I was born and raised in beautiful Portland, Oregon. I did my undergraduate degree at Duke University, then completed my Ph.D. in theoretical physics at Columbia University under Brian Greene. My research in superstring theory and cosmology continued with postdoctoral positions at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the Lorentz Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Paris Centre for Cosmological Physics, the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, and my current position at AIMS. I just founded the world’s first physics fundraising agency, Fiat Physica, Latin for “Let Physics Be Done.”
When not doing physics I also love traveling, improv comedy, music by Ennio Morricone, the smell of rain, opera, daydreaming on public transportation, reading novels with plot twists and Indian food. I can speak 1.5 languages (including English).
What inspired you to study science, and astrophysics?
Newton once said, “If I have seen further than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” This is often quoted as an example of how modest he was, but actually it was the opposite: Newton was making fun of his hunchback rival Robert Hooke. Yes, even brilliant scientists can be jerks sometimes.
But the spirit of the quote is true. Each generation learns the knowledge available at the time, then questions it, teases it, pulls it, pushes it, squishes it until cracks form. We are then required to produce an answer capable of explaining everything known before, but withstanding the problems. What seems obvious to us now was once a revolutionary insight by a single person, and what seems impossible to us now will one day be laughed at.
I love that science gives us this connection with previous generations, and something to pass on to future generations. It’s like one of those “Generation Quilts” in which each thread is a little bit of knowledge. And if you’re lucky enough to add a few threads of your own, they will be there for all time.
Do you have a role model in science?
Linus Pauling. The only person to have won two unshared Nobel Prizes (Chemistry and Peace). And fellow Oregonian.
A quote that inspires you?
“We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde
I completed my doctorate in physics researching whether superstring theory can naturally produce the three large spatial dimensions that we observe. Since then I have turned my attention to other topics including cosmic superstrings, signatures of new physics in the cosmic microwave background, holography and spin-statistics.
Favourite reference papers:
I always loved the article by Gross and Mende about stationary phase solutions to the scattering amplitudes. When you study the equations of particle interactions they are often very complicated, especially at high energies, sometimes requiring powerful computers to estimate the answer. But what this article finds is that superstring interactions can get *more simple* at high energies. In fact they can become so simple they can be solved with pencil and paper, and there is a very satisfying physical picture of how the strings behave during the interaction. I loved the way it turned the usual lore on its head.