Alumni offer career advice to physics students

By: Anna Carmichael,
November 17, 2015

One of the pressures college students face daily is what to do after graduation, especially with the amount of options available today. The physics department hosted a Physics Career Day on October 24, which brought together successful physics alumni, graduate and undergraduate students to explore what paths are available for students with a physics degree.

“This program is really to stimulate students to think about where the degree will take them,” said John Miner, director of administration for the physics department.

This year’s Physics Career Day was particularly focused upon non-traditional jobs rather than the more traditional jobs in academia or with major national labs, Miner said.

Joel Weiss, a graduate student in the physics department, said, “I went to career day to learn more about opportunities outside of academia.”

Ragu Raghavan ’95, an alumnus who spoke at the event, is a portfolio manager at Gladius Capital. He completed his graduate work in condensed-matter theory at Cornell, then became a derivatives trader on Wall Street before taking his current position.

“When I was a graduate student, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Raghavan said. While he was studying at Cornell, Raghavan said he didn’t think about going into industry, but the job market was tough for physicists, so he found a more viable option in finance. Although finance is not a typical job for physicists, many of the lessons he learned through physics are usable in his current work.

“The skills I learned from my graduate work are applicable in a broad sense; I learned how to think analytically and learn and solve problems quickly, which helped me feel well-equipped entering the workforce,” Raghavan said.

Raghavan told students how physics relates to finance, details about his job and offered advice on how to choose a career after college.

“Start looking for a job early,” he said. “List your interests and talk to people to help find what it is that you’re interested in.”

While attending Career Day, Weiss said he heard about how valuable physicists are to research projects outside areas of their expertise because they take a unique approach to problem sovling.

“I’d heard this before,” he said. “Hearing it directly from a potential employer was reassuring and broadened the scope of future employment I might pursue.”

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 ‘Zeno effect’ verified: Atoms won’t move while you watch

by Bill Steele

One of the oddest predictions of quantum theory – that a system can’t change while you’re watching it – has been confirmed in an experiment by Cornell physicists. Their work opens the door to a fundamentally new method to control and manipulate the quantum states of atoms and could lead to new kinds of sensors.

The experiments were performed in the Utracold Lab of Mukund Vengalattore, assistant professor of physics, who has established Cornell’s first program to study the physics of materials cooled to temperatures as low as .000000001 degree above absolute zero. The work is described in the Oct. 2 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters

Graduate students Yogesh Patil and Srivatsan Chakram created and cooled a gas of about a billion Rubidium atoms inside a vacuum chamber and suspended the mass between laser beams. In that state the atoms arrange in an orderly lattice just as they would in a crystalline solid. But at such low temperatures the atoms can “tunnel” from place to place in the lattice. The famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle says that position and velocity of a particle are related and cannot be simultaneously measured precisely. Temperature is a measure of a particle’s motion. Under extreme cold velocity is almost zero, so there is a lot of flexibility in position; when you observe them, atoms are as likely to be in one place in the lattice as another.

To read the entire Cornell Chronicle article, click here.

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Physicist Peter Lepage wins prestigious Sakurai Prize

by Linda B. Glaser

Physics professor Peter Lepage has won the 2016 J.J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics. The $10,000 prize is awarded by the American Physical Society “to recognize outstanding achievement in particle theory” and will be presented at its annual meeting in April.

The Sakurai Prize is the only award in Lepage’s subfield in the U.S. He received it “for inventive applications of quantum field theory to particle physics, particularly in establishing the theory of hadronic exclusive processes, developing nonrelativistic effective field theories, and determining standard model parameters with lattice gauge theory.”

Lepage’s current research involves quantum chromodynamics, the theory of quarks and gluons that explains the internal structure and interactions of protons, neutrons and other strongly interacting particles. A full solution of this theory relies on large-scale computer simulations. Lepage and his collaborators have developed new techniques that have made such simulations thousands of times faster, greatly extending the range and precision of problems that can be studied. They are particularly interested in applications to the physics of particles containing heavy quarks.

To read the entire Cornell Chronicle article, click here.

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Noted astronomer James Houck dies at 74

by Linda B. Glaser

James R. Houck, a noted astronomer in the field of infrared spectroscopy for astrophysics, died in Ithaca Sept. 18 at age 74 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Houck received his Ph.D. from Cornell in condensed matter physics in 1967, then switched fields to astronomy. After post-doctorate work at the Naval Research Laboratory, he worked at Cornell until he retired as the Kenneth A. Wallace Professor of Astronomy in 2012.

“Jim left a strong legacy in the department, especially in experimental astrophysics, playing a major role in the birth and growth of airborne and space-based infrared astronomy,” says Terry Herter, professor and chair of astronomy. “Jim had a unique ability to get deep in both the technical and scientific aspects instrumentation.

“On a personnel level, Jim taught me many things, not the least of which was a sense of the depth, rigor and professionalism needed to get the best from ourselves and our work. We feel the loss with his departure from this life but have gained greatly from the time he spent with us.”

To read the entire Cornell Chronicle article, click here.

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Physicist’s experiments resolve nature of neutrinos

by Linda B. Glaser

As a graduate student Peter Wittich, associate professor of physics, worked at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), located in an active nickel mine in Ontario, Canada. The observatory is deep underground to block out background radiation from other particles.

To reach the clean room and the SNO instruments, Wittich descended 6,800 feet straight down through solid rock in a tiny elevator, then walked a mile through either ankle-deep mud or air so dusty that visibility was only a few feet ahead.

That dedication paid off when, on Wittich’s 29th birthday, the SNO detected its first neutrino, setting the stage to prove that the sub-atomic particles do indeed have mass.

“We could already see from this beginning what the results of the larger experiment would be – the discovery for which Art McDonald just received the [2015] Nobel Prize – but I couldn’t say anything for years after my thesis was written, until the collaboration felt the data was sufficient for the discovery to be announced,” says Wittich. “At times it was touch and go, but in the end the experiment worked beautifully and we were able to resolve a 30-year mystery about how the sun works and the nature of neutrinos.”

To read the entire Cornell Chronicle article here.

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Quantum universe explored in Hans Bethe Lecture

by Linda B. Glaser

The universe was once much smaller than the size of an atom. Small things mattered in this small universe, where quantum physics dominated the scene.

To understand how the much larger universe works today, major quantum puzzles must be solved. In Cornell’s 2015 Hans Bethe lecture, “The Quantum Universe,” Hitoshi Murayama will explore why the recently discovered Higgs boson keeps us from evaporating in a nanosecond and how mysterious dark matter can hold the galaxy together. And what is the very beginning of the universe?

The free public lecture will be held Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Schwartz Auditorium, Rockefeller Hall.

Murayama is a theoretical particle physicist who also works on many aspects of cosmology and astrophysics. A professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, since 2000, he is also the founding director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo and has served as its director since 2007. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He recently delivered a speech at United Nations headquarters about how science unites people and brings peace.

As part of the Hans Bethe Lecture series, Murayama will also present the physics colloquium, “When a Symmetry Breaks,” Oct. 19 at 4 pm in Schwartz Auditorium; and a Laboratory for Elementary-Particle Physics seminar, “Goldstone Bosons without Lorentz Invariance,” Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 401 Physical Sciences Building.

To read the entire Cornell Chronicle article, click here.

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Cornell nanotech facility receives $8M NSF grant

The National Science Foundation has selected the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF) to be part of the newly established National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI). Cornell will receive $8 million from the federal agency over five years.

Additionally, the Empire State Development Corp., New York state’s economic development arm, has committed to matching the federal funds up to $3 million over a five-year period, for a total of $11 million for the program.

“This grant provides the long-term infrastructure support that is needed to promote ambitious research,” said Dan Ralph, professor of physics and the Lester B. Knight Director of CNF. “We welcome scientists and engineers from throughout the U.S. to explore how CNF’s unique set of state-of-the-art tools, staff expertise and our user service can accelerate their research and help them to commercialize their results.”

To read the entire Cornell Chronicle article, click here.

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Future fabrics dazzle at New York State Fair

Story by Cornell Chronicle

As teen designers led a New York State Fair Fashion Revue Sept. 4 in the 4-H Youth Building, a few steps away Cornell researchers offered a glimpse of fashions and fabrics of the future.

Juan Hinestroza, associate professor of fiber science and apparel design, and Lina Sanchez Botero, doctoral student in the field of fiber science, demonstrated the latest in wearable tech: illuminated clothing that flashes in sync with ambient sound.

The “Irradiance” collection debuted last spring at the Cornell Fashion Collective Runway Show and uses optical fiber cloth, electroluminescent tape and Arduino microcontrollers – all woven seamlessly into garments – to pulse in response to music, speech and other noises. The garments were developed by Sanchez Botero, Eric Beaudette ‘16, fiber science, and Neal Reynolds, graduate student in the field of physics, with support from Myant & Co. and Sensing Tex.

Displayed for the public and 4-H youth, the smart clothing also caught the eye of CNY Central and the 4-H Media Corps, teen reporters who provided live stream fair coverage from start to finish.

Hinestroza also educated passersby about work in his Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory to develop functional cotton that repels bacteria, eliminates noxious gases and conducts electricity.

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