Department of Physics

Nobel laureate Barry C. Barish to receive honorary SMU doctorate during 103rd Commencement, May 19, 2018

Barry C. BarishNobel laureate Barry Clark Barish, Ph.D., Linde Professor Emeritus of Physics at the California Institute of Technology and a leading expert on cosmic gravitational waves, will receive an honorary doctoral degree during SMU’s 103rd all-University Commencement ceremony. The event begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 19, 2018, in Moody Coliseum.

Barish shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017 for his work in establishing the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the first observations of gravitational waves – disturbances in the fabric of space and time predicted by Albert Einstein based on his General Theory of Relativity.

He will receive the Doctor of Science degree, honoris causa, from SMU during the ceremony.

On Friday, May 18, Dr. Barish will give a free public lecture on campus. “Einstein, Black Holes and Gravitational Waves” will begin at 3 p.m. in Crum Auditorium, Collins Executive Education Center, on the SMU campus. The lecture will be preceded by a reception at 2:15 p.m. Free parking will be available in the University’s Binkley and Moody garages, accessible from the SMU Boulevard entrance to campus.

RSVP online to attend the Barry Barish Public Lecture

“Dr. Barry Barish has changed the way we see the universe with his work,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “His accomplishments as an experimental physicist have broken new ground and helped to confirm revolutionary theories about the structure of our cosmos.”

“Conferring an honorary degree is an important tradition for any university,” said SMU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven C. Currall. “For SMU, this year’s decision takes on special meaning, as the University is the home of a highly-regarded Department of Physics deeply involved in research ranging from variable stars to the Higgs boson. Dr. Barish and his record of world-changing accomplishment represent the very best of his field. He’s an outstanding example of what all our graduates can aspire to as they begin their own professional endeavors.”

Einstein predicted in 1916 that gravitational waves existed, generated by systems and regions such as binary stars and black holes and by events such as supernovae and the Big Bang. However, Einstein thought the cosmic waves would be too weak to ever be detected. Barish’s work at LIGO resulted in the first observation on Earth of these cosmic ripples on Sept. 14, 2015 — emanating from the collision of two black holes in the distant universe.

Barish was the principal investigator for LIGO from 1994 to 2005 and director of the LIGO Laboratory from 1997 until 2005. He led LIGO from its funding by the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation (NSF) through its final design stages, as well as the construction of the twin LIGO interferometers in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana.

In 1997, Barish established the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), an organization that unites more than 1,000 collaborators worldwide on a mission to detect gravitational waves, explore the fundamental physics of gravity, and develop gravitational-wave observations as a tool of astronomical discovery. Barish also oversaw the development and approval of the proposal for Advanced LIGO, a program that developed major upgrades to LIGO’s facilities and to the sensitivity of its instruments compared to the first-generation LIGO detectors. Advanced LIGO enabled a large increase in the extent of the universe probed, as well as the discovery of gravitational waves during its first observation run.

Bookmark SMU Live for the May Commencement livestream:

After LIGO, Barish became director of the Global Design Effort for the International Linear Collider (ILC)—an international team that oversaw the planning, design, and research and development program for the ILC—from 2006 to 2013. The ILC is expected to explore the same energy range in particle physics currently being investigated by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), but with more precision.

Barish joined Caltech in 1963 as part of an experimental group working with particle accelerators. From 1963 to 1966, he developed and conducted the first high-energy neutrino beam experiment at Fermilab. This experiment revealed evidence for the quark substructure of the nucleon (a proton or neutron) and provided crucial evidence supporting the electroweak unification theory of Nobel Laureates Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg.

Following the neutrino experiment, Barish became one of the leaders of MACRO (Monopole, Astrophysics and Cosmic Ray Observatory), located 3,200 feet under the Gran Sasso mountains in Italy. The international collaboration set what are still the most stringent limits on the existence of magnetic monopoles. Magnetic monopoles are the magnetic analog of single electric charges and could help confirm a Grand Unified Theory that seeks to unify three of nature’s four forces — the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces — into a single force. The MACRO collaboration also discovered key evidence that neutrinos have mass.

In the early 1990s, Barish co-led the design team for the GEM (Gammas, Electrons, Muons) detector, which was one of two large detectors scheduled to run at the Superconducting Super Collider near Waxahachie. Congress canceled the accelerator in 1993 during its construction — but major elements of the GEM design and many members of its team were integrated into LHC detector projects at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Barish became Caltech’s Ronald and Maxine Linde Professor of Physics in 1991 and Linde Professor Emeritus in 2005. From 2001 to 2002, he served as co-chair of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel subpanel that developed a long-range plan for U.S. high-energy physics. He has served as president of the American Physical Society and chaired the Commission of Particles and Fields and the U.S. Liaison committee to the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP). In 2002, he chaired the NRC Board of Physics and Astronomy Neutrino Facilities Assessment Committee Report, “Neutrinos and Beyond.”

Barish was born in 1936 in Omaha, Nebraska, to Jewish immigrants from a part of Poland that is now part of Belarus. He grew up in the Los Angeles area and earned his B.A. degree in physics and his Ph.D. in experimental physics from the University of California-Berkeley in 1957 and 1962. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Barish is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society.

In 2002, Barish received the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers. His honors also include the 2016 Enrico Fermi Prize from the Italian Physical Society, as well as the Henry Draper Medal, the Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, the European Physical Society’s Giuseppe and Vanna Cocconi Prize, and Fudan University’s Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award (all in 2017).

Barish holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Bologna, the University of Florida, and the University of Glasgow.

> Visit the SMU Commencement homepage:

SMU Physics celebrates Dark Matter Days with a Halloween hunt, Oct. 29-31, 2017

Students paint rocks for Dark Matter Day 2017 at SMU

SMU physics students paint “dark matter” rocks for a Halloween hunt. Jasmine Liu, Christina McConville, Jared Burleson, Taylor Wallace, Bibi Schindler and Elijah Cruda took part.

This Halloween, SMU joins a worldwide celebration of the mysterious substance that permeates our universe: dark matter.

The Department of Physics in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences has planned a Dark Matter Day celebration – complete with a campus-wide hunt for “dark matter” rocks – and the entire community is invited to join in.

Each Oct. 31, science enthusiasts the world over celebrate “the hunt for the unseen” – the elusive matter that makes up much of the total mass and energy of the universe. Scientists don’t know if dark matter consists of undiscovered particles, or if it can be explained with known physics – but understanding it is key to unlocking the structure of the cosmos.

> Learn more about Dark Matter Day at its official website:

On Sunday, Oct. 29, the department hosts a free public lecture for lay audiences by Maruša Bradač, associate professor, University of California-Davis. The talk begins at 4 p.m. in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall, followed by a reception with beverages and light snacks at 5-6 p.m. in the Dallas Hall Rotunda.

SMU’s resident dark-matter expert, Associate Professor of Physics Jodi Cooley, presents a free public lecture for audiences familiar with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30, in 158 Fondren Science Building.

#SMUDarkMatterOn Halloween, Tuesday, Oct. 31, the Dark Matter Rock Hunt begins. The Department of Physics has hidden 26 “dark matter rocks” around the SMU main campus; finders can collect special prizes from the Physics Department office in 102 Fondren Science. The hunt is free and open to the public and will take place 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Anyone who discovers a rock painted with a dark matter message on the SMU campus is encouraged to tweet a selfie with their rock and tag it #SMUDarkMatter.

> Follow @SMUPhysics on Twitter

“In the spirit of science being a pursuit open to all, we are excited to invite the public to become dark matter hunters for a day,”  Cooley says. “Explore the campus in the search for dark matter rocks, just as physicists are exploring the cosmos in the hunt for the nature of dark matter itself.”

Cooley is part of a 100-person international experiment team that uses ultra-pure materials and highly sensitive custom-built detectors to listen for the passage of dark matter at SNOLAB, an underground science laboratory in Ontario, Canada.

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Jodi Cooley explains dark matter and its place in the universe in this video. Tap the YouTube screen to watch, or click here to open the Dark Matter Day 2017 video in a new windowvideo

SMU Physics will project solar eclipse into Dallas Hall Rotunda on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017

SMU physics professors have devised a remarkable way to watch next Monday’s historic solar eclipse: They will use mirrors to turn the historic Dallas Hall Rotunda into a giant viewing chamber.

Weather permitting, Associate Professor of Physics Stephen Sekula will host for students and the public a homebrew viewing tunnel attached to a telescope on the lawn of Dallas Hall. The total eclipse of the sun will take place on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. The Rotunda event is sponsored by SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and the Department Physics.

The Rotunda image and the viewing tunnel will provide crisp images of the eclipse, and also correspond to NASA’s recommendation to avoid looking directly at the sun, Sekula said. Both methods eliminate the need for certified glasses to avoid eye damage. A surge in demand has made authentic safety glasses hard to find.

“There’s no sense risking your vision, and so this way you can come out and enjoy the eclipse without damaging your eyes,” he said.

Dallas is in the secondary shadow of the eclipse, not the primary shadow, so the region will not see the total phase of the eclipse, but rather 75 percent coverage.

“That’s still quite spectacular,” Sekula said, noting that peak viewing will be around 1:09 p.m. The partial eclipse begins in Dallas at 11:40 a.m. and ends at 2:39 p.m., according to NASA.

Wherever you and your students view the 2017 solar eclipse, don’t forget to observe these safety protocols, shared by SMU Health:

On Monday, Aug. 21, a historic total solar eclipse of the sun will be partially visible in North Texas from about 11:40 a.m. to about 2:40 p.m.  NASA offers recommendations for safely viewing the event because of the potential dangers it poses to eyesight if precautions are not taken. Please see for information.

SMU Dedman College Solar Eclipse Event

SMU to host international particle physics workshop April 27-May 1, 2015

DIS 2015 Dallas Hall oculus-splash logoMore than 300 of the world’s leading experts on particle physics are about to converge on Dallas for one of the discipline’s most important annual gatherings. The 2015 International Workshop on Deep-Inelastic Scattering and Related Subjects (DIS), held annually in a world-class city, will be hosted by SMU April 27-May 1, 2015,

A public panel will kick off the workshop week on Sunday, April 26. Steve Sekula, SMU assistant professor of physics, will host fellow physicists Joe Izen of UT-Dallas, Pat Skubic of the University of Oklahoma and Chris Jackson of UT-Arlington for “If the Universe is the Answer…What is the Question?” at 6:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information and parking directions, contact the Department of Physics, 214-768-2495.

> Follow the conference on Twitter: #DIS2015

SMU physicists are active in several major international scientific consortia on particle physics experiments, including one of the most notable – the Large Hadron Collider. The 23rd annual DIS workshop brings these scientists together to discuss both the results from current experiments and the theoretical advances that will guide the future.

> Learn more at the DIS 2015 homepage: