Professor of Physics Stephen Naculich was awarded a Simons Foundation Fellowship in Theoretical Physics in March. Naculich is one of 14 professors awarded the fellowship this year, and he is the first physicist from a small college to receive the award. The fellowship supports research in mathematics and theoretical physics, and is designed to fund the second half of a sabbatical.  

“Bowdoin, like many colleges, allows professors to take sabbaticals every six or seven years to focus full time on their research,” said Naculich. “Usually you’re eligible for a year, but you’re only funded for half of it. There’s always the question of how to supplement that.”

Naculich will spend the year of his sabbatical working on research at the University of Michigan. He was approached over the summer with an offer to spend the year there, and the Simons fellowship will allow him to do so. 

The proposal Naculich presented in his application for the fellowship was entitled Amplitudes for Gauge Theory, Gravity and String Theory. Amplitudes are a property of waves on a subatomic level, and Naculich will spend the year trying to find new and easier ways of calculating them. 

“People have known how to calculate these amplitudes for a long time...but they’re very complicated in general,” he said. “One of the things we’re trying to do is understand some of the symmetries of these theories better to be able to calculate the amplitudes either in a more efficient way or even to calculate amplitudes that have never been calculated before.”

As a theoretical particle physicist, Naculich creates models to predict behaviors of subatomic particles. He’s the only theoretical elementary particle physicist at the College and probably, he says, in the state of Maine. The University of Michigan, on the other hand, has a leading center for particle theory. 

“I’m excited for the potential of face-to-face collaboration with others in the field,” said Naculich. “I do interact with people through email, phone, going to conferences and stuff...this is an opportunity to have a collaborator down the hall instead of at the other end of the phone line.”

Naculich said that the fellowship gives him the opportunity to drop everything here at Bowdoin and take advantage of the resources available for particle physics at the University of Michigan.  

“I’ll learn a lot—I’ll get a lot of done,” he said. “It’ll be a great experience.”