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Group image of Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences; Steven Chu, Stanford’s William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics and U.S. Secretary of Energy from 2009-2013; Mani L. Bhaumik, Institute founder, physicist and philanthropist; David Gross, UCSB’s Chancellor’s Chair Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics; Andrea Ghez, UCLA's Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics and winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics; Gene D. Block, UCLA Chancellor; and Zvi Bern, director of the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute.

Celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute for Theoretical Physics

Group image of Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences; Steven Chu, Stanford’s William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics and U.S. Secretary of Energy from 2009-2013; Mani L. Bhaumik, Institute founder, physicist and philanthropist; David Gross, UCSB’s Chancellor’s Chair Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics; Andrea Ghez, UCLA's Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics and winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics; Gene D. Block, UCLA Chancellor; and Zvi Bern, director of the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute.

At Mani-Fest 2022: Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences; Steven Chu, Stanford’s William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics and U.S. Secretary of Energy from 2009-2013; Mani L. Bhaumik, Institute founder, physicist and philanthropist; David Gross, UCSB’s Chancellor’s Chair Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics; Andrea Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics and winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics; Gene D. Block, UCLA Chancellor; and Zvi Bern, director of the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute. (Not pictured is Barry Barish, Linde Professor of Physics emeritus at the California Institute of Technology and winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, who delivered a presentation at the event, “Gravitational Waves and Multi-Messenger Astronomy.”) | Photo by Marco Bollinger


Jonathan Riggs | July 28, 2022

“I believe in one thing,” goes the famous quote by Albert Einstein, “that only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” From one world-changing physicist to another — Einstein’s truism could also be the motto of Mani L. Bhaumik, who celebrated two milestones this year: his 91st birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCLA.

“Mani’s generosity is truly amazing, matched only by his deep passion for fundamental physics,” says Zvi Bern, director of the Institute. “I am confident that 50 years from now, people will see that the creation of the Institute was a defining moment that changed everything, bringing UCLA’s physics department to the top global echelon.”

Beginning with a transformative $11 million gift in 2016 that was the largest in the history of both the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences and the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy, Bhaumik’s vision of a world-leading center to support foundational work in quantum field theory, unification of forces and, more recently, foundational issues in quantum mechanics, has surpassed all expectations. In fact, its success has allowed UCLA to compete head on with the best universities in theoretical physics.

“Just this past year, two of our students got great faculty offers one year out of graduate school — it is extremely rare even at top universities for a single student to accomplish this, but two students in one year is simply unprecedented,” says Bern. “I am also happy to report that the most-cited paper of 2021 on the hep-th physics arXiv — pushing the frontiers of precision general relativity by using ideas from the quantum field — is from the Bhaumik Institute. We are doing what we promised Mani.”

In addition, the Institute currently has 10 postdocs and is providing fellowships for 31 graduate students this summer; it has sparked more than 250 scientific papers — and counting; it is involved in efforts to diversify the field of nuclear physics; and it has attracted top-tier faculty to UCLA, including Mikhail Solon, who won a Sloan Research Fellowship, and Thomas Dumitrescu, who won the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Early Career Award as well as funding to establish multi-institute collaboration on symmetries.

“The Institute attracts the best people with different scientific backgrounds, and fosters an environment where they can freely exchange ideas and pursue bold new directions. The focus is on supporting young people such as postdocs and graduate students: the lifeblood of the field,” says Solon. “This density of people and ideas really elevates the day-to-day scientific interactions and provides the stimulus for creativity. We cherish the intellectual freedom the institute provides, and use it to pursue the best science.”

“For me personally, coming to UCLA as a faculty member was completely entwined with the promise of the Bhaumik Institute —I have the honor of being the inaugural holder of the Mani L. Bhaumik presidential term chair in theoretical physics,” says Dumitrescu. “I think the Institute has made amazing strides and this rapid progress has definitely been noticed and is appreciated at UCLA and far beyond.”

Of course, none of this would be possible without Bhaumik himself, the largest supporter to the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences. In addition to a 2018 gift of $3 million, he recently completed his pledges early ($15.26 million for current-use and endowed funds for the Bhaumik Institute and $1.175 million to support the construction of the UCLA Collaboratory, formerly the chemistry library in Young Hall).

Prior to his distinguished career as a laser physicist, Bhaumik’s love of theoretical physics originated as a student in India where he learned about Kaluza-Klein theories from S. N. Bose (of Bose-Einstein fame), igniting his passion for deep questions in theoretical physics.

“Mani’s vision for the Institute — to be a world-class center for theoretical physics, to plant the seeds for future Nobel prizes — can be intimidating, but I believe it can be realized and I am honored to be part of building this,” says Solon. “Mani’s vision for science is at the core of everything the institute is and does. His own quest to understand nature at a fundamental level inspires us all to pursue the deepest questions.”

“In addition to all the magnificent accomplishments of the Bhaumik Institute, I have immensely benefited from profound professional discussions with all the physics luminaries at UCLA,” says Bhaumik. “As a result, I have gained the intellectual satisfaction of confirming that non-relativistic quantum mechanics used by over 90% of the practitioners can be a real theory, and not just based on the collection of postulates.”      

This June’s conference, Mani-Fest 2022: Directions in Theoretical Physics, celebrated the past while looking to the future, covering issues ranging from quantum field theory to black holes to string theory to gravitational waves and beyond as well as featuring several presentations highlighting research carried out at the Institute. Among the notable attendees were four Nobel Prize-winning physicists.

“It was nice to see physics outside of the classroom; I was especially interested in listening and talking to people in the field that I’m moving into, high energy theoretical physics,” says attendee Anna Wolz, a first-year physics doctoral student at UCLA. “It was inspiring to see who are so passionate about their research and their new ideas. Honestly, it reminds me why I’m here and what I have to look forward to.”

“We are so grateful to Mani L. Bhaumik for launching this visionary Institute, and to everyone who has contributed to making his dream an incredible reality,” says Miguel García-Garibay, dean of the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences. “Its remarkable success benefits so many, from faculty to students to the field of science itself, and this is only the beginning.”

For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

UCLA, partners win Department of Energy grant to boost diversity in field of nuclear physics

Image of the DOE’s new Electron-Ion Collider in New York

Trainees will have the unique opportunity to conduct research related to the DOE’s new Electron-Ion Collider in New York (pictured), where scientists hope to determine the structure of quarks and gluons, the building blocks of matter. Image credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory/DOE

By Stuart Wolpert

The UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy has received federal government funding for a pilot program designed to help low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented undergraduate students from across California pursue graduate degrees and careers in nuclear physics, with the aim of increasing the diversity of scientists in this field.

The $500,000 grant from the nuclear physics program in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science will support training, mentorship and hands-on research experiences for students, including internships at national laboratories and the opportunity to work on research related to the DOE’s cutting-edge Electron-Ion Collider, said associate professor of physics Zhongbo Kang, who is heading the program at UCLA.

The grant-funded program is a collaboration among UCLA, UC Riverside, the Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, Cal Poly Pomona and the Cal-Bridge program, a statewide network of nine UC, 23 CSU and more than 110 community college campuses that seeks to create greater opportunities for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. The undergraduate trainees are selected through Cal-Bridge.

Associate professor of physics Zhongbo Kang, who is heading the grant-funded program at UCLA and coordinating trainees’ work on the Electron-Ion Collider. Image Courtesy of Zhongbo Kang

“The UC and CSU systems are among the largest engines for social mobility in the United States and play a key role in providing opportunities to students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” said Kang, who is a member of both the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Center for Quantum Science and Engineering at UCLA. “Their student bodies contain the largest pool of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented minority students in the nation, and we are in an excellent position to tap into this pool and broaden the nuclear physics pipeline.”

During each year of the two-year program, four trainees will join research groups at UCLA or UC Riverside and will intern for 10 weeks during the summer at either Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory or Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. At UCLA, the nuclear physics group conducts theoretical research under Kang’s leadership and experimental research under professor of physics Huan Huang. Trainees will be integrated into one of these groups based on their research interests and will work with the professors and a team of undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and staff scientists.

DOE’s Electron-Ion Collider: The future of nuclear physics

The chance to conduct research related to the nascent Electron-Ion Collider, or EIC — the DOE’s flagship research project for the future of nuclear physics — is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the trainees, Kang said, and he hopes the experience will help them see themselves as members of the EIC community. The massive facility, to be built on Long Island, New York, will use electron collisions with protons and atomic nuclei to produce images of quarks and gluons — the elementary building blocks of matter. In California, scientists will be working on the physics undergirding the collider and developing the facility’s detectors. The next few years will be a critical period for the design of the detectors.

“Given that the EIC experiments will likely start in about 10 years and run until mid-century, the students will see that they could become deeply ingrained with the project,” said Kang, who will coordinate the EIC research training programs with the California EIC consortium. “Our goal is to establish a Ph.D. bridge to the EIC program by training a cohort of students from diverse backgrounds that will be in an excellent potion to apply to graduate school. The EIC project provides an excellent platform for training the next generation of scientists.”

The undergraduate trainees will present their research results at conferences and participate in the meetings and workshops of the American Physical Society’s Division of Nuclear Physics and the California EIC consortium. They will learn to work effectively on large research projects, communicate results to other scientists and general audiences, learn software skills to run large-scale physics simulations and develop technical expertise in data science and machine learning.

The first trainees began the program this month. The $500,000 grant is part a larger, $3 million DOE effort to broaden and diversify nuclear and particle physics through research traineeships for undergraduates.

“The ability to fulfill our mission to discover, explore and understand all forms of nuclear matter relies on the availability of a highly trained, diverse community of investigators, researchers, students and staff,” said Timothy Hallman, the DOE’s associate director of science for nuclear physics. “The goal of this program is to help broaden and diversity this community to ensure that it is drawn from the broadest possible pool of potential nuclear and particle physicists within the U.S.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.

Professor’s invention is a kid-friendly introduction to the chemistry of light

Ellen Sletten’s Photonbooth gives L.A. students a picture-perfect lesson in fluorescence

Image of students in the Photonbooth

Students from El Marino Language School in Culver City, California, in the Photonbooth. The exhibit has inspired hundreds of budding scientists to recognize that there is more to the world than what their eyes typically see. Photo credit: Courtesy of Ellen Sletten

 

By Jonathan Riggs

If you know how to look, our world can be wildly colorful. Under an ultraviolet light, once-familiar objects can take on dreamlike brilliance: Think neon green scorpions, hot pink flying squirrels and electric blue diamond rings.

Known as fluorescence, this ability of certain molecules to absorb light in one colored wavelength and emit it in another is a phenomenon many scientists, including UCLA professor Ellen Sletten, are still exploring.

And a few years ago, Sletten devised a clever way to make her research into fluorescence more accessible to non-scientists: the Photonbooth. A clever twist on the traditional photo booth that’s a staple of carnivals, arcades and parties, Photonbooth — the pun in its name a reference to the fundamental particle of light — has inspired hundreds of budding scientists to recognize that there is more to the world than what our eyes typically see, and that key scientific principles underpin everyone’s daily existence.

“It’s very clear right now, with the pandemic, that misinformation about science is dangerous for us all,” says Sletten, a chemical biologist. “Younger generations especially need us to focus on accurate, responsible scientific communication. Besides, everyone loves a photo booth, right?”

Image of Ellen Sletten

Ellen Sletten. Photo credit: Penny Jennings/UCLA

The concept evolved out of an attraction from her 2015 wedding reception. To echo her engagement ring, which her fiancé chose for its fluorescence (caused by a defect in the diamond’s lattice structure), Sletten envisioned black lights installed in a standard photo booth with fluorescent props for guests to pose with. Her party-phobic father, an engineer, jumped at the chance to pay tribute to his daughter’s life work and to help turn her plans into a reality.The Photonbooth was born.

“It was such a huge hit, even with the non-scientists,” Sletten says. “I realized it was very synergistic with many of my lab’s research goals and could be a perfect avenue for science outreach.”

When Sletten discussed the booth with members of her UCLA research team, her then-graduate student Rachael Day — now a biochemistry professor at Drury University in Missouri — was so inspired that she took it upon herself to build a version of the booth, and they immediately began using it at local parties and educational events, including Exploring Your Universe, UCLA’s annual hands-on science fair.

A typical Photonbooth presentation begins with a quick science lesson demonstrating the fluorescent properties of common household items such as tonic water or detergent, followed by a discussion of the biomedical uses of fluorescence. Attendees next create their own glowsticks, enter the booth with whimsical props they choose and pose for photos, first under normal light and then, to best show off their fluorescent items, under a black light.

“A lot of science — especially chemistry, where everything is nanoscale or smaller — can be difficult to comprehend,” Sletten says. “I really like using fluorescence because it’s so easy for kids to see. I also love how we can take something kids are familiar with, like a highlighter, and then help them realize there is this whole other side to it if they are curious enough to look and question.”

Image of a family in the Photonbooth at Exploring Your Universe

An adult and two children in the Photonbooth at UCLA’s Exploring Your Universe science festival. Photo credit: Courtesy of Ellen Sletten

Science education outreach is especially important to Sletten because it highlights the human connection that she says is so crucial to scientific progress. As she looks back on her lab’s first five years, she cites her relationship with her students and their growth among her most important accomplishments.

“My students are amazing, and I try hard to be an effective mentor who gets to know each of them well,” Sletten says. “In many ways, starting a lab is like starting a small company. You go through all the challenges and problem-solving together, which makes for strong bonds. It has been incredibly rewarding to be a part of my students’ journeys to becoming excellent scientists and communicators.”

At the same time, Sletten has attracted attention for the lab’s impressive progress toward developing diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. In 2020, she earned the Young Chemical Biologist Award from the International Chemical Biology Society, and in 2021, she received a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for her work on deep tissue imaging.

Sletten says the experience of children delighting in the Photonbooth experience mirrors the optimism she and her team share for the future of their own research.

“When I think about the videos of molecules flowing within mice which our lab has been able to produce with previously unattainable speeds, colors and resolutions, I can relate to how those kids feel stepping in the Photonbooth,” Sletten says. “The opportunity to see something new, the feeling of discovery and fun — I hope it inspires those kids to become science-savvy citizens or even future scientists.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom. For more of Our Stories at the College, click here.

Photo of Karen McKinnon

Karen McKinnon receives Packard fellowship

Photo of Karen McKinnon

Karen McKinnon

UCLA climate statistician Karen McKinnon was selected to the 2021 class of Packard Fellows for Science and Engineering. The honor is given annually to 20 innovative early-career scientists and engineers, and it comes with an award of $875,000 over five years.

McKinnon’s research uses climate dynamics, statistics and machine learning to understand and predict climate variability and change. Her goals include informing policymakers’ and planners’ ability to respond to the effects of climate change, particularly in vulnerable regions that are susceptible to wildfires, major storms and other extreme events.

“At a time when we are confronting so many difficult, intertwined challenges, including climate change, a global pandemic, and racial injustice, I am buoyed by the determination and energy of these 20 scientists and engineers,” said Nancy Lindborg, Packard Foundation president and CEO.

The award was introduced by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in 1988 to give early career scientists and researchers more freedom to pursue their own research with few restrictions. Fellows meet annually to discuss their research and explore possibilities for collaboration.

This article originally appeared in the UCLA Newsroom.

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

41 UCLA scientists among world’s most influential scholars, based on citations

Photo of a UCLA Chemistry lab

A UCLA chemistry lab. The Clarivate report identifies researchers whose publications have “been repeatedly judged by their peers to be of notable significance and utility.”

 

The world’s most influential scientific researchers in 2018 include 41 UCLA scholars.

In its annual list, Clarivate Analytics names the most highly cited researchers — those whose work was most often referenced by other scientific research papers for the preceding decade in 21 fields across the sciences and social sciences. (The 2018 list is based on citations between 2006 and 2016.)

The researchers rank in the top 1 percent in their fields in producing widely cited studies, indicating that their work “has been repeatedly judged by their peers to be of notable significance and utility,” according to Clarivate. Current UCLA faculty members and researchers who were named to the list, noted with their primary UCLA research field or fields, are: