KIPAC Newsletter #6 (May 22, 2015)

Dear KIPACers,

We have many wonderful news items to share with you -- new arrivals and departures, science highlights and awards, and open house fun and curriculum reform.

Please send us any corrections and additions.

Have a fabulous long weekend,
for the KIPAC management team
Tom, Pat, Ziba, Greg and Risa


  • The KIPAC postdoc committee, led by Roger Blandford this year, did an amazing job going through 300 applications. We look forward to welcoming our incoming postdocs. In no specific order; Bridget Bertoni (joint with SITP) is arriving from Univ. of Washington to work on dark matter and neutron stars.  Kyle Story joins us from KICP, Chicago, and will work on DES. Mattia di Mauro, who joins us from the Physics Department in Torino, will work on dark matter related science using Fermi. Alis Deason is currently a Hubble Fellow at UC Santa Cruz and works mostly on the formation of and dark matter in the Milky Way.  Laurence Perrault Levasseur, who just defended her PhD thesis in Cambridge, will work at KIPAC and SITP on topics related to the early Universe.
  • Daniel Gruen (recent graduate from Munich, and a DES collaborator) will be starting his Einstein Fellowship here and KIPAC alumnus Ji-hoon Kim will be bringing his Einstein Fellowship back after a year’s stay at Caltech. Kate Follette from The University of Arizona and Andrew Norton from Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company joined Bruce Macintosh and the exoplanets group. Vanessa Bailey is also coming from The University of Arizona to work on exoplanets with Bruce Macintosh and his team. Frederic Effenberger arrived at Stanford from University of Waikato in New Zealand to work with Vahe Petrosian on cosmic particle acceleration and cosmic rays. Sarah Kernasovskiy has joined Kent Irwin’s group as a postdoctoral fellow. Ethan Karpel has joined Chao-Lin Kuo’s group as a Research Associate. Adam Mantz will return to KIPAC as a Research Associate to continue his work in cosmology with galaxy clusters.
  • Current KIPAC postdoc Becky Canning has been awarded an Einstein postdoctoral fellowship and Yashar Hezaveh won a Hubble fellowship. The Nicholas Metropolis award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Work in Computational Physics went to Will East.  Our graduate student Samuel Totorica won the NCSA Blue Waters graduate student fellowship. Congratulations to you all! You make us proud.
  • Phil Marshall has been appointed as Staff Scientist at SLAC and we are looking forward to his many contributions preparing for LSST science and his work in the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration.
  • This fall, 36 new graduate students will join the Stanford Physics Department. A dozen of these students have expressed an interest in KIPAC activities. We look forward to many of these students joining KIPAC next year through research rotations.
  • DES announced a discovery of a number of new dwarf galaxies from the first year of their five year survey.  Since these galaxies are dominated by dark matter, they are compelling candidates to search for the dark matter annihilation signal expected in the gamma-ray band: a study with Fermi provides the tightest limits on the cross-section for annihilation of putative WIMP dark matter particles.  Among the key people involved in the effort were two KIPAC alumni, Keith Bechtol and Alex Drlica-Wagner. Eli Rykoff, Andrea Albert, Matthew Wood and Risa Wechsler were also involved in the studies.  
  • The Spring 2015 Fermi-LAT collaboration meeting took place at SLAC on March 16-20; the collaboration discussed the on-going effort of application of the new form of data reconstruction (so-called “Pass 8”) to science analysis, but the key science result was setting the limits on gamma-ray emission from the new DES-discovered dwarf galaxies.  
  • In conjunction with the Fermi-LAT Collaboration meeting, on March 12 SLAC hosted a day-long workshop (organized by Amy Furniss) on jet-dominated active galaxies -- or blazars -- and in particular, the new insights into cosmology that gamma-ray data from blazars now provide (see the link) - the talks are at the tab “labels.”  
  • The DESI Collaboration held a Science Readiness Workshop at SLAC January 9-10, organized by Co-Spokesperson Risa Wechsler.  DESI has now achieved CD1 approval from the DOE, and will have a CD2 review in July.  
  • Two LSST @ SLAC presentations are scheduled for the next few weeks at 11:30 in the Fred Kavli Building 3rd-floor conference room:
    • Eli Rykoff -- Friday, May 22, lessons learned from the Dark Energy Survey.
    • Jacek Becla -- Friday, June 5, LSST database and data access design.

The next LSST DESC Bay Area Weak Lensing meeting will take place in the FKB 3rd-floor conference room on Friday, June 5, beginning with Jacek’s presentation and ending with an outdoor reception at 5 pm. Everyone is welcome to attend!

If you would like to receive regular announcements of LSST@SLAC events, please send an email to Charlotte Hee and Richard Dubois (, to join the lsst-local email list.

A number of KIPAC members joined the LSST Laying of the First Stone Ceremony at the LSST site on Cerro Pachón, Chile on April 14, 2015. Laying of the first stone (Primera Piedra) is a Chilean tradition marking the construction start for a new astronomical observatory.  The celebration was attended by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and NSF Director France A. Córdova (see NSF press release).

  • KIPAC provides funds for new and collaborative initiatives through a semi-annual call for Enterprise funds. Three Enterprise proposals will be funded in this round. The next call for proposals will be in October this year with a deadline of November 1.
    • Aaron Roodman and Bruce MacIntosh: “Wavefront Measurements on Cerro Pachon”, to use wavefront data from the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) to estimate the variation in wavefront from atmospheric turbulence at the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) as a function of spatial and temporal frequency.
    • Roger Blandford with collaborators: W. East, F. Fiuza, K. Nalewajko, Y. Yuan, and J. Zrake: “Towards an Experimental Study of Relativistic Pair Plasma” which will use particle-in-cell calculations to determine if the instabilities that allow equilibria to transition to lower energy states at constant helicity in force free and ideal MHD situations are a robust conclusion.
    • Kent Irwin and Peter Graham: “A Radio for Hidden Photon Dark Matter” to build an experiment to carry out a dark matter search that will provide unprecedented sensitivity over a broad mass range of ultralight hidden photon dark matter.
  • The Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey (GPI) Program meeting is taking place at Stanford as this Newsletter is published! The meeting began with a day of tutorials, and a Hack Day to work on development of the data pipeline, science paper preparation, and testing of the GPI instrument using the remote control center in the Physics and Astrophysics Building. The remainder of the meeting will be devoted to planning the next phases of the exoplanet survey campaign and upcoming science papers.
  • KIPAC Visitor Program facilitates and supports a lively visitor program.  We encourage inviting short or long-term visitors who can contribute to the advancement of the research program at KIPAC.  Visitor request form can be found at New Visitor Form.   
  • KIPAC Open House:  This year’s Open House was held on the main campus, spread between PAB, Varian, Huang and Shriram buildings with approximately 1000 people participating.  The feedback from all participants was extremely positive.  Raffle ticket winners were contacted on April 18th.  The main prize went to a family of 4 with two small children. Since then, they and other neighborhood children have seen the Moon, the Jupiter and it’s moons and are looking forward to  viewing Saturn when visible.
  • KIPAC workshops have been a great success (see for instance the link to the recent blazar workshop above), and we would like to continue the tradition!  Workshop proposals are accepted anytime at this location  Please submit your great ideas for upcoming workshops.
  • As part of the re-organization at SLAC Tom Abel is now the Division Director of the new Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology Division, and also represents the PAC Division and KIPAC on the SLAC Science Council.

Astrophysics and cosmology course offerings next academic year:  During the current academic year, we embarked on a detailed exercise to optimize the astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology courses offered through the Physics Department.  Our goal is to offer a modern set of courses that match the interests and needs of our diverse population of learners -- from undergraduates with a general interest in astronomy, to advanced graduate students who wish to learn about forefront discoveries, theories, and analysis techniques. For the 2015-16 academic year, the Physics Department will offer this line-up of courses:

Autumn quarter:

  • PHYS 15, Stars and Planets in a Habitable Universe (Bruce MacIntosh)
  • PHYS 18N, Freshman Seminar: Frontiers in Theoretical Physics and Cosmology (Savas Dimopoulos)
  • PHYS 50, Astronomy Laboratory (Chao-Lin Kuo)
  • PHYS 262, Introduction to Gravitation (Renata Kallosh)
  • PHYS 366, Special Topics in Astrophysics: Statistical Methods (2 units, 5 weeks, team taught with faculty contact Risa Wechsler)
  • We also expect this course in the Department of Geological and Earth Sciences to be taught: GES 222, Planetary Systems -- Dynamics and Origins

Winter quarter:

  • PHYS 16, The Origin and Development of the Cosmos (Risa Wechsler)
  • PHYS 160/260, Introduction to Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics (Vahe Petrosian)
  • PHYS 360, Cosmology (Roger Blandford)
  • PHYS 363, Computational Cosmology and Astrophysics (2-unit computational lab course to be taken concurrently with PHYS 360)

Spring quarter:

  • PHYS 17, Black Holes and Extreme Astrophysics (TBD)
  • PHYS 100, Introduction to Observational and Laboratory Astronomy (Steve Allen)
  • PHYS 161/261, Introduction to Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics (Aaron Roodman)
  • PHYS 367, Special Topics in Astrophysics: High-Energy Astrophysics (2 units, 5 weeks, Roger Blandford)

Recent or Upcoming Departures:  

  • Krzysztof Nalewajko accepted a tenure-track position at the Copernicus Center.
  • Amy Furniss has accepted a faculty position at the California State University, East Bay.
  • Tobias Jogler will continue working on gamma-ray emission from celestial sources - but will focus on the data from ground-based Cerenkov arrays and will work on the development of the new Cerenkov Telescope Array (CTA) in Erlangen University in Germany.  Later in the year, Anna Franckowiak will be moving to DESI-Zeuthen (also in Germany) to work on the Ice Cube project.  
  • Two of our postdocs have started using telescopes that look in the opposite direction. In April Sam Skillman joined Descartes Labs, a small company focused on utilizing satellite imagery and remote sensing to monitor global agriculture. Ryan Keisler will also join Descartes Labs in June and focus on applying machine learning methods to the satellite data.
  • Patrick Ingraham joined LSST in Arizona as Calibration Hardware Scientist. He is responsible for the requirements for the constituent elements of the LSST calibration hardware. His office is in the LSST wing of the NOAO building in Tucson.
  • Debbie Bard starts a new position as a Big Data Architect at NERSC (the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, based at LBNL) in June, working with the Data and Analytics group. She will work with a range of domain scientists, statisticians and computer scientists to develop new Big Data approaches to scientific computing at NERSC. NERSC is undergoing a recruitment drive over the next three years, and scientists at all stages of their career with an interest in scientific computing are encouraged to apply.
  • Jamie Tolan who is taking time off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

We look forward to hearing updates from our KIPAC alumni as they move to the next stages in their careers!