Department of Physics Newsletter fall 2020

Dear Physics friends,

Welcome to the second departmental newsletter of 2020. I hope that this note finds you all healthy and well. This past year has been a challenging and eventful one: it is an understatement that a lot has happened since our previous newsletter from last February! While the University campus and Jadwin have been more empty than usual, the Physics department community has been as active as ever. The research labs are all operating, even if at reduced density of researchers, and teaching, seminars and meetings are all taking place remotely over zoom. In this letter you can read about the activities of the department’s new Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiative, our department-wide call to action to combat racism, discrimination, and implicit bias in academia, and events organized by the WiP and UWiP groups. You will meet our graduate student fellowship winners, Diana, Fedor, Gillian and Kevin, read about Julio’s experience during his deployment, and learn some fun facts about our three recent new faculty members, Lawrence, Biao, and Shinsei. Thank you, Angela and Kim for putting together another great looking newsletter!


—Herman Verlinde

Undergraduate News

Over the past few months, physics majors, like everyone else at Princeton, have had to make many adjustments. While the lecture-style teaching in many courses allowed for a relatively smooth transfer to zoom lectures, many other components of being part of the department are difficult to emulate remotely.

The collaboration that hanging around Jadwin hall allows is what’s missed the most. Although we might not readily admit it, many of us miss the last minute, late night pset sessions where we work through problems on the blackboard with friends. Remote collaboration in this way has been more difficult. Instead of being able to walk out of A07 after lecture right to the blackboards and couches in Jadwin’s A-level, we set up times to meet over zoom and hold up pieces of paper with scratch work to our 0.5 megapixel laptop cameras.

On the other hand, remote learning has also had a few surprising benefits and helped some of us gain new and useful skills. Senior Jon Kutasov says “that the studying remotely has allowed him to be more independent and resourceful in his thesis work”. And as senior Rohin McIntosh explains, due to the restrictions on lab work over the summer, he took the opportunity to work on computational projects involving machine learning - a topic he says he otherwise might not have looked into.

Even for those of us who spent time on campus for thesis research, the environment was not the same. A chance meeting with a fox is more common than running into other students when walking around.

Overall, we are all looking forward to a time when we might return to Jadwin and struggle together again.

By Sam Cohen - Class of 2021


In March, just as we were getting ready to welcome over 50 of our admitted students to campus for an Open House, COVID-19 hit, and we changed our plans and hosted our admitted students through a virtual open house. In August we welcomed 16 Ph.D. students to the class of 2020. Several of our international students are still remote due to visa issues and we are looking forward to welcoming these students when they arrive on campus.

Since March 19 students have successfully defended all through Zoom. We missed the in-person celebration and wish all the graduates well with their new ventures.

Graduates are: Yunqin Zheng, Jaan Altosaar, Christian Jepsen, Yale Fan, Sonia Zhang, Akshay Yelleshpur-Srikant, Sanjay Moudgalya, Luca Illiesiu, Jingjing Lin, Justin Ripley, Alexey Milekhin, Jiaqi Jiang, Zheng Ma, Tong Gao, JaeUk Kim, Kelvin Mei, Laura Chang, Yaqiong Li, Xiaowen Chen.


Congratulations to Gillian Kopp and Diana Valverde Mendez as co-recipients of the "Joseph H. Taylor Graduate Student Fellowship." This fellowship was inaugurated in January 2013 and was made possible through a generous donation to the Princeton Physics Department from Joe Taylor. The Taylor fellows are nominated by the physics faculty.

Diana Valverde Mendez and Gillian Kopp

Kevin Nuckolls selected as one of 16 recipients for the APS Physics "5 Sigma Physicists" for Outstanding Advocacy

Fedor Popov, has been selected as the recipient of the Frances Lane Fellowship for the spring semester.

The fellowship is based on a gift from Michael Bershadsky and his family. The gift is intended to be used for support of graduate students that have distinguished themselves by their research in Math and Physics.

Fedor Popov

The Physics Department has partnered with the Graduate School to offer a one-year fully funded fellowship that includes an offer of regular admission to the Physics Ph.D. program the following year. The Physics Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program offers advanced undergraduate classes or graduate classes, participation in independent research with one of the research groups.

The Physics Graduate students below have been instrumental in the ongoing work of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiative, and including organizing events, participating in outreach, and recruiting efforts. The time and hard work they are putting in to help make Physics more inclusive will have a lasting impact on the department.

Stephanie Kwan ,Grace McKenzie-Smith, Ben Weiner
The Princeton University Department of Physics is committed to supporting diversity and inclusivity within our own community and to creating an environment where everyone, regardless of their identity, feels valued, safe and empowered to be successful.

Following a town hall event on June 10, the department created the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Initiative with the purpose of implementing immediate concrete actions and improvements towards attaining these goals. The initiative consists of an Advisory Board, as well as six different working groups tasked with creating programs and implementing concrete steps that support and address the needs of marginalized physicists and students.

Learn more:

  • View the Action Plan summarizing the activities of the Advisory Board and the working groups here.
  • Visit the EDI website for more resources.
  • Attend the All-Hands Meetings, open to all Princeton community members (announced via department internal listserve and the EDI Slack -- see below for information on how to join, and posted on the online Physics Department events calendar)

Get Involved:

  • Make your voice heard by filling out the department climate survey (anticipated to be sent in Spring 2021).
  • Contact us at physicsedi@princeton.edu for inquiries and to join the EDI Slack. EDI has over 50 members including faculty, staff, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students. We are always looking for new members and there are many ways to get involved.

• EDI has over 50 members including faculty, staff, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students. We are always looking for new members and there are many ways to get involved. All are welcome to contact physicsedi@princeton.edu for inquiries and to join the EDI Slack to stay up to date.

Highlights of EDI Working Groups

We would like to invite you to the Physics Department Book Club Kick Off event on Wednesday, December 2, 2020 at 3:30pm via Zoom!

Summer Internship through PICS

(Princeton Internships in Civic Service)

Deadline: 5 pm (EST), Monday, December 7, 2020. These internships will be run in 2021! Options include education, public policy, and community development to name a few.

Taking Care of Your Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed and impacted the lives and routines of the Princeton community as well as the rest of the world.

New Faculty in 2020

Biao Lian

Biao joined the Department of Physics of Princeton University as an assistant professor in September 2020. Previously he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science during 2017-2020. He received his BS from Tsinghua University in 2012 and received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2017. Biao's research is focused on theoretical condensed matter physics. One direction he is working on is the exploration of novel topological states of quantum matter, which are a type of matter described by the theory of topology. He is currently studying the interacting topological states in the topological insulator materials, the quantum Hall systems, and the twisted bilayer/multilayer graphene. The other topic Biao is interested is the quantum dynamics and entanglement of many-body systems, which concerns the fundamental question of how entropy grows in quantum mechanics. He is most interested in understanding the dynamics of excitations in topological states, which may lead to quantum information applications of the topological matter.

Shinsei Ryu

Shinsei is a theoretical physicist, interested in quantum mechanical aspects of condensed matter systems. His past research highlights coherence, entanglement, and topology --- unique features in quantum systems. He received a BS in physics and an MS and Ph.D. in applied physics, all from the University of Tokyo. He completed two postdoctoral appointments, the first at the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the second at the University of California, Berkeley. He was an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a professor at the University of Chicago, before joining the faculty at Princeton University.

Lawrence Cheuk

Lawrence was born in Hong Kong. He first came to the U.S. for high school in 2001 and subsequently attended Princeton as an undergraduate (Physics, ’10). Afterwards, he moved to MIT for graduate school, where he obtained his Ph.D. in atomic physics in 2017, working with ultracold quantum gases of interacting fermionic atoms. Staying in Cambridge, MA, he then did his postdoctoral research at Harvard, where he developed methods to directly laser-cool and trap molecules at ultracold temperatures. He joined Princeton Physics as an Assistant Professor in experimental atomic and molecular physics this past January.

His current research focuses on using ultracold molecules as a new platform for quantum science. His group is currently building a new apparatus based on molecules trapped in optical tweezer arrays. Compared to atoms, molecules have a much richer internal structure that offer additional features such as long-range electric dipolar interactions and a large reservoir of long-lived quantum states. These features, along with capabilities to detect and control individual molecules in optical tweezer arrays, could lead to new possibilities in measuring/controlling entanglement in quantum many-body systems and encoding/processing quantum information using molecular qubits.

Outside of lab, Lawrence's hobbies include skiing, playing the violin, and cooking.

Julio Lopez, a Soldier's Story

My wife, Katherine, is my best friend and although I have been apart from her for extended periods before, this time was very different. I've missed her birthday three years in a row and Easter twice, but with a global pandemic and the birth of our second baby fast approaching I was concerned for my best friend juggling multiple roles at home. I was concerned for the safety of the family I was leaving behind to serve my country.

As I began to arrange my bags for the trip, the talks of this strange new virus quickly became a reality. In preparations for my departure, I mapped out the fastest route to the maternity ward, combed through shelves of vanishing toilet paper at local stores, and hunted for hand sanitizer.

As I boarded the KC-135 cargo jet to fly halfway around the world, it became clear this flight was going to be different from my other deployments as we sat six feet apart.

One of my most challenging obstacles during this deployment was time; the time difference put me a full day ahead of the east coast. It was hard as I would often call when leaving work only to wake them at 2 am to say good night or call to say goodnight while my wife prepared to go to work. It's times like this when my Princeton family and my military co-workers encouraged me through. Their heartfelt messages offered much support not only to me but to my wife and eldest daughter, Nicole.

Unfortunately, I cannot touch upon the specifics of my deployment, however, I witnessed great examples of humanity in a year filled with much hopelessness. Airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines joined forces with health care professionals getting supplies to the needy.

I am grateful to say that when I returned home, seeing my wife and daughter I knew this is exactly what I had strived for. Two weeks after returning home, on June 12, 2020, my second daughter, Sophia, was born. One of my greatest joys came into the world on what may be the most interesting and blessed year of my life. A deployment, during a global pandemic, and a new baby.

In closing, although this is a soldier’s story about the hardships of being deployed halfway around the world, with a new baby on the way, during a global pandemic, I know that it was the support I received from those at home especially the Princeton Physics department that made it possible for me to serve my family and my country.


Pictured the 2020 Board: Yuri Tamama (Social Media, GEO '22), Connie Miao (Co-President, PHY '21), Jessica Stikons (Treasurer & Mentorship Director, ORF '23), Rebecka Maehring (Secretary, PHY '23), Tori Edington (Outreach, PHY '22), Claire Lessler (Events, PHY '22), Isabel Medlock (Co-President, AST '21).

In the Spring: In April, we hosted our 2nd annual JP Symposium virtually, with over 30 attendees. The event was aimed to give juniors in physics and astrophysics a chance to present their independent work, and to give first and second years an introduction to undergraduate research. Graduate students were also present to give feedback to the presenters.

In May, we hosted a live streamed Q&A panel geared towards woman-identifying high school students interested in studying physics and related fields. Current Princeton undergraduates answered questions submitted by high school students via email, encompassing topics such as navigating classes and fields of study, overcoming challenges, and pursuing research and career options. After finals, we hosted a Zoom session of Dungeons and Dragons (DnD), where players traversed through a fantasy story world, narrated by the UWiP officers (and written by Cara Giovanetti, Class of '20!). From solving puzzles to defeating monsters, this event was fun for everyone involved. In October, we also held a board games night, where UWiP members enjoyed playing the virtual game Among Us.

In the Fall: In September, we released our 3rd edition of our First Year Physics & Astrophysics Course Selection Guide. It can be found here on the physics department website. In September and October, we held several Study and Social Sessions on GatherTown to help first years to find study buddies and provide a fun space to collaborate on psets.

In September and October, we held several Study and Social Sessions on GatherTown to help first years to find study buddies and provide a fun space to collaborate on psets.

In November, we will be hosting a series of virtual Talk + Q&A sessions with Dr. Claire Lackner, Dr. Sydney Schreppler, and Prof. Reinabelle Reyes, women (astro)physicists who are now working in industry. We hope to provide physics undergraduates considering industry with a better idea of what that might look like.

The UWiP Mentorship Program seeks to connect female and female-identifying postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students interested in physics and related fields in order to promote gender diversity in STEM and encourage gender minorities to enter STEM fields. Each mentor and mentee is placed in a mentorship two virtual large-group mentorship meetings via GatherTown on the evening of 10/24 and the morning of 10/25 (EST) to accommodate those living in all time zones. Despite the virtual format, we achieved a turnout of roughly 85%.“family” with whom they have contact throughout the school year. This year, we hosted two virtual large-group mentorship meetings via GatherTown on the evening of 10/24 and the morning of 10/25 (EST) to accommodate those living in all time zones. Despite the virtual format, we achieved a turnout of roughly 85%

The Princeton Women* in Physics group for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty seeks to provide support, mentorship, and career development opportunities.

We continued our G1 WIP mentorship program this fall, connecting first-year graduate students with G2+ graduate students.

This semester, we held our annual Fall Graduate School Application Workshop (Nov 15) with the Princeton Undergraduate Women in Physics (UWiP) group and graduate students from the Astrophysics department. Graduate student volunteers and undergraduates discussed graduate application components and common questions, and reviewed application materials, via GatherTown.

We had the amazing opportunity to host a Speaker Tea with Prof. Monika Schleier-Smith (Nov 5), who gave a department colloquium about her research in many-body quantum systems earlier that day. Graduate and undergraduate students in physics and electrical engineering connected to our informal Q&A and discussion.

Members of WiP are also active in the Advisory Board and Working Groups of the Department Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiative established in Summer 2020.

Women-identifying students, researchers, and community members are welcome to join our WiP Slack, where we plan events, announce opportunities, and hang out! Contact us to be added.

For inquiries, contact the organizing board at women_in_phy@princeton.edu. Everyone is welcome to connect with us on Twitter @PrincetonWiP, and our website and events calendar can be found here:

* We use an inclusive definition of “women” and “female” and we welcome trans women, genderqueer women, and non-binary people.

Faculty Fun Fact Match Up

Can you match the following faculty members to the fun facts below?

  1. Bian Liao
  2. Shinsei Ryu
  3. Lawrence Cheuk
  • a. I like to read detective and sci-fi stories.
  • b. I was on the varsity heavyweight rowing team and I'm a NE Patriots fan.
  • c. I love stargazing, and watching or playing soccer.

Answers: 1-c,2-a,3-b


Created By
angela lewis


Created with an image by geralt - "board school university"