Last modified: Thursday, March 30, 2006
V. Alan Kostelecky
Department of Physics
College of Arts and Sciences
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1985
B.Sc., Bristol University, 1977
M.A., Yale University, 1979
M.S., Yale University, 1979
Ph.D., Yale University, 1982
Alan Kostelecky was attending an Institute for Nuclear Theory Workshop in Seattle a few years ago when he decided to drop by the research lab at the University of Washington. His friendly visit had long-lasting implications for his colleagues.
"During that most enjoyable visit, he pointed out that an experiment we had been doing for another reason was, in fact, a highly sensitive test for a preferred frame in the universe," says Eric G. Adelberger, professor of physics at the University of Washington. "This completely altered the way we thought about that experiment and motivated us to improve the instrument, which we are still pursuing vigorously. This is typical for Alan."
Alan Kostelecky is the world's leading authority on violations of space-time symmetries — specifically, those underlying Einstein's theory of relativity. In the late 1980s, he discovered an elegant and general mechanism by which violations of Einstein's Theory of Relativity could occur without violating basic principles, leading to observable effects from the unification of gravity with quantum physics. Before this work, it was assumed that experimental studies of the unified theory were beyond reach. Kosteleck's work opened the door to a new line of inquiry that had previously seemed impossible.
The intensity and importance of Kostelecky's research don't take anything away, however, from his attention to students. "He is widely regarded as a leader among the faculty in his department," says Robert Bluhm, professor of physics at Colby College in Maine. "He has been a dedicated mentor to a number of graduate students and postdocs. He is someone who is always willing to listen and give advice when asked. It's no wonder that he is so often sought out by colleagues both near and far for his opinions."
Named an American Physical Society (APS) Fellow in 2004 and an English Institute of Physics Fellow in 2000, Kostelecky was selected by the APS in 2005 to chair both the Heineman Prize (for outstanding work in mathematical physics) and Pipkin Award (for outstanding work in precision measurements) Committees. Kostelecky has published over 160 papers, and his articles have been featured in publications including Science and Scientific American, while his research has been covered by the New York Times, New Scientist, Nature, CNN.com, and the BBC, among others. His awards and fellowships have included IU's Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching in both 1988 and 1992, the Frederic Bachman Lieber Teaching Award in 1997, a FACET Teaching Award in 1996, and a Gravity Research Foundation Award in both 1993 and 2005.
Kostelecky's "Standard-Model Extension," which classifies and describes all possible relativity violations, has become the benchmark for classic tests of relativity. "It is the only theoretical framework in which results of relativity experiments across different disciplines can be related in a physically meaningful way," says Jim Musser, chair of the Physics Department at IU. "As a result, Alan's work has attracted unprecedented attention in a broad variety of subfields."
Nobel Laureate Wolfgang Ketterle says "Everybody who is working on fundamental symmetries refers in his papers to models by Professor Kostelecky."
"Recognition of the importance of this work is now being seen in professional prizes and awards," says Ronald Walsworth, a senior lecturer at Harvard University and senior scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "One example is my own recent receipt of the Francis Pipkin Award, given by the American Physical Society — in recognition for experiments performed to test Professor Kostelecky's seminal theoretical ideas."
Says Musser, "Alan Kostelecky is a splendid physicist and a powerhouse of a scientist. A cliché in the fields of organized athletics and business is that one either leads, follows, or gets in the way. There is no question that Alan Kostelecky is one of the elite group of major leaders in the field."