Professor of Physics
Department of Physics
2005-2010 Philip J. Moorad '28 and Margaret N. Moorad Professor of Science
President, Zeta of New York (the HWS Phi Beta Kappa chapter)
Department of Physics, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY 14456 USA
Eaton Hall 106, x3594
Norman J. Zabusky.
I'm a fan of Cold Weather Boy! Listen on Spotify
I'm a fan of Pigeon People!
Alternative page: Instead of reading this web page, you can instead look at
that has key details, some not included here, but in a streamlined, list-oriented fashion.
If you want to contact me,
just send a note to [ s p e c t o r (at) h w s . e d u ] .
You can also find out how to contact me via the HWS
Letters of recommendation: If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from me, please note that you should
ask if I can do this at least 4 weeks in advance; earlier is better. Once I have
written a letter for some genre of activity (e.g., grad school in a particular
field), then I am able to submit additional copies of such a letter with shorter
notice. In determining whom to ask for a letter of recommendation, you want to
look for people with whom you have interacted and thus who can write about
you in a way that is meaningfully specific.
Engineering: If you want general
information about our Engineering Program, you should consult
engineering joint degree programs.
For specific information on course requirements for the Columbia program, you will
need to consult with the liaison regarding which course requirements are in effect
based on the year you enrolled at HWS. For specific information regarding Dartmouth's
expectations on what you should take at HWS, read
A.B. magna cum laude, Harvard University (1981, Physics; Phi Beta Kappa)
A.M., Harvard University (1983, Physics)
Ph.D., Harvard University (1986, Physics)
Thesis: Consequences of Supersymmetry
Adivsor: Howard Georgi
Summer Researcher, IBM Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights (1982)
Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer, Cornell University (1986-1988)
NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Utrecht (1988-1989)
Professor, Physics Department, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (1989-present)
I have served as
coordinator of the Engineering Program at HWS for over two decades, and have served many
years as Physics Department chair.
Lectures and Presentations
I have a range of lectures, technical and popular, that I am happy to give. Some samples:
- What's So Super about Supersymmetry? (target audience: undergrad physics majors)
- To Dream the Impossible Beam: Does Star Trek Physics Make Sense? (target: popular audience, undergrad physics majors, sci fi cons)
- Physics and Information: Surprising Insights from Set Theory (target: physicists)
- BPS and Duality in Supersymmetric Quantum Mechanics (target: physicists)
- John Cage Adores a Vacuum: Quantum Physics in the Concert Hall (target: popular or science/literature/art/philosophy interdisciplinary)
- What Does It Sound Like When 5x8=1? (target: popular or math/music interdisciplinary)
- Applications of Partial Supersymmetry (target: physicists)
- Analogue Quantum Computing (target: physicists)
- What Makes a Weapon a WMD? - A Systems Approach (target: popular or science/policy interdisciplinary)
- The Trouble with Waiting for Godot in Copenhagen (target: popular or science/literature/art/philosophy interdisciplinary)
- Discovering Quarks (target: middle and high school; interactive classroom activity)
- Whose Line Is It Anyway? How We Know that Space and Time Are Curved (target: popular audience)
The Anacapa Society
I am one of the founding members and also a current Board
member of the Anacapa Society,
a society dedicated to the support of
theoretical physics research at primarily undergraduate institutions. If you want to learn
more about this society or about theoretical physics at undergraduate colleges, check
out the website of the Anacapa
Society. There you can find out where our name comes from, how to join, and lots of other information.
Over the years, I have taught many courses at HWS. The full list is Physics through Star Trek,
Classical and Quantum Information and Computing,
Astronomy, Modern Physics, Mathematical Methods,
Symbolic Computing, Optics, Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics,
Thermal Physics, Light, Potpourri of Physics,
Introductory Physics I (Mechanics and Waves), Introductory Physics II
(Optics and Electromagnetism), and Contemporary Inquiries in Physics (advanced topics in
theoretical physics, including symmetries, field theory, KdV equation, non-linear systems, supersymmetric
quantum mechanics, and Monte Carlo methods), along with four first-year seminars:
Reflecting Science (exploring
how science actually gets done, the intersection of science and the arts,
and the implications of science and public policy for each other), as well as
Chaos, Black Holes, & Time Travel; Time Travel & Multiple Universes;
and the latest course, Einstein, Relativity, & Time
(all these look at exotic ideas of physics, both established and speculative,
and a consideration of the impact of these ideas not just in science but in the arts, philosophy,
politics, and society).
I have currently undertaken a research project exploring the use of the set theoretic
notion of forcing to
develop a transfinite theory of information, generalizing Shannon's work.
This work incorporates the use of the notions of generic real numbers
to generalize Jaynes's maximum entropy princple.
My research in theoretical physics has frequently focused on supersymmetry. This has led
me to a consideration of
supersymmetric quantum mechanics with a central charge, which provides a window into BPS and duality in
new contexts, and in number theoretic approaches to the Hagedorn temperature. Other areas of interest
of mine include Q-balls, exactly solvable systems, shape invariance, magnetic monopoles and other topological solitons, anyons,
sigma models, exact results in supersymmetric field theories, p-adic string theories, the connections between supersymmetry and
mathematics, and partial supersymmetry. I am especially interested in the application of supersymmetry
to non-supersymmetric models. Additionally, I have supervised student research on such topics as time-dependent quantum
mechanics, simulated annealing, and quantization of pseudoclassical systems .
My research activities also cover many cross-discplinary areas.
With Antal Spector-Zabusky, I have developed and implemented a graphical halftoning
algorithm that employs a maximum entropy principle. I am investigating the use of ideas
from physics to provide analytical tools to the principles underlying computational complexity classes. I have also
developed a systems analysis of weapons of mass destruction and an interpretation of Waiting
for Godot that is based on the tension between the Copenhagen and Many Worlds Interpretations
of quantum mechanics. More recently, I have turned my attention to music, looking at
connections between the mathematical formulation of the vacuum and the music of John Cage,
and examining various mathematical interpretations of Terry Riley's piece In C.
In a lengthier work, I examine ways in which ideas from physics and the theory of
information can inform philosophical questions associated with music, including
ontological, aesthetic, and experiential aspects.
Here are some selected links about a few other aspects of my career:
- My grant record includes the Research Corporation (2014-2015), FQXi: the Foundational
Questions Institute (2013-2015), the National Science Foundation (2008-2010, 2006-2009,
1999-2001, 1995-1998, 1992-1995, 1988-1989, 1982-1985), and the Japan
Society for the Promotion of Science (2004).
- I serve on the Board of Trustees of the
Institute for Science and Interdisciplinary Studies.
- I am a member of FQXi, the Foundational Questions Institute,
which has also
funded my research on the use of set theory in information theory for 2013-2015.
- From 2005 to 2010, I held the Moorad Professorship.
in the Sciences at HWS, which is also discussed here.
Donating to HWS is the way for new such professorships to be
- The Kavli Institute for Theoretical
Physics named me
a KITP Scholar
for three years, starting in 2005.
- The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science selected me
for a visiting fellowship,
which saw me visit several Japanese scientific institutes.
- I have been regularly funded
by the National Science Foundation for my research in supersymmetric
- My 2013
John Cage Adores a Vacuum develops parallels between John Cage's composition 4'33''
and the mathematics of the physical
vacuum. A subsequent paper of mine from 2014 on music and math looks at
Terry Riley's pioneering minimalist composition In C.
- You can find me and my rule of thumb for supernovas in Randall Munroe's
best-seller What If?.
- My class Physics through Star Trek has been recognized by
and by the
Dallas Morning News.
- I was an invited speaker at the 2018 Northeast Trek Con.
- At the Bridges 2013 conference, I made
my stage debut in a performance of the play Half Life. I have performed since in numerous
plays, most recently at staged reading of The Spectrum of Letting Go (Fall, 2019).
- I have provided dramaturgical support for theatre productions at Ithaca College's
On the Verge series, the Kitchen Theatre , the
Hangar Wedge, and more.
- With colleagues from other liberal arts colleges, I co-organized the first two workshops ever dedicated
to theoretical physics at primarily
undergraduate institutions, both held at the KITP. Subsequent to those, I co-organized
an NSF-funded workshop for the same community, and after that a third
- For the International Year of Physics, I was the organizer of a symposium entitled
A short summary is here.
- My interdiscipinary work on Waiting for Godot and quantum mechanics has been
featured at Subtle
Technologies and Beckett's Traces,
and has appeared in the journal Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd'hui (Vol. 20, No. 1., pp. 245-257).
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This page was last
updated 16 September 2021, in case you're keeping track.