Faculty

The New E.E. Just Program: Two Years Old and Still Growing

Before he had even set foot on the Dartmouth campus, theoretical physicist Stephon Alexander looked upon the E.E. Just Program as a priority. In March 2012, the newly hired faculty member said, “I regard the E.E. Just Program as a big mission of mine and it figured prominently in my decision to come here.”

Alexander is the Ernest Everett Just 1907 Professor, a faculty chair that honors the pioneering cellular biologist and one of Dartmouth’s earliest African American graduates.

A Trinidadian by birth, Alexander appeared on scene as a human dynamo, channeling his seemingly limitless energy into the E.E. Just Program. The goals of this undertaking focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, primarily targeting Dartmouth undergraduate students of color. In addition to the support he offers to undergraduates, Alexander also mentors graduate and postdoctoral fellows for professional success.

Marcelo Gleiser on the Never-Ending Pursuit of Knowledge

Marcelo Gleiser is a professor of physics and astronomy and the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy. The author of four books in the U.S. and many more in his native Brazil, including a historical novel based on the life of the German scientist Johannes Kepler, Professor Gleiser talks with Dartmouth Now about the nature of the universe, fly fishing in Iceland, and what he’d be doing if he weren’t a professor.

You have described yourself as a “scientist with a soul.” What do you mean by that?
I try to show people that scientists are human beings as well, you know? People forget that we are as passionate and as sensitive as everybody else, and that, in fact, a lot of our work is charged with this passion for knowledge, for pushing the boundaries of knowing about the world and about ourselves.

Stephon Alexander, Dartmouth College

Topic: "Why Might Primordial Gravitational Waves be Necessary?"  (Video)

ABSTRACT: The recent breakthrough detection of primordial gravitational waves by the BICEP2 telescope confirms a longstanding prediction from the cosmic inflationary paradigm. It is interesting the theories beyond the standard model of particle interactions, such as string theory generically predict modifications to Einsteins theory of general relativity that are left-right asymmetric (parity violating). In this colloquium I provide a pedagogical discussion of the possiblity that parity violating primordial gravitational waves can generate the observed matter anti-matter asymmetry and play a second crucial role in actually ending the epoch of cosmic inflation. I discuss the potential for detecting this form of parity violating gravitional waves in future CMB missions.

Dartmouth Astrophysicist Wins Sloan Foundation Fellowship

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation today announced the selection of Dartmouth’s black hole researcher Ryan Hickox as a recipient of a 2014 Sloan Research Fellowships. He is one of 126 U.S. and Canadian researchers to receive a fellowship this year. The fellowships are awarded to early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements identify them as rising stars, who are considered the next generation of scientific leaders.

“For more than half a century, the Sloan Foundation has been proud to honor the best young scientific minds and support them during a crucial phase of their careers, when early funding and recognition can really make a difference,” says Paul L. Joskow, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

An assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Hickox is an astrophysicist who searches for hidden deep space quasars to learn more about the supermassive black holes that lie at the heart of every galaxy. Quasars are among the brightest, oldest, most distant, and most powerful objects in the universe.

Northern Lights Dip South to Hanover

Dartmouth’s alumni claim “the still North in their soul” each time they sing the alma mater—but as any of Dartmouth’s Arctic researchers could tell you, Hanover is fairly far south—if you’re measuring from the North Pole. That’s why it’s noteworthy that the aurora borealis, the northern lights, should be visible from Hanover tonight.

It’s a “fairly reasonable expectation,” says Kristina Lynch, professor of physics and astronomy, who studies the phenomenon. Matter ejected from the sun during a flare on January 7 is reaching the Earth now and interacting with the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field. A check of data from the ACE satellite, “which is out in front of us in the solar wind,” confirms high levels of activity, she says.

Three factors increase the chances of seeing the aurora when it’s active, Lynch says. The first is a dark and clear sky. “If it’s the sort of night and place where you could see the Milky Way, you’re in good shape.” Second, she says, the later the better. “After midnight, the shape of the aurora makes it more visible farther south.” And third, she says, you need a view north, and as low on the horizon as you can.

Nina Maksimova ’15: A Full-Immersion Baptism in Cosmology

Nina Maksimova ’15 comes from a family of physicists, but her studies took a different direction in high school.

“I was interested in physics as a little girl and I knew I wanted to be an astrophysicist before I even started school, but in high school I got a little off track,” she says. “I didn’t like my science classes that much, so I turned to the study of history instead.”

At Dartmouth, academic ambivalence took her back to history, but its romance was gone. Maksimova was homesick, unhappy, and on the verge of leaving the school when she decided to take the advice of an older student. “She told me to take a class at Dartmouth in something I had not enjoyed in high school, because the teaching at the College could very well spark a new interest in it.”

The Other 10 Most Important Questions in Science (NPR)

What’s at the bottom of the oceans? Can we travel in time? In his NPR commentary, Dartmouth’s Marcelo Gleiser, the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy, answers these and eight more of science’s most important questions. The questions, explains Gleiser, come from the new book The Big Questions in Science: The Quest to Solve the Great Unknowns.

So what is at the bottom of the ocean? According to Gleiser, “In the depths, bizarre life forms endure under extreme conditions: no light, no oxygen, freezing temperatures, and pressures 1,000 times more than at the surface. … Oceans, and the innards of Earth itself, are the final frontiers of our planet. Expect amazing discoveries as explorers descend more and more often into the great watery unknown.”

E.E. Just Symposium to Highlight Science of the Future

The 2013 E.E. Just Symposium is set to be a reprise of last year’s star-studded premiere event, though not precisely a repeat performance. “This year it takes a new tack evident in its theme, ‘Exploring the Future of STEM’,” says symposium organizer and Dartmouth theoretical physicist Stephon Alexander, the E.E. Just 1907 Professor of Natural Sciences.

“The symposium is a Dartmouth initiative to bolster student interest in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, addressing some of the shortcomings in the American educational portfolio,” says Alexander.

A 2012 report published by Harvard University on the performance of students worldwide ranked the U.S. at 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. Given these statistics, policy makers and educators are seeking new ways to increase the proficiency of American students with an emphasis on STEM education.

Shedding New Light on the Brightest Objects in the Universe

Quasars are among the brightest, oldest, most distant, and most powerful objects in the universe. Powered by massive black holes at the center of most known galaxies, quasars can emit enormous amounts of energy, up to a thousand times the total output of the hundreds of billions of stars in our entire Milky Way.

Dartmouth astrophysicists Ryan Hickox and Kevin Hainline and colleagues have a paper scheduled for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, detailing discoveries based upon observations of 10 quasars. They documented the immense power of quasar radiation, which reaches out for many thousands of light years to the limits of the quasar’s galaxy. (The paper is now available to the public through the Cornell University Library.)

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