Our Mission

Photo of Sylvester James GatesIt is undeniable that Harrison E. Farnsworth can be described as the first prominent faculty of physics from Brown University. In 1922 he presented a discovery, in his first published paper, that some electrons undergo reflection and move thereafter without a loss of energy. This is impossible according to the laws of physics described by Newton. The result was disputed…at first…by others, but eventually it led to a Nobel Prize in physics. He was not the recipient though he worked for decades later in the area he created, by then called “low energy electron diffraction” or LEED. Thereby he set in place a marker of experimental physics excellence at Brown. Currently, there are two comparable Brown faculty members in theoretical physics. The achievements of Leon Cooper and Michael Kosterlitz are markers of theoretical physics excellence relative to the work of Farnsworth.

Today’s physics advances often require both experimental and theoretical physics. To assist in the latter regard, the Brown Theoretical Physics Center (BTPC) was opened in Barus Hall in the fall of 2019. However, it must serve the physics department in a more expansive roll. According to the document approved by the Academic Priorities Committee that authorized the BTPC, its goals include:

(1.) Raise the profile of Brown’s Physics Department by establishing a theory center as is common in many of top physics departments in the country. Such centers produce cutting-edge research and help attract the strongest faculty and students to the host departments.

(2.) Increase collaborative research among theorists in the Department and between these theorists and other physical scientists which enable potential research breakthroughs and provide the nucleus for obtaining large center grants.

(3.) Attract the best graduate students who will be drawn to the cutting edge research programs of the center.

(4.) Provide unique training to graduate students, undergraduates and postdoctoral associates that crosses traditional boundaries within physics or across physical science disciplines.

Thus, the BTPC must support the three already existing strong pillars of achievement currently present in the theoretical portion of the department. The Physics Department is distinguished in the areas of Astrophysics Cosmological Theory (ACT), Condensed Matter Theory (CMT) and High Energy Theory (HET). However, the BTPC must also serve as the “connective tissue” enhancing accomplishment and achievement across the layers between the pillars.

The mission also implies there is a need for physicists on campus to partner in bi-directional collaborations that leverage strength across disciplinary boundaries. This may lead to solutions of problems that lie within physics or outside of it. Of necessity, mathematics will provide major a modality of exploration for BTPC exploration. However, this is also true for modern developments in information technology as the exponentially increasing powers of computers will continue to provide an unprecedented capacity to calculate behaviors in complex systems. BTPC must play a stewardship role to harness all such power.

The BTPC strives to engender a third cycle of widely recognized accomplishment, achievement and excellence by the Physics Department at Brown University, following in the established traditions of Farnsworth, and Cooper and Kosterlitz.

Sylvester J. Gates, Jr.
Founding Director of the Brown Theoretical Physics Center

The history of Physics at Brown University