Moritz Münchmeyer, Assistant Professor of Physics
Master: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 2009. PhD: Sorbonne University 2012
Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Postdoctoral Affiliate at Vector Institute
How did you get into your field of research?
I was attracted to Cosmology because it combines many areas of physics. Particle physics, General relativity, and even Quantum Gravity are important for how our universe developed. Recently I am in particular combining new ideas from machine learning with statistical methods from cosmology to develop more precise probes of the physics of the universe.
What attracted you to UW-Madison?
UW-Madison is of course a leading research university with a beautiful campus and excellent students. In physics specifically, the department has some very strong areas such as astroparticle physics and quantum computing. In cosmology, there is already a great community that I will help to build up even further over the next years. There are also lots of opportunities for me to collaborate with other departments, such as Astronomy, Statistics and Computer Science.
What was your first visit to campus like?
While I knew colleagues from UW-Madison before, the first time I visited in person was for my faculty interviews in January. These interviews are quite stressful and there was little time to explore the city, but I noticed right away that Madison could be a great place for my kids to grow up. By the time I got the offer, Covid-19 had made travelling impossible. So, until we can move, we are exploring Madison online.
What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
One of the reasons to do physics is simply the joy of understanding a phenomenon well. We often start out confused, with lots of misunderstandings that we need to clear up and work through. But then at some point things start to make sense and fit together, and we can use the new knowledge actively. I hope to help my students with developing this general skill.
Is there a way your field of study can help the world endure and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the health, finances and lifestyle of so many?
Cosmology has nothing to contribute directly against the pandemic. But the rapid development of a vaccine shows the unique importance of science in general to improve our lives. In the other direction, Covid-19 has taught my field how we can collaborate efficiently online, without flying all the time to conferences and seminars. That being said, I cannot wait for the pandemic to be over.
Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
Astrophysics seeks to answer questions that are interesting and inspiring to all of us, such as what the Universe is made of and how common life is in it. In a more practical direction, different scientific fields are growing closer together by their use of common methods of statistics and artificial intelligence, and in that way, ideas developed for example in cosmology can be useful in other domains that are closer to everyday life. I hope that this will happen to my research someday.
What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter during video chats (and eventually parties)?
The laws of nature are the same everywhere in the universe. There is a lot of evidence for this statement, despite the fact that we cannot travel outside the solar system. For example, we can calculate the frequencies of light emitted by physical processes using theories developed for physics on Earth and see these very frequencies when we look at far away stars with telescopes. It is striking that physical processes on “the other side of the universe” work exactly as they do here on Earth.
I am entrepreneurial and co-founded a company for image analysis with machine learning, called Wolution (www.wolution.com). To get my mind off work I like to play piano. My current favorite sport is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and I’ll be looking for a club in Madison when COVID is over.