Activities in 2013-2014

From the Report for Academic Year 2013-2014
of the Institute for Advanced Study

As head of the Program in Interdisciplinary Studies at the Institute, Professor Piet Hut interacted with a range of Visitors in his program, covering areas from astrophysics, physics, mathematics, statistics, chemistry, genomics, bioinformatics, computer science, and artificial life to sociology, political science, literature, art history, philosophy, and photography.

During the year, Hut continued to lead a series, After Hours Conversations, together with colleagues Patrick Geary from the School of Historical Studies, Didier Fassin from the School of Social Science, and Helmut Hofer from the School of Mathematics. These conversations were held at IAS twice weekly for two months during each semester, and they were widely seen as an effective way to encourage inter-School communication at the Institute. In addition, Hut ran a series of weekly informal lunch conversations, IPA@IAS, short for Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Abiogenesis, on various topics related to astrobiology in general, and the origin of life in particular.

In other areas of astrophysics, Hut continued his research with Ataru Tanikawa, Douglas Heggie, and Jun Makino on the formation of double stars in dense stellar systems. They published a detailed analysis showing how such binary stars are typically formed through complex simultaneous multi-body interactions, in contrast to the conventional wisdom that three-body interactions dominate their formation process. Hut was also a member of the Advisory Committee for "GRAVASCO:N-Body Gravitational Dynamical Systems from N=2 to Infinity," a trimester of seminars and lectures for master’s students and researchers, as well as specialized workshops at the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris, from September to December 2013.

The Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI), an interdisciplinary initiative launched at the end of 2012 at the Tokyo Institute for Technology, focuses on the study of the origins and evolution of life on Earth, and possibly on other planets as well, within the context of geology and astrophysics. Hut continued his association with ELSI as a foreign Principle Investigator and Councilor and as the co-organizer of the workshop "Why Life?" in January 2014. In March, Hut organized two shorter workshops at IAS, "Modeling Origins of Life" and "Category Theory for Scientists." During the summer, he was the co-organizer of a five-week workshop on "Modeling Origins of Life," held for two weeks at ELSI in Tokyo and for three weeks in Kobe, sponsored by its K computer, one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.

Hut continued his involvement with the B612 Foundation, dedicated to trying to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts. As a cofounder, he served for more than ten years as a member of the Board, while in 2014 he took up the position of Strategic Advisor.

For more information, and colorful pictures and quotes, see the p. 28 (of the 2-column version; p. 52 on the actual page) of the Annual Report of the Institute for Advanced Study.