UCLA Department of Physics & Astronomy
E-Newsletter - Summer 2011

issue #3 -Summer 2011

Physics & Astronomy

Welcome to the  
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Summer 2011 newsletter.

Faculty Research Highlights


Prof. George Morales and Dr. James Maggs have developed a collaborative research program on the subject of “Non-Diffusive Transport” with Dr. Diego del-Castillo-Negrete of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). They jointly supervise Adam Kullberg, a UCLA graduate student presently at ORNL.  The project has recently been awarded a three-year grant from DOE/NSF. It consists of basic studies of non-diffusive transport in magnetized plasmas motivated by studies made by Morales and Maggs, together with former graduate students D. Pace and M. Shi, in the LAPD device at UCLA. Those studies identified universal features in the spectrum of fluctuations driven by pressure gradients that resulted in non-diffusive energy transport. By non-diffusive it is meant that the transport of fundamental macroscopic parameters of a system, such as temperature and density, does not follow the standard diffusive behavior predicted by a classical Fokker-Planck equation. Contemporary studies in broad areas of science are increasingly identifying the important role of non-diffusive transport. Numerous examples can be found in widely different fields such as biology, geology, atmospheric sciences, and plasma science.

In a related activity Morales and Maggs hosted Gregoire Hornung, a master-level student enrolled in the ERASMUS MUNDUS program in Europe of which the Plasma Science and Technology Institute (PSTI) at UCLA is an international partner. Hornung’s M.S. thesis was based on a comparison of experiments in the toroidal plasma device  JT-K in Stuttgart University and the observations in LAPD. His thesis further validated the universality of the non-diffusive behavior first identified at UCLA. Hornung received the highest award given by the ERASMUS committee at the June 2010 graduation ceremony in Stockholm.     

    Geo Morales
    George Moraless

    J. Maggs
    James Maggs

Mayank Mehta's research team reported that rhythms in the brain that are associated with learning become stronger as the body moves faster. The researchers found that the strength of the gamma rhythm grew substantially as running speed increased, bringing scientists a step closer to understanding the brain functions essential for learning and navigation. Read More ...

    mayank mehta
    Mayank Mehta

    gamma rhythm

Katsushi Arisaka, Hanguo Wang and researchers in the international XENON collaboration announce they are close to being able to directly observe dark matter. Read more...

    Katsushi Arisaka and Hanguo Wang

    QUpidsSeven QUPIDs, a new photon-detector technology
    Seven QUPIDs (QUartz Photon Intensifying Detectors), a new photon-detector technology that emits no radiation and will greatly reduce background noise in future dark matter searches.

    Back to top

Chris Regan and graduate student Matthew Mecklenburg set out to design a better transistor and ended up discovering a new way to think about the structure of space. While studying graphene's electronic properties, professor Chris Regan and graduate student Matthew Mecklenburg found that a particle can acquire spin by living in a space with two types of positions — dark tiles and light tiles. The particle seems to spin if the tiles are so close together that their separation cannot be detected. Read article and visit Prof. Regan's website for detail.

Chris reganChris Regan

electron spin and grapheneElectron Spin and Graphene

Electrons are thought to spin, even though they are pure point particles with no surface that can possibly rotate. Recent work on graphene shows that the electron's spin might arise because space at very small distances is not smooth, but rather segmented like a chessboard. The standard cartoon of an electron shows a spinning sphere with positive or negative angular momentum, as illustrated in blue or gold above. However, such cartoons are fundamentally misleading: compelling experimental evidence indicates that electrons are ideal point particles, with no finite radius or internal structure that could possibly "spin". A quantum mechanical model of electron transport in graphene, a single layer of graphite (shown as a black honeycomb), presents a possible resolution to this puzzle. An electron in graphene hops from carbon atom to carbon atom as if moving on a chessboard with triangular tiles. At low energies the individual tiles are unresolved, but the electron acquires an "internal" spin quantum number which reflects whether it is on thblue or the gold tiles. Thus the electron's spin could arise not from rotational motion of its substructure, but rather from the discrete, chessboard-like structure of space.

Eric D'Hoker and Per Kraus are investigating thermodynamic and transport properties of fermions in strongly interacting gauge theories using string theory ideas and techniques. Specifically, Maldacena's gauge/gravity duality maps a strongly coupled Yang-Mills gauge theory in 4 space-time dimensions onto effective Einstein-Maxwell gravity theory in 5 dimensions. The extra dimension essentially plays the role of a varying length scale. Quantum states in gauge theory are mapped to solutions of the gravity theory. If a gravity solution contains a black hole, then the corresponding gauge theory state is thermal. Its temperature coincides with the Hawking temperature of the black hole. A finite charge density (or equivalently a chemical potential) and/or an external magnetic field may be introduced on both gauge and gravity sides, thereby providing an exciting semi-realistic theoretical laboratory for the study of strongly correlated fermions.

Using a combination of analytical methods and high-precision numerical analysis to study the existence and behavior of gravity solutions with black holes, D'Hoker and Kraus have shown that 4-dimensional gauge theory undergoes a quantum phase transition as the external magnetic field B approaches a critical value B_c. Near this quantum critical point, the specific heat coefficient diverges as 1/(B-B_c) at zero temperature (signaling the onset of non-Fermi liquid behavior), and a simple universal cubic polynomial governs the scaling in both temperature and magnetic field. The corresponding dynamical scaling exponent is found to be 1/3. These results, originally inferred from numerical study, were later derived analytically from the existence and regularity properties of new electrically charged magnetic black hole solutions. Read More10-11 (December

Eric D'Hoker
Eric D'Hoker

back to the top

Per Krause
Per Kraus

Departmental Awards

EDWARD (NED) L. WRIGHT: Elected to National Academy of Sciences
Wright, a professor of physics and astronomy who holds the UCLA's David Saxon Presidential Chair in Physics, is among the most-cited researchers in the field of cosmic microwave background radiation. He is principal investigator for NASA'S Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, an unmanned satellite that has surveyed the entire sky to discover millions of uncharted stars and galaxies, asteroids, and other ojects, providing valuable new information on our solar system, the Milky Way and the universe. For more on the WISE mission, visit

Ned Wright
Professor Edward (Ned) L. Wright

MARTIN AMMON: awarded the "Otto Hahn Medal" by the Max Planck Society.
Post-doctoral researcher, Martin Ammon, has just been awarded the "Otto Hahn Medal" by the Max Planck Society. It is given to young scientists and researchers in both the natural and social sciences.
The prestigious award takes its name from the German chemist and Nobel Prize laureate Otto Hahn, who served as the first president of the Max Planck Society from 1948 to 1960. The medal is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding scientific achievement to junior scientists. Medalists are recognized in three thematized sections: Biological-Medical section, Chemical-Physical-Engineering section, and Social Science-Humanities section. From 1978 to 2008, a total of 711 young scientists have received the Otto Hahn Medal. It is awarded annually at a ceremony taking place in Germany and is accompanied by a monetary award

Martin Ammon

Martin Ammon,Post-doctoral Researcher

Mayank Mehta (PI) and Katsushi Arisaka (co-PI) receive $1M grant from Keck Foundation

The Keck Foundation has granted $1M over 3 years, to fund a proposal by Mayank Mehta (PI) and Katsushi Arisaka (co-PI) entitled "Neurophysics of Multi-modal Integration and Neural Representation of Space". This winning of such an extremely competitive award is another indication of the rapid rise of the departmental program in neurophysics in particular, and biophysics in general. Read more...

mayank mehtaProfessor Mayank Mehta

The American Physical Society has been awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant to gift 500 hardback copies of the book "OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics"; edited by Professors Nina Byers and Gary Williams, for the conference packet which will be distributed to the attendees of the 4th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa April 5-8, 2011

Back to the top

Out of the Shadows

Faculty News
Prof. Seth Putterman’s UCLA109th Faculty Research Lecture “Fiat Lux: Light from Gas Bubbles, X-Rays from Peeling Tape, and Fusion from Crystals

Seth Putterman
  Professor Seth Putterman

On November 30, 2010 Seth J. Putterman, Professor of Physics and Astronomy wasthe 109th Faculty Research Lecturer .

The biannual Faculty Research Lecture at UCLA presents the work of the university’s most distinguished scholars. Its purpose is to recognize their superb achievements, and give the campus and the greater community an opportunity to gain a new perspective on scholarly achievements and the viewpoints of the faculty honored.

The Faculty Research Lecture, Putterman acknowledged, is quite an honor.

" There's nothing to compare to it in my career,"

View Prof. Seth Putterman’s UCLA109th Faculty Research Lecture “Fiat Lux: Light from Gas Bubbles, X-Rays from Peeling Tape, and Fusion from Crystals

Zvi Bern invited to TEDxCaltech " Feynman Diagrams: Past, Present, Future"

zvi Bern Feb 24, 2011 On January 14, 2011, Caltech hosted TEDxCaltech, an exciting one-day event to honor Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate, Caltech physics professor, iconoclast, visionary, and all-around "curious character." Visit for more details.

Zvi Bern is currently Professor of Physics at UCLA. He is widely known in theoretical physics for research into improved ways of calculating Feynman diagrams without using Feynman diagrams, offering new insights into quantum gravity and into experiments to be carried out at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. He has won a Sloan Foundation Award and an Outstanding Junior Investigator Award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Robert Cousins : Physicists closing in on the elusive Higgs boson

Robert Cousins
Robert Cousins
UCLA physics professor Robert Cousins has worked on the collider's Compact Muon Solenoid detector since 2000. He talked with The Times from his office at CERN in Geneva about the quest for the Higgs boson. Read Article in New York Times

Back to top


Chuck Whitten

Professor Charles A. Whitten, Jr., passed away on Dec. 4. 2010.

"He was the most influential professor I encountered during my four years at UCLA. He truely had an interest in the student, and so enjoyed sharing his latest research. Whitten will be missed, he was a remarkable individual and touched students life in a very special way."... a student

CAREER NIGHT 2011, Thursday, April 7, 2011
The department’s annual Career Night on April 12, 2010 was a great success with students and panelist enjoying pizza, drinks and dessert, followed by interesting questions from the students and equally interesting and helpful answers from the panelists ( Thomas Meseroll, Kinkead Reiling, John Taborn, Laura Marchand, and Darius Gagne,).  This event provided the students with a wonderful opportunity to talk with some of the department’s alumni about the reality of finding jobs after graduation in a variety of career paths.

Career Night 2011

Roberto Peccei
Roberto Peccei

Commencement 2011
Roberto Peccei was the keynote speaker at this year's 2011 Physics & Astronomy Commencement.

"Commencement is probably one of the happiest days that all of you will have in your life. So, enjoy it!"

"...No matter what the next phase of your life- journey turns out to be, you are all very fortunate to have gotten a degree from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCLA.  Although it is an old cliché, it is nevertheless true that if you were trained as a physicist or an astronomer you can do anything you put your mind to in life!

Read Roberto Peccei's Commencement Address

Back to top

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU program) 2010

The Physics & Astronomy department is hosting the 9th annual Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU program) during Summer 2011. Fourteen undergraduate students have come came from across the country to engage in real frontier level research with a UCLA faculty member for a period of 10 weeks. Each of the participants was matched with a faculty mentor according to the student’s stated interests.The projects spanned the various fields represented in the department, such as plasma physics, biophysics, cosmic ray physics, astrophysics, accelerator physics. The students are being trained in the newest lab, computational and theoretical techniques to prepare them for the world of research. Over the last 9 years, the department has hosted a total of 120 students under this program.

REU 2011

Back to top
Bruin Heroes Award, May '11 – Astronomy Live

Bruin Heros - Astronomy Live!Wednesday Evening Public Shows:
Planetarium Show - 8:00 PM
Telescope Viewing is subject to current weather conditions.

Visit the planetarium website for more information
Our graduate student outreach group Astronomy Live!" won the Bruin Heroes Award for May. The award includes a monetary award that will be used to help cover the cost of future outreach events. Congratulations to everyone involved. Founded just two years ago by Physics and Astronomy graduate students Kristin Kulas and Gregory Mace, Astronomy Live! aims to educate the public about astronomy. The group strives to foster an interest in science in general, especially early on, in hopes that it may develop into a future career.

Visit Astronomy Live! for more information and upcoming events

PLANETARIUM: UCLA Planetarium and Telecope Shows Public planetarium shows (suitable for all ages) are given by current astronomy and astrophysics graduate students. Content varies with presenters, but commonly includes discussion about the current night sky, constellations, astronomical phenomena, and more!

Giving to the Department of Physics & Astronomy:
The principal commitment of the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy is to train the scientific leaders of the next generation and to expand the limits of our knowledge of the nature of the universe in which we live. Your generosity plays a vital role in our ability to fulfill that commitment. Your gift to the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy allows us to enrich and enhance our educational program and to create new opportunities for students, faculty and all who benefit from the pursuit of knowledge at the frontiers of human understanding.
Donate now!
The Department of Physics & Astronomy Website
Diana Thatcher
Assistant to the Chair

James Rosenzweig, Chair
UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy
Box 951547
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1547
(310)825-3440 (310)206-0864 Fax

Back to top

Please e-mail us if you do not wish to receive this e-newsletter we will remove you from our list. In subject line please type: remove from list

e-newsletter compiled and designed by: Mary Jo Robertson (Mary Jo Designs)