Philip J. Moorad '28 and Margaret N. Moorad Professor of Science
Chair, Physics Department
Coordinator, Engineering Program
I love being at an institution that values me for being a good teacher while placing equal emphasis on scholarly pursuits. Hobart and William Smith enable me to stretch my wings in both directions so I can excel as a teacher and as a contributor to my field.
Particle theory places me at the forefront of physics. I was the first person to disprove the Most Attractive Channel conjecture, developed the first model-independent explanation of Bogomol’nyi bounds and have proposed an exotic form of nuclear matter that has not yet been found. Currently, I am using number theory to investigate whether there is a limit to how hot an object can get.
I like doing a lot of different things. My scientific research covers a broad range of theoretical particle physics. One theme in my research is using supersymmetry to prove results for non-supersymmetric systems. This work has uncovered unusual and unexpected links between quantum physics and mathematics.
One of the fundamental challenges in computer science today is to understand computational complexity. Using ideas from physics, I have developed an approach to this issue that has provided new insights into why complexity emerges and what makes certain classes of problems intrinsically difficult.
I teach a physics course for non-majors called Physics through Star Trek. We learn science by examining whether the things that happen on the show are possible. What’s fun is that it’s not about me lecturing, but rather about the students picking apart the show and learning to think scientifically.
My colleagues in the Physics Department are exceptionally good scientists. At the same time, at HWS, I get to know faculty from across the campus. My intellectual interests are pretty broad, and it’s wonderful to be able to work with scholars from many different disciplines.
I’ve been a regular guest lecturer in Professor Dunn’s course on terrorism, presenting my analysis of what makes something a weapon of mass destruction. It’s not about the specifics of bombs or smallpox; it’s about what makes things massively destructive from a systems point of view. It’s an important (but obviously scary) intersection of science and public policy.
I’ve been a physicist for a long time, but there’s more to me than that. It’s not just my interests in public policy and literary theory; I also like to cook and play music. I play the flute, recorder, guitar and piano. But you don’t want to hear me sing!
I have published an interpretation of Waiting for Godot that looks at the two acts of the play as being two parallel versions of the same day. I’ve had the good fortune to present my analysis at conferences in Toronto and France. It has been gratifying to be able to make a rich connection between science and art.
I love the Friday Faculty Lunch talks. It’s so interesting learn who the other professors are and what they’re studying. It creates a sense of community, and it’s a great forum to discuss your research and even get feedback from others. In fact, the first time I presented my analysis of Waiting for Godot was at a Friday Lunch.
I have discussed string theory in French, shared an office with a Bengali physicist while I lived in Holland, learned Chinese characters from a Singaporean colleague at a conference in Osaka, lectured at a 700-year old university in Spain and helped an Iranian physicist order in Flemish at a Belgian pub. All thanks to my career in physics!
I was honored to be nominated by my colleagues to be the Philip J. Moorad '28 and Margaret N. Moorad Professor of Science. It’s the only endowed chair in the sciences, and it signals the importance HWS places on having science faculty working at the forefront of their fields.
I’ve been involved on a lot of campus committees, and I think faculty governance is something that sets HWS apart. This structure makes sure the faculty and the administration are not isolated from each other, which creates good working conditions and results in people being treated well.
As a Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics Scholar, I worked with other theoretical physicists to found the Anacapa Society. We’re in the process of setting up the organization and securing grants, with the goal of supporting theoretical physics researchers at undergraduate institutions and creating a virtual department that connects us.
I regularly speak in local schools about quarks. I have a hands-on activity where I guide students through the process of “discovering” quarks, the same way that Nobel Prize winning physicists discovered them. It’s a great way to show how seemingly abstract scientific ideas come from concrete reasoning processes.
Check back each month for two new Experience Maps.