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Letter from the Department of Physics Head,

Scott Dodelson

We hope you enjoy this edition of Interactions. The stories of the research accomplishments of our faculty and students would be impressive in any year but are even more so given the conditions of the past two years. Please take a break from thinking about the latest variant and dive into the stories about the latest developments in biophysics, condensed matter physics, cosmology, high energy physics and how AI is re-shaping the way we do science. Take pride in the awards that have been bestowed on members of our community.

Let me add three personal takes on 2021. First, I am prouder than ever to be part of Carnegie Mellon after this past semester: the university recognized that it was crucial to resume in-person learning and put in place rules that created a safe environment. A related point is that being in person is so different: the interactions in and out of the classroom literally and figuratively have an added dimension, one that enriches our experiences. Teaching or working in person leads to a multiplier effect: we are more than the sum of our Zoom parts. On one of my first days back, I was walking on campus and was struck with a sense of euphoria, feeling my feet on the ground, looking at familiar sites, seeing people wandering around. It was exhilarating. We all hope to maintain that feeling as the in-person experiences become routine again. We really are fortunate to be where we are. I want to restate my thank you to the dean and the faculty who have given me the opportunity to work here.
Finally, one cannot help thinking about our current students: they were born around 9/11, began middle school at the onset of a great recession and are in college during a global pandemic. Who are these students and how have these experiences impacted their lives?

They are extraordinary.

Of course, our students learn physics and do state-of-the-art research. They also come to faculty meetings and advocate for their peers; they provide leadership by being honest about their problems, so that their fellow students who are suffering will not feel alone; they raise their voices when they perceive injustice; they give us invaluable feedback about the curriculum. A dozen of them joined me every week to work on the crossword puzzle; listening to their banter was a highlight. They can be extremely focused and serious or silly and frivolous. What I have never heard from any of them is a single bad word about their peers.

As you peruse this issue, please keep that in mind: all the achievements cataloged in these pages took place in an environment with dedicated faculty and staff, but also with students who make Carnegie Mellon a wondrous place to be …
in person.

Scott Dodelson
Professor and
Department Head