Activities in 2012-2013

From the Report for Academic Year 2012-2013
of the Institute for Advanced Study

PIET HUT's research in astrophysics addressed the need for more universal and transparent data formats. Every area of science now threatens to be overwhelmed by an increasing flood of data, given ever higher computer speeds and the need for larger data bases keeping up with those speeds. In order to regulate the necessary data flows better, in the case of N-body simulations, Hut, together with colleagues Will Farr and others, proposed a new data format called PSDF, for Particle Stream Data Format. After publishing their format, and making the software freely available, they have started to use it in their own simulations.

In other areas of astrophysics, Hut continued his research with Ataru Tanikawa and Jun Makino, on the formation of double stars in dense stellar systems. With Douglas Heggie joining them, they greatly improved their search and analysis algorithms, providing the first in-depth "microscopic" analysis of the complete history of the formation of the first hard binary in core collapse of a dense star cluster. Among Hut's other astrophysics activities were co-organizing the conference MODEST-12 in Kobe, Japan, on multi-scale multi-physics simulations of dense stellar systems; and joining the Organizing Committee of the International Astronomical Union Commission 7: Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy.

In addition, Hut and George Djorgovski concluded their NSF-funded 5-year running experiment of establishing astrophysical research in 3D on-line virtual worlds. They, with colleagues from astrophysics and computer science, published their final results in a paper titled The Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics: Astrophysics in Virtual Worlds.

As Head of the Program of Interdisciplinary Studies at IAS, Hut interacted with a range of visitors in his Program, covering areas from literature, philosophy, media, sociology and political science to biology, chemistry, bioinformatics, mathematics, computer science, and astrophysics.

Hut joined a major new interdisciplinary initiative in Japan, at the Tokyo Institute for Technology, a ten-year running project for which he was asked to be a foreign Principle Investigator and Councilor. Launched at the end of 2012, ELSI, the Earth-Life Science Institute, is focused on the study of the origins and evolution of life on Earth as well as possibly on other planets, within the context of geology and astrophysics. Hut was invited to give the Opening Speech on The Big Questions at the 1st International Symposium at ELSI, in March 2013. He also was co-organizer of a workshop on the Origins of Life in June 2013. In order to orient himself further in this field, he attended Origins of Life conferences at Princeton University, at CERN in Geneva, at the Japan Geoscience Union in Tokyo, and at a workshop on Engines of Life: Thermodynamic Pathways to Metabolism, at Arizona State University. He also visited UC Davis, to discuss networks and complexity theory, and he met various astrobiologists in the Bay Area.

During the year, Prof. Hut continued to lead a series of After-Hour Conversations, together with colleagues Nicola Di Cosmo from the School of Historical Studies, Didier Fassin from the School of Social Science, and Helmut Hofer from the School of Mathematics. These conversation were held at IAS in Harry's Bar, two times a week for a period of two months during each semester, and they were widely seen as an effective way to encourage inter-School communication at IAS. In the second semester, Hut started a new series of informal lunch conversions, IPA@IAS, short for Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Abiogenesis.

Other interdisciplinary activities included the B612 foundation, of which Hut is a co-founder. In October 2012, their project Sentinel was official declared technically sound and on track for a 2017 launch, according to an independent review panel. This will be the first privately sponsored space mission, aimed at making a more complete inventory of asteroids that may threaten impacts on Earth. Hut also joined the Advisory Board of the Helix Center for Interdisciplinary Investigation, a division of the New York Psychoanalytic Society. He became a Member of ISSOL, the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life and Astrobiology Society, and a Member of ISAL, the International Society for Artificial Life.