PhD “Family Tree”

It’s fun in academic circles to trace out PhD “lineages,” that is, the PhD advisor of your PhD advisor of you PhD advisor… etc. My “family tree” is below, and serves as an excuse to talk about some important contributions to physics.

Arthur Compton begat Luis Alvarez begat Richard Muller begat Heidi Newberg begat me.
Images from personal websites or the public domain.

There are some big names here. Arthur Compton is most well-known as the discoverer of the Compton Effect, which experimentally showed that light has momentum, even though it doesn’t have mass. This earned him the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Compton was also a major player in a *little* project known as the Manhattan Project. He was in charge of the nuclear reactor part of the program, and oversaw the creation of the world’s first nuclear reactor (which was designed and built largely by Enrico Fermi).

Luis Alvarez, Compton’s student was another Nobel Prize winner and contributor to the Manhattan Project. He developed a hydrogen bubble chamber device that resulted in the discover of several new particles at the quantum level.

Oh, and in a collaboration with his son, Walter Alvarez, were the originators of the theory that an asteroid impact had wiped out the dinosaurs (which they backed with evidence)

Alvarez’s student, Richard Muller, is currently a professor at UC Berkeley and a major player at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. While he doesn’t have a Nobel Prize he is no slacker, having made significant contributions to particle physics, was been part of the team that created the Supernova Cosmology Group (which led to the *little* discovery of the accelerating universe, for which his student Saul Perlmutter received half the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics), wrote “Physics for Future Presidents” and the spin-off “Energy for Future Presidents” (I’ve read them both, they are really good layman’s summaries of the important physics that affect our everyday lives and government policy decisions. I recommend everyone read “Energy…”), and is actively working on the Berkeley Earth project he created with his daughter, Elizabeth.

Muller’s work on climate change is interesting, because he originally started as a skeptic of climate change, but after reviewing the data personally, from the ground-up, he found that the globe is absolutely warming, climates are changing, and humans are almost certainly the cause. I can’t think of a stronger expert opinion than someone who approaches a topic with perhaps the opposite bias to what they find.

Muller’s student Heidi Newberg is a professor at the Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute and was my PhD advisor. She was a student on the Supernova Cosmology project, working directly under Saul Perlmutter, and (along with Richard Muller and the rest of the team) was a recipient of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for contributions to this project. Newberg was a part of the ground-breaking Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), and created the <a href=”http://”>MilkyWay@home BOINC project.

The shear number of quality papers and projects that Newberg has contributed to is insane, on-par with some of the most productive scientists in history. We’ve joked that there should be a “Heidi Number” analogous to the “Erdős number” in mathematics.

Then there’s little old me. I’m pretty average for a scientist of my age. There’s a previous post about my background, but I suppose I can drop some fast facts:

-h-index: 6
-Total citations of my work: 146
-Erdős number: 2
-Heidi Number: 0
-PhD Thesis Committee: Heidi Newberg, Wayne Roberge, Jim Napolitano, Carlos Verela

-Nobel Prize Winners Met (and how):
William Phillips (Chat)
William Moerner (Chemistry; Lecture)
Ranier Weiss (One-on-one meeting)
Steven Chu (Commencement speaker)
Saul Perlmutter (Lunch)
John Mather (Lunch)
Konstantin Novoselov (Lunch)
Ivar Giaever (Meetings)
Wolfgang Ketterle (Lecture)
Eric Cornell (Lecture)

-Other Really Cool People Met:
Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Vera Rubin
Michael Turner

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