World Science Scholars

Faculty

Lee Berger

Paleoanthropologist | 2016 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year

Lee R. Berger is an award-winning researcher, author, paleoanthropologist, and speaker. For more than two decades, his explorations into human origins in Africa, Asia, and Micronesia have resulted in many new discoveries—including the most complete early hominin fossils that belong to a new species of early human ancestor (Australopithecus sediba)—while revolutionizing applied exploration methods and technologies. Berger is a fellow of both the Royal Society of South Africa (FRSSAf) and the Explorers Club, and is a member of the Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf). He is currently a National Geographic Explorer-at-Large and was named the Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year in 2016. Berger received a B.A. in anthropology from Georgia Southern University, his Ph.D. in paleoanthropology from the University of the Witwatersrand, and became a postdoctoral research fellow in the university’s department of anatomy and human biology.

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Gabriela González

Physicist | Former Spokesperson, LIGO Scientific Collaboration

Gabriela González is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University, which is only 30 miles away from one of two gravitational wave detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project, where she served as the spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration from 2011 to 2017. González has published several papers on Brownian motion as a limit to the sensitivity of gravitational-wave detectors, and with her strong background in data analysis for gravitational-wave astronomy, she searches for the waves produced by binary systems of compact stars in the last orbits of their cosmic dance, before they coalesce into single black holes. González was elected to membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2017 and was named 2019 SEC Professor of the Year. She earned her Ph.D. from Syracuse University.

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Brian Greene

Physicist, Author | Co-founder, World Science Festival

Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, where he also serves as the director of Columbia’s Center for Theoretical Physics. Greene is recognized for a number of groundbreaking discoveries in his field of superstring theory, including the co-discovery of mirror symmetry and the discovery of spatial topology change. His books—The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, and The Hidden Reality—have collectively spent over 67 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and were the basis of two award-winning NOVA mini-series, which he hosted. In 2008, Greene co-founded the World Science Festival, where he serves as Chairman of the Board. His latest book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe, was released in 2020.

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Justin Khoury

Physicist | Professor of Physics, University of Pennsylvania

Justin Khoury is a professor of physics and the undergraduate chair of physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. He obtained his B.Sc. from McGill University and his Ph.D. from Princeton University, under Paul Steinhardt. Following postdoctoral fellowships at Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Khoury became a faculty member of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, before moving to the University of Pennsylvania. His awards and honors include a W. M. Keck Foundation Science and Engineering Grant (2017-2019), a New Initiative Research Grant from the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation (2015-2017), a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2012-17), and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship (2010-12). His research lies at the interface of particle physics and cosmology, where he investigates new models and screening mechanisms related to dark matter and baryonic matter. Another central theme of his research is the development of innovative cosmological theories of the very early universe, including the Ekpyrotic Universe.

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Christof Koch

Neuroscientist | Chief Scientist and President, Allen Institute for Brain Science

Born in the American Midwest, Christof Koch grew up in Holland, Germany, Canada, and Morocco. He studied physics and philosophy and was awarded his Ph.D. in biophysics. In 1987, Koch joined the California Institute of Technology and eventually became Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive & Behavioral Biology. After a quarter of a century, he left academia for the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, where he is now President and Chief Scientific Officer. Christof’s passions are neurons—the atoms of perception, memory, behavior and consciousness—and their diverse shapes, electrical behaviors, and computational function within the mammalian brain, in particular in neocortex. Koch has authored more than 300 scientific papers and five books concerned with the way computers and neurons process information and the neuronal and computational basis of visual perception. Together with his longtime collaborator, Francis Crick, Koch pioneered the scientific study of consciousness. His latest book, The Feeling of Life Itself—Why Consciousness is Everywhere But Can’t be Computed, was published in 2019.

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Samir Mathur

Physicist | Professor, The Ohio State University

Samir Mathur is a physicist with a background in string theory, general relativity, and astrophysics. He is best known for developing the Fuzzball conjecture as a resolution of the black hole information paradox, which asserts that the fundamental description of black holes is given by a quantum bound state of matter which has the same size as the corresponding classical black hole—an assertion that strengthens Stephen Hawking's original version. Mathur obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Bombay, held postdoctoral appointments at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and at Harvard University, and was a junior faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming a professor at the Ohio State University.

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Nergis Mavalvala

Physicist | Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics, MIT

Nergis Mavalvala is a physicist whose research focuses on the detection of gravitational waves and quantum measurement science. She has been working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) since 1991 and was a member of the team that announced LIGO’s first detection of gravitational waves in 2016. She received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at the California Institute of Technology before joining the physics faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2002, where she is currently the Associate Department Head of Physics. Mavalvala is the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur “genius” award and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Alfred Mele

Philosopher | Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University

Alfred Mele is the William H. and Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. He is known for his development of a causal theory of how intentional actions are produced and for his deflationary view of self-deception, which serve to disprove scientists’ claims that free will is an illusion. Mele is the author of 12 books, including Manipulated Agents: A Window to Moral Responsibility; Aspects of Agency: Decisions, Abilities, Explanations, and Free Will; and Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will. Mele also has authored more than 200 articles and served as the editor or co-editor of six books. He previously worked as the director of the Big Questions in Free Will project and the Philosophy and Science of Self-Control project, both of which featured collaborative research by scientists and philosophers.

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Adam Riess

2011 Nobel Laureate | Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University

Adam Riess is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and the Thomas J. Barber Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. He is a distinguished astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. His research involves measurements of the cosmological framework with supernovae (exploding stars) and Cepheids (pulsating stars), and he leads the Supernova H0 for Equation of State (SHOES) Team’s efforts to improve the measurement of the Hubble Constant. In 2011, he was named a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and was awarded the Albert Einstein Medal for his leadership of the High-z Supernova Search Team’s discovery that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, a phenomenon widely attributed to a mysterious, unexplained “dark energy” filling the universe. His accomplishments have been recognized with numerous other awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008, and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

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Carlo Rovelli

Theoretical Physicist | Director, Quantum Gravity Group, Center for Theoretical Physics

Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist in the field of quantum gravity and in the history and philosophy of science. He is a co-founder of the loop approach to quantum gravity and an author of several books including Quantum Gravity, Covariant Loop Quantum Gravity, The First Scientists: Anaximander and His Legacy and Seven Brief Lectures on Physics, and The Order of Time, which was named one of TIME’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books of the Decade after its publication in 2018. After earning his Ph.D. in physics at the Università of Padova, Rovelli held several faculty appointments in the U.S. and Europe before landing at the Aix-Marseille University in France, where he currently serves as the director of the Quantum Gravity Group of the Center for Theoretical Physics. A member of the Institut Universitaire de France and the International Academy of the Philosophy of Science, he is also an honorary professor at the Normal University of Beijing. In 2019, Foreign Policy magazine included Rovelli in its list of the 100 most influential global thinkers.

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Dimitar Sasselov

Astronomer | Phillips Professor of Astronomy and Director, Origins of Life Initiative

Dimitar Sasselov is an astronomer and the founding director of Harvard's Origins of Life Initiative, a new interdisciplinary institute that joins biologists, chemists, and astronomers in searching for the starting points of life on Earth and extrasolar planets. He is also a co-investigator on NASA's Kepler mission, which is monitoring 100,000 stars in a hunt for exoplanets—a process that is described in his 2012 book The Life of Super-Earths: How the Hunt for Alien Worlds and Artificial Cells Will Revolutionize Life on Our Planet. Sasselov has a Ph.D. in physics from Sofia University and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto. Previously he was a senior science advisor for the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a member of the Global Agenda Council on space security at the World Economic Forum.

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Maria Spiropulu

Physicist | Shang-Yi Ch’en Professor of Physics, Caltech

Maria Spiropulu is an experimental particle physicist at the California Institute of Technology. Born and educated in Macedonia/Greece, she moved to the U.S. to pursue her Ph.D. at Harvard. Upon completion, she was a Fermi Fellow at the Enrico Fermi Institute, and she worked at the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) and at CERN as a Physics Researcher. Spiropulu’s research focuses on the search for dark matter and the ways dark matter cuts across particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology. Her research efforts target instigating innovation in data analyses and creative thinking towards answering fundamental questions on the physics of the universe at the largest and smallest length scales while pioneering alternative “new physics” search analyses platforms. While researching elementary particles and their interactions at Fermilab’s Tevatron and CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), Spiropulu used, for the first time, the double blind data analysis method in searches for supersymmetry at the Tevatron.

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Paul Steinhardt

Physicist | Professor of Physics, Princeton University

Paul J. Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science and Director, Princeton Center for Theoretical Science at Princeton University, where he is also on the faculty of both the Department of Physics and the Department of Astrophysical Sciences. His research focuses on the interface between fundamental physics (including particle physics and string theory), general relativity, and astrophysics, with specific interest in the mechanisms for driving inflationary expansion in the early universe, the connection between inflation and elementary particles, and the observational consequences of inflation. Over the last decade, Steinhardt’s research has turned to an alternative known as the "cyclic universe," in which the big bang is not the beginning of space and time, but rather a bounce from a pre-existing phase of contraction into a phase of expansion accompanied by the creation of hot matter and radiation. Steinhardt earned his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard University and is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the recipient of the P.A.M. Dirac Medal from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, the Oliver E. Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society, and the John Scott Award. He also has been a Simons Fellow in Theoretical Physics, a Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard, and a Moore Fellow at Caltech. He is the author of over 200 refereed articles, 100 reviews and popular articles, nine patents, four patents pending, three technical books, numerous popular articles, and two books—Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang with Neil Turok in 2007 and The Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter in 2019. He is one of the co-discoverers of icosahedrite, the first natural quasicrystal, and, in 2011, led a successful geological expedition to Chukotka in Far Eastern Russia to find new information about its origin and retrieve more samples.

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Max Tegmark

Physicist, AI Researcher | Professor of Physics, MIT

Max Tegmark is a physicist, cosmologist, and machine learning researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also the scientific director of the Foundational Questions Institute and a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute, where he investigates the existential risk of artificial intelligence while advocating for beneficial use of technology. He is the author of over 200 publications, as well as The New York Times bestsellers Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. After Tegmark earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, he was an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania before landing at MIT in 2004. He was elected fellow of the American Physical Society in 2012.

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Michael Turner

Theoretical Astrophysicist | Director, Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics

Michael Turner is a theoretical cosmologist and the Bruce V. & Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He was formerly the Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences for the US National Science Foundation. Turner helped establish the interdisciplinary field that combines together cosmology and elementary particle physics to understand the origin and evolution of the Universe. His research focuses on the earliest moments of creation, and he has made contributions to inflationary cosmology, particle dark matter and structure formation, the theory of big bang nucleosynthesis, and the nature of “dark energy,” a term he coined in 1998. His book The Early Universe, co-written with fellow Chicago cosmologist Rocky Kolb, is a standard text on the subject of cosmology. For his groundbreaking work, Turner has received the Dannie Heineman Prize, the Warner Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society (APS), the Klopsted Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Heineman Prize of the AAS and American Institute of Physics; and the Darwin Lecture of the Royal Astronomical Society. Currently, Turner is Chairman of the Board of the Aspen Center for Physics, a Director of the Fermi Research Alliance, and a member of the Governing Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS Council). He is also the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, which he helped establish. Turner received his B.S. in physics from California Institute of Technology and his M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University. He also holds an honorary D.Sc. from Michigan State University and served as president of the American Physical Society in 2013.

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Rai Weiss

2017 Nobel Laureate | Professor of Physics, Emeritus, MIT

Rai Weiss is a Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 and the 2016 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics. Dr. Weiss is known for his pioneering measurements of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation and his seminal leadership in the conception, design, and operation of the laser interferometer gravitational wave detector. He is currently working on the LIGO project, a joint Caltech and MIT effort, to observe gravitational waves and use them to study gravitation and astrophysics. He has received numerous scientific and group achievement awards from NASA, an MIT Excellence in Teaching Award, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Medaille de lADION Observatoire de Nice, the Gruber Cosmology Prize, and the Einstein Prize of the American Physical Society. Dr. Weiss is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, and The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

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