Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Physicist to lead Williams College

I learned yesterday that a contemporary of mine, theoretical physicist Adam Falk, is the new President of Williams College.

Congratulations Adam! I think the future is bright at Williams :-)

See here for more, including some video interviews. Discussion by Williams alumni at Ephblog.

5 comments:

Liam said...

Adam seems a bit young to give up research for full-time administrivia. But I guess the pay is better.

DB said...

Adam Falk became Vice Dean of Faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2002, and went on to become Dean of Faculty, then Dean of Arts and Sciences.

He had 46 published papers between 1990 and 2002, and 4 since then.

DB said...

I wrote the following description of Adam Falk's work for EphBlog. Maybe Steve can expound more on his later work?

As a Harvard graduate student in theoretical physics, Adam Falk (with his advisor Howard Georgi) pioneered the field of Heavy Quark Effective Field Theory.

QCD, the theory of quark binding and strong nuclear interactions, is very complicated and messy for light quarks (like the ones inside protons and neutrons), but gets simpler for heavier quarks
like top, bottom, and charm. These heavy quarks were being produced and studied copiously in the 1980's and 90's, for example at the "B-factory" at SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator) where Falk worked from 1991 to 1993. The B-meson being studied there was sometimes described as a "bowling ball" (the heavy bottom quark) living in "light brown muck" (everything else), and its decay could be characterized as a conversion of the bowling ball from one type to another (bottom to charm).

Falk and his collaborators formalized the infinite-mass limit and quantified the corrections to it for quarks that are heavy but not infinitely so. "Heavy Meson Form-Factors from QCD" by Falk, Georgi, Grinstein, and Wise, published in Nuclear Physics B (1990), has been cited by over 500 other published papers.

I wrote a few Heavy Quark papers in the 90's. It was a great and unusual opportunity for a postdoc to just "turn the crank" on this new effective theory and make solid and meaningful predictions for real experiments. Falk and his collaborators invented that crank.

Falk did postdoctoral research at SLAC and UCSD, then joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 1994. He has continued to do groundbreaking work in theoretical physics, while also serving as the Dean of Faculty and Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Steve Hsu said...

DB, that is a nice summary of Adam's research. I heard about 5 years ago that he had lost motivation for research but was passionate about taking a leadership role in higher education.

I think it's great to have someone as talented as Adam leading an important institution like Williams.

David Kane said...

Can you or any of your physicist readers give us a sense of how the quality of Falk's work compares to that of his peers? For example, he received tenure at Hopkins. Was that a sure thing, given his research, or a close case? Do you think that other more elite universities thought about trying to hire them away? Would his publications have given him a shot at tenure at a top 5 school, and so on?

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