A 60th birthday puts physics at forefront

What do Donald Trump, Dolly Parton, Jimmy Buffet and Cliff Will have in common? They all turn 60 this year.

But only Clifford M. Will, Ph.D., the James S. McDonnell Professor of Physics in Arts & Sciences, can boast of a symposium and a CliffFest Dinner being held in his honor. In addition, the Midwest Relativity Meeting is being held in conjunction with his 60th birthday celebration.

Clifford Will
Clifford Will

WUSTL’s Gravity Group in the Department of Physics is hosting the 16th Midwest Relativity Meeting (MWRM-16) Nov. 17-18 as well as the CliffFest Dinner Nov. 18 and the Cliff Will Birthday Symposium on Gravitational Theory and Experiment Nov. 19. Physics groups worldwide traditionally honor significant colleagues on their 60th birthdays. Together, the events are expected to bring to campus more than 200 physicists from around the country and the world.

“What makes these regional meetings unique is that they are very informal and are geared toward talks by young researchers — graduate students and post-docs,” said Will, one of the world’s leading experts in experimental tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

“This gives them important experience and allows them to meet and talk to other researchers in the field. By having them regional, we make it possible for people to attend who might have been unable to afford the travel costs to a big national or international meeting.”

The MWRM, which WUSTL is hosting for the second time, and the symposium will be held from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. all three days. On Nov. 17, the MWRM will be in McMillan Café. The Nov. 18 MWRM and the Nov. 19 symposium will be in Crow Hall, Room 201. The American Physical Society Topical Group on Gravitation will award a $200 prize for the best talk given by a graduate student at the MWRM-16.

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton will make welcoming remarks at 9 a.m. at the Sunday symposium.

The symposium will feature invited talks by five premier physicists in the field, including Nobel Prize winner Joseph H. Taylor Jr., Ph.D., the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Physics at Princeton University. Taylor won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1993. Because of Will’s work related to the discovery for which Taylor and Russell A. Hulse received the award, Will was invited to attend the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm that year.

In addition to Taylor, the symposium speakers are Luc Blanchet, Ph.D., directeur de recherche, Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris; Francis Everitt, Ph.D., professor of physics and head of Gravity Probe-B at Stanford University; Bernard Schutz, Ph.D., director of the Albert Einstein Institute in Potsdam-Golm, Germany; and Kip S. Thorne, Ph.D., the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology.

“For 30 years, Cliff Will has been the leading scientist, worldwide, in probing whether Einstein’s general relativity theory is correct,” said Thorne, who was Will’s thesis adviser when he was a doctoral student at Caltech.

“He has provided the theoretical framework within which tests of relativity are carried out, he has invented tests that disproved competing theories, he has shown us how to use gravitational-wave observations to test relativity — and he has predicted in great detail the shapes of the gravitational waves that we should see from black holes and neutron stars orbiting each other. Those predictions are crucial for the searches for gravitational waves now being carried out by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. I am tremendously proud to have been Cliff’s Ph.D. adviser.”

Will, who was born Nov. 13, 1946, in Hamilton, Ontario, said: “While I’m slightly embarrassed by the idea of people getting together to talk about me in public, I’m really thrilled and honored that these five friends and colleagues have agreed to come to St. Louis to speak at the symposium. But really, it’s not about me, it’s about the science. I’m hoping that the attendees at the MWRM and the Sunday symposium will come away as excited about gravitational physics as I have been for almost 40 years.”

Will joined the University’s physics faculty in 1981 and served two terms as department chair (1991-96; 1997-2002).

Also a member of the University’s McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences in Arts & Sciences, Will examines the observational and astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, including gravitational radiation, black holes, cosmology, the physics of curved space time and the interpretation of experimental tests of general relativity.

Wai Mo Suen, Ph.D., professor of physics, is co-coordinating the scientific events. There is a $10 registration fee for MWRM-16, but the Nov. 19 symposium is free. Registration for both is required. The CliffFest dinner is by invitation only. For information, call 935-6276 or visit mwrm.wustl.edu.