University of California, Santa Barbara
Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics
What laws governed the origin of the universe? Do we live in 11 dimensions? What is consciousness? How do snowflakes take shape? Is matter made up of tiny vibrating strings? Such are the questions asked by scientists at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
KITP seeks fundamental knowledge at the frontiers of science. It brings together diverse groups of physicists and other scientists for timely, intellectually provocative inquiries. Its research encompasses the disciplines of particle and nuclear physics, astrophysics and cosmology, condensed-matter physics and atomic and molecular physics, as well as emerging and interdisciplinary fields such as biophysics, neurophysics and mathematical physics.
Directed by Lars Bildsten, Permanent Member of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and a Professor in the Physics Department at UCSB, KITP hosts 50 to 60 distinguished visiting scientists in residence at any one time (over one thousand annually), as well as 5 permanent members, 12 to 15 postdoctoral fellows, four graduate fellows, several KITP scholars and general members. It groups its research programs into four broad categories:
- Astrophysics – measurement of the universe, discovery of exotic objects such as supernovae and black holes, and testing the laws of physics in extreme conditions of outer space.
- Biophysics – deciphering the human genome, exploring brain functions such as thought and memory, investigating the physics of biological materials.
- Physics of matter – exploring the mysteries of ordinary matter, creating revolutionary superconductors, transistors and other materials, revealing new features of the quantum world.
- String theory – discovering the building blocks of matter, reconciling quantum mechanics with general relativity, developing theories of physical reality with up to 11 dimensions.
In addition to its research, KITP has a vigorous outreach effort. It conducts one-day conferences that bring secondary-school science teachers into close contact with some of the world's leading experts in advanced physics research. Its Journalist in Residence program brings science writers and science editors to Santa Barbara for up to five months to learn from physicists working at the frontiers of science – and to help the physicists communicate their science to the general public. The Institute also sponsors several public lectures each year and fosters collaborations between scientists and artists through its “Art, Image and Science” initiative.
Founded in 1979, KITP became part of the network of Kavli institutes (and took its current name) in 2002. To date, three of the Institute's six directors have won Nobel prizes, and mutiple Nobel Laureates have served as advisors on its national scientific board. Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and author of The Elegant Universe, has this to say about KITP’s global influence: “Theoretical physics would not be where it is today without this vital institute. Many of the most important and remarkable recent advances in theoretical physics can be traced to discoveries made by permanent KITP members or to ideas that emerged during its cutting-edge international programs and conferences."