Keynote Speaker

Andrea Liu is a theoretical soft and living matter physicist who received her A. B. and Ph.D. degrees in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University, respectively.  She was a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA for ten years before joining the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004. Liu is currently Speaker-Elect of the Council of the American Physical Society (APS) and Chair-Elect of the Physics Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is a fellow of the APS, dAAAS and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Plenary Speakers

Marcela Carena is a distinguished scientist and the head of the Theoretical Physics Department at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. She received her Diploma in Physics from the Instituto Balseiro of Bariloche, Argentina, and her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Hamburg. She was a John Stuart Bell Fellow at CERN, was awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship, and she was a CERN staff member in 1999-2000. She has been a Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago since 2008, where she is both a member of the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. Her research explores the possible connections between Higgs physics, supersymmetry, unification, and dark matter. She has developed promising ideas to explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry observed in the universe, which are under scrutiny at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. Carena has worked closely with experimental physicists, creating and implementing strategies for testing the latest ideas for the mechanism of electroweak symmetry breaking. She was a pioneer in exploring the complementary interplay between direct searches for dark matter in deep underground experiments and searches for Higgs bosons at the LHC. Carena has been a fellow of the American Physical Society since 2002. In 2010 she won a Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, and in 2013 she was a Simons Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. She is at present actively involved in developing agreements with European and Latin American countries to facilitate the collaboration between Fermilab and international institutions in projects of common interest, in particular, the exciting international Long Baseline Neutrino Facility/Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE).

Dr. Deborah J. Jackson is a hands-on professional with more than 20 years of broad based experience in research and development, project management, strategic planning, and product delivery. Currently at NSF, she leads the Microelectronics, Sensors, and Information Technologies Cluster within the Engineering Research Center’s (ERC) Program office. In that capacity, she manages the ERC Industrial Liaison Officer’s working group, whose purpose is to strategically develop the centers for optimal innovation and to speed the commercialization or utilization of the ERC’s research findings and technology. It was this mission of translating discovery into innovative real-world applications that attracted her to the ERC program office. Before arriving at NSF, Dr. Jackson held research appointments at the IBM Watson Research Laboratory, the Hughes Research Laboratory, the RAND Corporation and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Deborah J. Jackson received a bachelor’s degree in Physics from MIT in 1974, followed by a PhD in Physics from Stanford University in 1980.  Though her initial graduate training was in nonlinear optics, her research and development career spanned the full range of the electromagnetic phenomena from materials studies using hard x-ray wavelengths, to quantum
computing at visible wavelengths, to the fielding of radio frequency instrumentation on deep space missions such as Cassini and Mars Observer.

Stephanie Palmer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. She has a PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and works on questions at the interface of neuroscience and statistical physics. Her recent work explores the question of how the visual system processes incoming information, to make fast and accurate predictions about the future positions of moving objects in the environment. She was named an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and holds a CAREER award from the NSF.

Since her undergraduate years at Michigan State University, Stephanie has been teaching chemistry, physics, math, and biology to a wide range of students. At the University of Chicago, she founded and runs the Brains! Program, which brings local middle school kids from the South Side of Chicago to her lab to learn hands-on neuroscience. Stephanie also leads an intensive week-long course in quantitative methods in biology for all incoming biology graduate students at the University of Chicago.

Sarah Sheldon is a research scientist at IBM in the quantum computing research group. She joined IBM in 2013 after completing her PhD at MIT during which she spent time as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.  Her PhD focused on optimal control of open quantum systems using electron and nuclear magnetic resonance. She now leads the Quantum Performance and Metrics team at IBM, which focuses on designing new methods of characterizing quantum systems, as well as lowering error rates on quantum gates, and verifying and validating multi-qubit experiments on superconducting qubit devices for noisy intermediate scaling quantum computers.

Plenary Career Panel

Jennifer Chen received her PhD in physics under the supervision of Sean Carroll at the University of Chicago. There she probed physics on the smallest scales by looking out to the furthest reaches of the universe. Jennifer now works at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions (an academic think thank) at Duke University. She focuses on electricity and infrastructure policy design to account for newer resources and technologies, such as emissions-free resources, electricity storage, advanced transmission technologies, and demand-side resources. Jennifer has testified on infrastructure and grid modernization issues before the U.S. Congress and on electricity markets issues before the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Prior to joining the Nicholas Institute, Jennifer was an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she led a coalition of environmental organizations and collaborated with other stakeholders to guide the evolution toward a low-emissions, efficient, and flexible electricity grid. Jennifer started her energy policy career as an attorney-advisor at FERC. Jennifer also has a J.D. from New York University School of Law. She is a member of the California Bar and the District of Columbia Bar and is admitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She serves as Vice President on the board of the Americans for a Clean Energy Grid.

Margaret Gardel is a Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago. Her lab’s focus is to understand how protein assemblies within eukaryotic cells that control their adhesion, shape and migration. In addition, her labs uses these building blocks to construct novel forms of active matter. She joined the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago in 2007 after earning her Ph.D. from Harvard University and completing postdoctoral research as a Pappalardo Fellow at MIT and at Scripps Research Institute. Her awards include a Packard Fellowship, Sloan Fellowship and the NIH Pioneer Award. In 2013 she was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

J’Tia Hart holds a degree in industrial engineering from the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering in Tallahassee, Florida and advanced degrees in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She has published academic articles and book chapters on unconventional reactors, nuclear economics, the nuclear fuel cycle, and international energy development. Before her time at the Department, Dr. Hart was an Argonne National Laboratory employee working in the area of nuclear technology, energy development and nonproliferation cooperation in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and North Africa and also worked at the Idaho National Laboratory in the area of nuclear fuel cycle systems analysis.

J’Tia enjoys using her leadership skills and sharing her experiences in outreach to the next generation. From 2007-2010 she served as co-chair of the Argonne/ACT-SO High School Research Program, an in-depth research, mentoring and enrichment program highlighting the talents of African-American high school students.

Dr. Hart has been nationally recognized for her outstanding leadership as a White House Fellowship finalist. She is also a sought after outreach partner most recently participating in panels for the Department of State, Department of Energy and Microsoft. Her efforts have led to her designation as a DOE Minority in Engineering (MIE) Champion Partner, an Intelligence Community Barrier Breaker and an Energy Slam Champion.

Kate Kirby earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics from Harvard/Radcliffe College and her PhD from the University of Chicago. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard College Observatory she was appointed as Research Physicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Lecturer in the Harvard University Department of Astronomy. From 1988 to 2001, she served as an Associate Director at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, heading the Atomic and Molecular Physics Division. From 2001-2007, she served as Director of the Institute for Theoretical Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (ITAMP) at Harvard-Smithsonian. From 2009-2014, she served as Executive Officer of the American Physical Society. In 2015, she was appointed the first Chief Executive Officer of the American Physical Society.  Dr. Kirby’s research interests lie in theoretical atomic and molecular physics, particularly the calculation of atomic and molecular processes important in astrophysics and atmospheric physics. She is a fellow of both APS and AAAS.


Dr. Johanna Miller is a senior editor at Physics Today, the flagship publication of the American Institute of Physics.  For nearly a decade, she’s overseen one of the magazine’s most popular departments, Search & Discovery, which covers noteworthy new developments in the physical sciences in a way that’s clear and accessible but doesn’t sacrifice accuracy. Over the years, she’s reported on the discovery of the Higgs boson, the first rigorous tests of Bell’s inequality, unconventional superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene, and several Nobel prizes. Prior to joining the staff at AIP, she earned a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK.

Lisa Nash finished her PhD at UChicago in July 2017 under the advisement of William Irvine. Currently, Lisa works as a data scientist and designer for IDEO Chicago. IDEO is a global design company that seeks to create positive impact through design. IDEO products range from Apple’s first manufacturable mouse in the early 1980s to current work on the future of mobility with Ford. At IDEO, Lisa works on interdisciplinary teams of designers, engineers, and data scientists to envision and prototype ways that data science and AI can be used in products and services that improve the lives of users. In her free time, Lisa rocks climbs and makes art in the ceramics studio.