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Letter from the Department of Physics Head,

Scott Dodelson

In 2017, faced with the looming retirement of close to half of the faculty, the department came together behind a strategic plan that identified four areas of physics that are ripe for discovery: biophysics, cosmology, quantum science and subatomic physics. Since then, we have hired 19 young faculty members. You can read about a few of them in this issue. They are extraordinary.

We did not hire to replace; we hired into the strategic plan, so we were supported by the dean and the provost. In the process, we worked hard to remove implicit biases. We and our students are simply thrilled by the diverse group of stellar newcomers. One indication of this is that the number of students taking our courses has increased significantly over this time.

This has been an incredibly successful run, but there is a story behind the story. Where did that strategic plan come from? And why were we poised to attract superb faculty in these areas? You can get a glimpse of some of that hidden story by reading the articles about a few of those who recently retired.

This includes Brian Quinn; He and his colleagues formed the preeminent “medium energy’’ physics group in the country, laying the foundation for our current subatomic group. They built what they did with gusto and humor, in the process training a cadre of scientists who — as the article notes — have gone on to very successful careers of their own.

Most readers will know Steve Garoff. His official advisees — undergraduates and graduates who worked in his lab — number close to 100. He taught countless others in Modern Physics Lab and Physics 1. Steve gladly gave his time to advise thousands of students over the years in invaluable one-on-one meetings. On top of all this, Steve shaped the undergraduate program here. Everyone who passes through benefits from his devotion to CMU.

Steve and Fred Gilman, another recent retiree who will be featured in next year’s Interactions, played major roles in starting the biophysics and cosmology groups. Fred’s contributions to Carnegie Mellon extend well beyond departmental planning and cannot be captured in a short note. Suffice it to say that his imprint on the department, college and university is extraordinarily wide-ranging: from the McWilliams Center for Cosmology to the core curriculum taken by all Mellon College of Science students.

There is much more to say about those who built this department, but the takeaway is that we are indeed standing on the shoulders of giants. On behalf of the entire department and the students we serve, I thank them for their lasting contributions.

Scott Dodelson
Professor and
Department Head