2 febbraio - 20 maggio


Stephen Adler is a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study (USA) and he is working on dark matter

We interviewed Stephen Adler by e-mail and we asked him to send us a short presentation and if possible a photo of him.

Here I'll refer you to something I wrote for the ICTP for their volume "One Hundred Reasons to be a Scientist''. If you Google that title, a pdf printable version comes out as the first hit, and in it you will find a short essay about how I got interested in science and my early career. There is also a photograph from 1995. A jpeg file with my most recent IAS photo is attached.
(If you put this on the web, it should include a credit line to the Institute for Advanced Study).

Q: How and why did you decide to study physics and which is the best memory of your life as a student?

See the ICTP essay. I'll add one thing not in there. When I was a sophomore at Harvard I took E. M. Purcell's electricity and magnetism course, and volunteered to help Purcell with some new lab experiments he was designing. The one he had me work on was a magnetic levitation experiment, in which an electromagnet was supposed to levitate an iron slug, with a phototube supplying feedback to keep the iron levitated. It didn't work, and when I took  measurements of the voltage across the magnet coil I became aware that it had a large resistive component, which I traced to the effect of eddy currents in the unlaminated magnet core -- I even did a calculation of the induced resistance resulting from these eddy currents, and they agreed with my measurement.  The result of this was a phase shift which spoiled the feedback loop. When I told Purcell about this he gave me a long, penetrating look that I will never forget -- it was the first time I felt I could make serious contributions as a scientist.

Q: Which difficulties did you have to face and what was the most exciting episode of your career?

I can't say I faced major difficulties, other than the general problem for my family that my father had lost his teaching job during the McCarthy era witchhunts. However, he soon started a very successful career as a writer of children's and adult's math and science books, and after my first or second year of college I didn't need any scholarship help. My  family was always very supportive, and I had good mentoring from many people along the way, both in terms of my amateur electronics interests in high school and my pursuit of physics later on. I also was influenced by classmates I met at Harvard -- interaction with them led me to raise my sights on what I could accomplish in terms of advanced course work. The most exciting period in my career was certainly when I worked on current algebra and anomalies. This is described in some detail in the essays I wrote for my book "Adventures in Theoretical Physics'', which are on the arXiv as hep-ph/0505177.

Q: What are you working at, presently?

Right now I am working on the possibility that dark matter might be bound to earth and other planets, and could play a role in the so-called "flyby anomalies''.

Q: Which do you believe will be the next discovery in physics?

Either detection (or non-detection) of the Higgs boson, and similarly for low energy supersymmetry. Perhaps also a definitive detection of dark matter and determination of its properties.

Q: In your opinion, which is the best discovery ever and who is your favorite scientist?

I think the discovery of the electron is certainly up there as one of the most significant discoveries ever. In terms of particle physics, I think Murray Gell-Mann and Chen Ning Yang made the biggest contributions towards getting the field to where it is now.

Q: How important is the collaboration in scientific research, especially among researchers from different countries?

I think the future of particle physics, because of the high costs involved, will depend crucially on international collaboration. I have been finding that the Internet has made possible long distance collaborations that would have been infeasible before. I've written papers in the last few years that were collaborations entirely through email with people whom I hadn't met (or had met briefly at conferences or summer schools many years ago).

Q: How can a scientist be defined and how do talent, intuition and study influence his profession?

Science works within a framework defined by empirical observations. It is not a belief system like religions --science is a procedure for setting up correlations (our theories) between present day measurements. I think success in science depends on a combination of talent, intuition, study and attention to detail, and luck. It helps to have a prepared mind, but it is important to be in the right place at the right time also.

Q: What are your hobbies and passions and what book would you suggest us to read?

I play the piano and enjoy balance sports  -- ice skating (ice dancing and moves-in-the field drills) and skiing. For aerobics I also swim (I've stopped running because of arthritis) and I do a fairly rigorous weight lifting workout weekly, and do some balance training nearly every day. I just finished reading a fascinating book on the history of Himalayan mountaineering by Isserman and Weaver, entitled "Fallen Giants'' -- Yale University Press. I'd read lots about the attempts to climb Everest when I was in elementary school, and this book brought me up to date on all that has happened since. However, I'm a pass hiker, and not a climber! I like to read about the lives of scientists and the history of technology, and read relatively little fiction.

Q: How do you see the future of research in this period of global economic crisis?

The crisis will pass in a couple of years. I think research will continue to be funded, but there will of course be tough competition for resources. The future of high energy physics will in large part be determined by what is found (or not found) at the LHC, but that is only one interesting research area out of many.