As Krishna Kumar finishes his first academic year as the second Gluckstern Professorship in Physics, he reflects that he is glad to be back “to a vibrant physics department” that lured him back to campus with new lab spaces in the Physical Sciences Building and the professorship, which gives him “the flexibility in research direction that allows me to chase after new initiatives that are not part of current research grants.”
Kumar says, “I am honored to rejoin the department, excited to reconnect with old colleagues and meet new ones, and to expand the experimental subatomic physics research portfolio at UMass.”
The Robert L. Gluckstern Professorship was established in 2001 in honor of the former department head credited with building the modern physics program at UMass Amherst in the mid-1960s. Robert Gluckstern also served as provost at UMass Amherst from 1970-75 before being named chancellor of the University of Maryland. He died in 2008.
The professorship is intended for an “individual with a high-quality scientific program who has played, or will play a key role in providing leadership of the physics department” at UMass Amherst. Appointment to the professorship is for seven years and is non-renewable. Before Kumar, the post was held by V. Adrian Parsegian, a career biophysics researcher at the National Institutes of Health before coming to campus.
Kumar is not new to the campus; he came here in 1999 but in 2014, he recalls, “the program in experimental nuclear physics at Stony Brook University stole me away. They made me a very nice offer, so I went there until 2018. But then this new building was built and the Gluckstern Professorship with its endowment that gives you an annual fund with flexibility toward research was offered to me.”
In addition to introducing new research initiatives, he says, “Having the Gluckstern Professorship also helps to recruit postdocs and in competing for graduate students with our peer institutions.”
Kumar describes his research area as experimental nuclear physics, with strong connections to particle physics. “We are trying to understand the inner workings deep inside the atom, how matter is put together, what are the most fundamental constituents of matter as you get to smaller and smaller scales, and whether we understand how the forces work at those scales.”
“That leads you immediately to understanding the early Universe in the instants after the Big Bang. We try to understand how the universe evolved from that very tiny size through various epochs to the formation of galaxies, our solar system and so on. Physics, astrophysics and astronomy all work together to try to put the picture together.”
At present, Kumar’s research group is taking a lead role in a new collaborative experimental installation that uses existing instrumentation at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia. “The goal is to determine whether neutrons in a heavy nucleus bulge out beyond the protons, which has implications for the size and composition of neutron stars.” The UMass scientists are also leading the design of a new apparatus to be constructed for a dedicated experiment that will take an estimated 6 years to complete, he adds.
It will use electron beams to bombard hydrogen atoms “specifically to understand and measure the weak force between two electrons,” he explains. “This will make a really precise measurement of that, which will have implications for our understanding of the early universe.”
Krishna Kumar Serving as New Gluckstern Professor in Physics