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Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics

Last Updated on March 16, 2021 by Omoyeni Adeniyi

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Institute of Theoretical Physics Kavli

The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) is a research institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara. KITP is one of the most renowned institutes for theoretical physics in the world, and brings theorists in physics and related fields together to work on topics at the forefront of theoretical science. The National Science Foundation has been the principal supporter of the Institute since it was founded as the Institute for Theoretical Physics in 1979. In a 2007 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, KITP was given the highest impact index in a comparison of nonbiomedical research organizations across the U.S.

The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) is a research institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara. KITP is one of the most renowned institutes for theoretical physics in the world, and brings theorists in physics and related fields together to work on topics at the forefront of theoretical science. 

The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) is the first and foremost scientific research facility where theorists in physics and allied fields congregate, for sustained periods of time, to work together intensely on a broad range of questions arising from investigations at the leading edges of science.

Those questions are addressed in an array of concurrently running programs, ranging in length from a few weeks to several months. The programs, which attract select groups of participants from institutions worldwide, are designed to enhance interaction and collaboration among participants in order to stimulate the vibrant, creative thinking that leads to insight and significant scientific progress.

Most programs include a 4-day conference, particularly attractive to experimentalists preferring short trips away from their laboratories.

The number of participants in KITP programs and conferences averages 1,000 a year. That simple body count does not convey how well the KITP does in attracting scientists to engage in the sustained interactions that foster productive collaborations. A better metric for that assessment is the total number of days invested by visiting scientists, which currently averages 23,500 visitor days per year. (That number is equivalent to 230 visits of 100 days each or 2,300 visits of 10 days each.) The average length of visit to a KITP program is 36 days.

A 2007 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ranked KITP number one in its assessment of the impact of research conducted at a wide variety of different facilities, including national laboratories, research institutes, and major universities considered both as a whole, but also in terms of their individual best departments. In other words, research conducted in conjunction with KITP programming has had a greater effect on other researchers than research conducted anywhere else. (The study focused on science research facilities, including mathematics and the engineering fields, but excluding biomedical science.)

The Kavli institutions

Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara brings together diverse groups of physicists and other scientists for timely, intellectually provocative inquiries. Its research encompasses the disciplines of particle and nuclear physics, astrophysics and cosmology, condensed-matter physics and atomic and molecular physics, as well as emerging and interdisciplinary fields such as biophysics, neurophysics and mathematical physics. 

Kavli Institute for Theoretical Sciences at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing aims to become an international center of excellence in theoretical physics and related fields. It is jointly supported by The Kavli Foundation, UCAS and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. KITS was established in October 2016 and builds on the legacy of the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics, China , which was endowed by The Kavli Foundation in 2006.

Criteria that affect program selection

Proposals for programs must be based on a clear statement of the scientific problem, as well as a clear statement of why a program should run at a given time in the near future—i.e., launch of a new telescope requiring theoretical advances for the instrument’s best utilization or response of the theoretical community to an experimental discovery or a breakthrough in string theory needing further elaboration.

Selection of programming proposals depends on whether the science they entail is not only timely, but also exciting.  In addition, program organizers must be recognized leaders in their fields.  Good organizers attract good participants.

Organizers are asked to provide data describing the potential universe of program users.  That task entails organizers contacting up to 100 possible participants to determine whether sufficient interest exists to guarantee good participation throughout the proposed program duration.

One important aspect of the KITP modus operandi is the extensive preparation made by program organizers to ensure sustained quality among participants.  Programs are then announced one year to two years before they are to occur.  Would-be participants make application.  The usual selection rate is between 50 and 70 percent of applicants, with the more selective programs admitting one in three applicants.

Institute of Theoretical Physics Application Process

Scientists can become involved in many different ways, and links to further information are provided above and in the left column.  One may apply to attend one of the future programs or register for a future conference.  Because of limitations of space and funds, participation in our programs is by invitation only, whereas our conferences are usually open to anyone interested, so long as we have room.  Those who are invited to participate in our program may request financial assistance to help defray the cost of their participation.  Those coming for extended visits who wish to bring family members can request supplementary financial assistance.

KITP sponsors special fellowships designed to provide opportunities to graduate students, recent PhD’s, and faculty at primarily undergraduate institutions.

KITP is a user-facility for scientists interested in any aspect of theoretical physics, broadly defined.  We are open to ideas for new ways that our institute could stimulate research progress in forefront areas.  Please contact the director with your suggestions.

How KITP programming model differ from the traditional academic conference

The “norm” for scientific conferences (a widespread activity in the academic world) is to hold a series of talks illustrated via presentation software.  These talks are generally “set” pieces, given with incremental modifications at several conferences and guest seminar appearances. These set pieces are designed to take up 55 minutes of the hour customary allotted to speakers with five minutes at the end reserved for audience participation in the form of questions or comments that can only invoke short responses.

This traditional conference-talk model functions more as an advertisement for the speaker’s research, than as a collaborative exploration of ideas.  Traditional academic conferences may well be productive, however the give-and-take conversations about ideas happen not so much in the lecture hall, but outside in the hallways.

KITP’s model is designed to break that mold by inducing speakers and audience members to interact more frequently and more authentically. The idea is to adapt the dynamic hallway-mode (typically involving two or three conversers) to the otherwise static lecture hall format.  It takes, of course, much more time to work together to explore ideas than to give or listen to traditional conference talks. KITP programs can afford to extend these dialogues, as they are measured in weeks and months, instead of days.

Formerly, conferences with their fixed lecture format served as the mode for the pre-publication dissemination of ideas and results.  Now, scientists post their papers on the Internet.

It also used to be (and still is, in many cases) that scientists would go to a conference, give talks, write up the presentations, and submit them to organizers responsible for producing a volume of conference proceedings appearing a year later when interest in the contents had likely declined.

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