CHAIR’S WEEKLY MESSAGE
“Research During the Pandemic”
These have been challenging times for everyone. Research has not escaped unscathed. Students who have spoken with me about the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic have, among other things, pointed to the inability to travel to do research as a serious blow. Indeed, for faculty and staff the problem is largely the same. Hands-on technical work, especially, has become incredibly difficult to do, most of all when it requires converging on a remote site or collaborating across regional, national, and international boundaries to advance a project.
This only adds to the immense human tragedy of this era. Research is essential to establishing the reliable and useful, or insightful and beautiful, ideas and discoveries that are needed for the future. It may not be obvious, in the moment, why a basic research discovery is important (apart from the deep, fundamental importance of finding and creating new knowledge). History, however, has taught us that things that now seem esoteric will become the indispensable practical applications of the future. The pandemic, robbing humanity of at least one year of scientific progress (while simultaneously made worse by a seeming inability or unwillingness to utilize the established science of the last 100 years to mitigate its effects) is also robbing some future decade of its full potential. Discovery delayed might later prove to be a fundamental challenge to society in some new crisis; for example, many of the imaging techniques used during this pandemic to understand the organ and tissue damage caused by SARS-CoV-2 trace their lineage and origins back to fundamental discoveries about the universe made by chemists and physicists 100 years ago.
I have been bolstered, however, by seeing what people are trying to do in this era to nevertheless advance science. As frustrating as it has been to work virtually, I take hope from the ongoing Snowmass process, which should still culminate in 2021. This week saw a marvelous ad hoc workshop on the Electron-Ion Collider’s potential impact on our understanding of heavy quarks, and the use of heavy quarks to inform our understanding of the much lighter ones. Hardware research, development, and upgrade projects at SMU, intended to have international impact in experimental programs, move forward. The daily meetings of astrophysics and high-energy physics experiments, and research groups within SMU, continue. While everyone has Zoom and COVID-19 fatigue, nonetheless it’s heartening to see accomplishments made, discoveries unfold, and new projects and ideas get life … a thumb in the eye of this season of sickness.
In this issue of the newsletter, we look ahead to next week’s regional meeting of the Texas (and Oklahoma and Arkansas) sections of the American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, and the Society of Physics Students. That meeting, all-virtual and hosted by UT-Arlington, starts in seven days. And don’t forget to register for the machine learning and science workshop hosted virtually at SMU! That’s coming up at the end of the month. We reflect on the virtual Dark Matter Day event last Saturday, and we preview the next Speaker Series event on Monday. There’s even a new physics challenge on the Back Page!
Stephen Jacob Sekula
Chair, Department of Physics
Texas Section of the American Physical Society – Upcoming Joint Meeting with the Regional Sections of the Society of Physics Students and Association of Physics Teachers
See the October 16, 2020 newsletter for the original announcement of this meeting. It will occur on November 13 and 14. SMU faculty and students are giving presentations at the meeting, and it will additionally be a great chance to interact with colleagues from Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to learn more about regional physics activities! Details about the meeting can be found at: https://tsapsf20.uta.edu/
REMINDER: Fast Machine Learning For Science (Virtual) Workshop at SMU, Nov. 30 – Dec. 3 – Register Today!
A four-day event, “Fast Machine Learning for Science”, will be hosted virtually by Southern Methodist University from November 30 to December 3. The first three days (Nov 30 – Dec 2) will be workshop-style with invited and contributed talks. The last day will be dedicated to technical demonstrations and coding tutorials.
As advances in experimental methods create growing datasets and higher resolution and more complex measurements, machine learning (ML) is rapidly becoming the major tool to analyze complex datasets over many different disciplines. Following the rapid rise of ML through deep learning algorithms, the investigation of processing technologies and strategies to accelerate deep learning and inference is well underway. We envision this will enable a revolution in experimental design and data processing as a part of the scientific method to greatly accelerate discovery. This workshop is aimed at current and emerging methods and scientific applications for deep learning and inference acceleration, including novel methods of efficient ML algorithm design, ultrafast on-detector inference and real-time systems, acceleration as-a-service, hardware platforms, coprocessor technologies, distributed learning, and hyper-parameter optimization.Workshop Description
The organizing committee for this event consists of Prof. Allison Deiana, Prof. Tom Coan, Dr. Rohin Narayan, and Elizabeth Fielding from the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute. More information, including registration information, is available at the workshop website: https://indico.cern.ch/event/924283/
Physics Speaker Series Continues with a Seminar by Prof. Stephen Taylor (Vanderbilt University): “New results from the Pulsar Timing Array hunt for nanohertz-frequency gravitational waves”
The Physics Department Speaker Series continues on Monday, November 9 with Prof. Stephen Taylor (Vanderbilt University). He will speak on “New results from the Pulsar Timing Array hunt for nanohertz-frequency gravitational waves.” This continues the November theme, “New Frontiers in Physics.” Dr. Stephen Taylor of Vanderbilt University will discuss new opportunities in the detection of gravitational waves, which were first directly observed in 2016. Gravitational-wave detectors are yielding a bounty of observations and revolutionizing our understanding of black holes with masses comparable to our Sun’s. But what about the supermassive black holes that lurk at the heart of massive galaxies, which are hundreds of millions of times the mass of our Sun? These monsters emit much harder-to-detect gravitational waves, but there are exciting new developments in the use of precision networks of collapsed stars, called “Pulsar Timing Arrays,” to detect their presence. The Zoom connection information is available to SMU-affiliated participants; the public YouTube stream is available for everyone.
Miss a Colloquium or Seminar? Don’t Panic … They’re Recorded!
If you missed an event in the Department Speaker Series, never fear! A positive side-effect of remote-only talks is easy recording. You can find all events so far this semester streaming online here:
Most Recent Talk: Prof. Bonnie Fleming (Yale University)
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of your activities in research, the classroom, and beyond are very welcome!
Dallas Morning News “Science in the City” will feature SMU Faculty and Demonstration Equipment
Professors Jodi Cooley and Stephen Sekula will be featured as part of the “Science in the City” series, hosted by the Dallas Morning News. The events are all done virtually this year, and the SMU event is on November 14. It will be delivered as a short film, with discussion, and will also feature equipment from the SMU Physics Demonstration Equipment facility. As discussed in a recent article about the series:
This fall, Cooley and Sekula, professors at Southern Methodist University, will be among some two dozen experts who will share their research with the community in a series of free online events hosted by The Dallas Morning News. Their Nov. 14 event, “From a Trampoline to the Unseen: What a Rubber Sheet Can Teach Us About the Dark Universe,” will focus on black holes.From the Oct. 20, 2020 article “Peer inside Dallas labs, learn about black holes and see (real) human brains at these free events,” by Anna Kuchment (Dallas Morning News)
“From a Trampoline to the Unseen” is part of Science in the City, a partnership among The Dallas Morning News, SMU, UT Southwestern Medical Center, the Dallas-based education nonprofit talkSTEM, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth. The series is a unique set of meet-and-greets between scientists and the public. Its goal is to inform and engage the community in the advances percolating across Dallas-Fort Worth.
The bigger goal of the program is to excite people about science and raise awareness of Dallas as a capital of scientific innovation. “We’re always trying to get out the stories of science, the incredible things that are happening right here that so many people in our area are unfortunately unaware of,” said Tykoski of the Perot Museum. “Science in the City is a great way to highlight this and make people aware of what a wonderful place Dallas is for research and discovery.”
Reminders for Faculty
We reprint these, because it never hurts to say important things twice.
- November Faculty Meeting: originally schedule for Nov. 13, this has been moved to Nov. 20 to avoid conflicting with the TSAPS/AAPT/SPS joint meeting at UT-Arlington.
- From the Provost: “Exams, tests and quizzes to be delivered exclusively online in fall 2020 – All exams, tests and quizzes will be delivered online this fall so that all students, regardless of mode of instruction, have equitable access to testing. We are discouraging in-class, paper-based testing because of the flexibility that everyone might need if case health issues arise. Consult SMU’s Keep Teaching website for additional information and support for this important interim requirement. You can also view this webinar on Online Exam Basics created by CTE and sent to all faculty by email in late September.”
- From the President: “As President Turner announced … we will start our spring 2021 semester a week later than originally planned, on January 25, and continuing straight forward without a spring break through the conclusion of exams on May 12. Good Friday will remain a University holiday. Jan Term classes will be also be available beginning January 7, 2021.”
Staff In-Office Schedule for Week of November 9
The in-office staff schedule for the week of November 9 is as follows:
- Monday: Lacey (Michele is out-of-the-office entirely on this day, including virtually)
- Tuesday: Lacey (Michele is out-of-the-office entirely on this day, including virtually)
- Wednesday: Michele
- Thursday: Michele
- Friday: Lacey
Of course, both are always available on Microsoft Teams, by Email, or by phone.
Full staff in-office calendar for November:
If you have something to share please feel free to send it along. Stories of students in research, the classroom, internships or fellowships, awards, etc. are very welcome!
Thanks for a Successful Dark Matter Day!
The Society of Physics Students organized a virtual “Dark Matter Particle Hunt” for October 31, 2020 … “Dark Matter Day”! There were 35 reported sightings of dark matter particles turned in by SMU students, and of those 11 corresponded to “first sightings” of one of the virtual particles scattered throughout the physics department website. That’s pretty good, considering a total of 13 dark matter particles were up for grabs! Each currently enrolled student who was the first to find one of the uniquely labeled particles was eligible for a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate. Thanks to everyone who participated, and to the Society of Physics Students for organizing this event!
If you are an alum of the doctoral, masters, majors or minor programs in Physics at SMU, or have worked in our program as a post-doctoral researcher, and wish to share news with the community, please send your story to the Physics Department and we’ll work with you to get it included in a future edition.
THE BACK PAGE
The Physics Teacher’s November Physics Challenge! (“No pun invented”)
The Physics Teacher’s November Challenge was selected by SPS Faculty Advisor and our department’s informal “Puzzle Master,” Prof. Randy Scalise, who was recently highlighted in “The Physics Teacher” as a regular contributor of challenge solutions. Dr. Scalise invites you to try to solve this month’s challenge. The first correct solution he receives (firstname.lastname@example.org) from a student member of our Society of Physics Students will be awarded a prize. The winner will get to select from the following four books,
- Gleick, J. “Chaos: Making a New Science“.
- Crease, R. P. and Mann, Charles C. “The Second Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Twentieth-Century Physics“.
- Thorne, K. “Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy“.
- Greene, B. “The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality“.
Solutions must be complete enough to understand your strategy, reasoning, and methods; providing answers with no explanations are not acceptable. Dr. Scalise urges submitters who believe they have the correct answer to, of course, also submit their solution to The Physics Teacher using the email address email@example.com. Make sure to follow the journal’s guidelines for submissions (see below). The deadline is the last day of this month.