Meet the Prof - Alex Gezerlis

Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

Video opens with music and University of Guelph, Improve life logo. Transitions to a Prof Alex gezerlis speaking outside with a building in the background. 

[Alex]: So I also enjoy the fact that students, there's no big barrier between students and professors, right they can just come, knock on your door, ask a question, chit chat about life, about the curriculum, about future research or what not.

Video fades to black and comes back with Alex outside in a slightly different location. 

[Alex]: Hey there I'm Alex Gezerlis,

Video switches to aerial view of Alex walking between campous buildings. 

[Alex]: I'm a professor here in the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph.

Video switches back to Alex face on with buildings in the background.

[Alex]: Before coming to Guelph I was a fellow at the Darmstadt in Germany, before that I was a post-doc in Seattle Washington, before that I was finishing up my PhD in Los Alamos New Mexico, which I started at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and before all that I studied at the National Technical University of Athens Greece where I am from.

A still image of each location mentioned appears on screen as Alex mentions them. 

Video transitions to an aerial view of Guelph campus. 

[Alex]: I've been at the University of Guelph roughly 8 years now since 2013.

Video transtions back to Alex and moves around him as he is speaking.

[Alex]:  So a number of things drew me to Guelph, the most notable being the very strong nuclear physics effort which was experimental at the time but now has grown to also involve theory.
But more broadly when I interviewed the people right? Both grad students, faculty, pots-docs, everybody, were incredibly welcoming and friendly so it was just a very very pleasant place to be in. So the fundamental questions that my research program tries to address are, for example, how does matter come to be and how does it evolve? Other questions are how can we go from the very very small to the very large? From the microcosm to the macrocosm.

Camera transtions to an aerial view of Alex walking between the buildings outside.

[Alex]: So my research focuses on nuclear theory broadly construed. That includes a whole bunch of things.

Camera transitions back to Alex face on. 

[Alex]: That includes nuclear forces, that means two or three neutrons and protons interacting with each other. It also includes nuclear structure, which is how to build up nuclei composed of ten, twenty, a hundred particles starting from those nuclear forces I mentioned before. It also includes nuclear astrophysics which in our groups case means neutron star structure.

A diagram of a neutron star appears on the screen in blues.

[Alex]: Neutron stars are these exotic objects which are very dense. They have a lot of mass, more than our sun, but they're tiny a radius of ten or fifteen kilometres.

Diagram disappears and Alex is back on screen.

[Alex]: And in addition to nuclear theory I also work on cold atom physics to the degree that ultracold atoms can teach us something about nuclear physics. So, the very big picture of the research is could we start from the smallest scale known to mankind, meaning quarks and gluons so the theory of quantum chromodynamics, build up to nucleons, neutrons and protons, and from there build all the way up to nuclei, stars and so on.

Screen changes to a still black and white image of someone sitting at a telescope in the Guelph observatory and then aerial video appears of the observatory. 

[Alex]: What got me into physics in one word is astronomy. So when I was, I dunno, 14?  15 years old I picked up my brother's astronomy text book and I just worked through it one summer and I was and still am intrigued by the stars out there and how that relates to life here on earth.

Video transitions back to Alex. 

[Alex]: In a way what I am doing now is still related to that original starting point because one of my research areas is neutron star physics which is nuclear astrophysics and astro is a Greek word for star. So what I really enjoy about physics in Guelph s the collegiality. That's something basically every physics department says about themselves but here it's true. So I actually enjoy the fact that colleagues are friendly with each other, students just knock on your door. I work with many graduate students, many talented graduate students, and many talented undergraduate students also. I have a fairly large group for a theorist. So I routinely have 5 to 6 graduate students and 1 or 2 undergraduate students at any given point in time that are working with me. So the practical day to day aspects of a student in the group of nuclear theory involve a lot of programming whether on a desktop, like simple programming, or on a supercomputer.. a cluster.. and so on. They also involve analytic work so equations, plotting and so on.

Video transitions to an aerial view and then back to Alex.

[Alex]: One of my first projects with graduate students here at Guelph involved doing computation, heavy computation, you know a lot of CPU hours on a problem on neutron stars. A few years later I came back to that problem and worked with another graduate student on the same problem using a simpler approach and what was really really rewarding was that a few years after that those two projects kind of came together so a very powerful but somewhat limited technique was combined with a simpler technique that has a broader reach and the answer, something known as the compressibility sum rule and it's ok if you don't know what that is, the answer turned out to be spot on exactly what anyone could have hoped for. Crucially we did not know this ahead of time and you know that's how research goes. My research work varies quite a bit so let's say in nuclear theory there's two large schools. One is you do phenomenology, you try to come up with a way of describing experimental data even if the connection with fundamental theory is not fully there. And on the other side you have an issue, first principles theory, where you make a minimum of approximations and the approximations you do make are controlled. Now in our group we do both right? So when you come across a fork in the road.. take it. I don't see a reason to choose. For very, very, very difficult problems where you can not do first principles calculations you can do something simpler that still teaches you about the universe. For easier, but still not easy, problems one can do first principles studies.

Video trasitions to Aerial view of campus and then back to Alex. 

[Alex]: So nuclear physics involves a whole bunch of things right it involves applications it involves energy, medical isotopes,  that being said the work we do in my group, nuclear theory as we define it and as we apply it is curiosity driven science. It's basic science learning what we're made of and how that works.   


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