chiral fermions and the fact that our world does not respect the symmetry of parity.

David will explain and unveil the mystery.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Silviu Pufu
, 2011-2014 Pappalardo Fellow; Associate Professor of Physics, Princeton University
Introductory remarks: Prof. Washington Taylor, Center for Theoretical Physics, MIT Physics

"What boiling water and magnets can teach us about Quantum Gravity"

The theory of phase transitions in statistical physics is an old subject. Nevertheless, the most precise calculations to date of the properties of certain critical points--including the properties of the critical point of the water-vapor transition--have been achieved only recently using the technique of conformal bootstrap.

In this talk, Silviu will start by describing some of the ideas behind these recent developments.

Afterwards, he will explain how the same ideas can give us insight into properties of Quantum Gravity in the presence of a negative cosmological constant.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Matthew Headrick, 2003-2006 Pappalardo Fellow; Professor of Physics, Brandeis University
Introductory remarks: Katelin Schutz, Pappalardo Fellow

"Black holes, quantum entanglement, and the geometry of spacetime"

Bekenstein and Hawking discovered 50 years ago that black holes carry an enormous entropy, suggesting that spacetime itself is a thermodynamic or emergent system built out of a vast number of underlying microscopic degrees of freedom.

What are these degrees of freedom, and how do they conspire to create a universe governed by general relativity?

String theorists studying certain models of quantum gravity have discovered an important clue, a beautiful and direct connection between quantum entanglement and the geometry of spacetime.

Matt will explain this connection, and how it has led to recent progress on old paradoxes concerning black holes.

***Break for Veterans Day holiday.***

Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Robert Penna
, 2013-2016 Pappalardo Fellow; Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study
Introductory remarks: Steven Villanueva, Pappalardo Fellow

"Twistors and Integrability"

Roger Penrose (Nobel Prize 2020) created twistor theory as part of a program for quantizing gravity. Since then, twistors have found important applications in other areas of physics and mathematics, such as the theory of integrable systems.

In this talk, Bob will give an introduction to twistors and their role in the theory of integrable systems.

***Break for Thanksgiving holiday.***

Wednesday, December 2, 2020
David Hsieh
, 2009-2012 Pappalardo Fellow; Professor of Physics, Caltech
Introductory remarks: Aviram Uri, Pappalardo Fellow

Title: TBA

Abstract: Forthcoming.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Taritree Wongjirad, 2014-2017 Pappalardo Fellow; Assistant Professor of Physics, Tufts University
Introductory remarks: Rachel Carr, Pappalardo Fellow

Title: TBA

Abstract: Forthcoming.