Who's been writing on the Physics ceiling? The Ph.D.s

Dissertation done, the bubbly is popped, and where the cork strikes they sign

Photos/Charlie Radin

Dapeng Bi pops the cork as Roland Maher and Bulbul Chakraborty look on.

Pop. Fizz. Clap.

The tradition has been a rite of passage for new Ph.D. recipients in the Department of Physics since the 1960s. Guiding the bottle most recently was Dapeng Bi, a graduate student in the Martin A. Fisher School of Physics who goes by the name Max and whose research explores the theoretical framework to better understand granular solids.

A room full of professors and classmates cheered as Bi launched the cork of a bottle of bubbly at the ceiling of Abelson 333 where it made a dent in the acoustic tiles. He then did what others have done for the past four decades, circling the dent where the cork hit, signing his name and adding the date. He joins many well-respected members of the Brandeis physics community including Allen Millis, who signed the ceiling in 1967, Seth Fraden in 1987 and Zvonmir Dogic in 2001.

Senior lecturer Richard Fell popped his champagne bottle in April 1990 when he received his Ph.D. for work on bound state quantum field theory. Unfortunately his tile was one in a group that was painted over a number of years ago when the room’s markings were mistaken for graffiti. The first group of tiles were removed altogether and tossed in the trash.

“I have no idea which tile was mine,” says Fell looking up. “I was so happy to get the degree that at the time I didn’t care.”

Fell says he has attended at least 30 champagne ceremonies.

Sam Schweber, professor of physics emeritus, came to Brandeis in 1955. He recalls when the sciences where housed in a building called Hayden, around the same time that the graduate program in physics began. In the early 1960s they moved buildings, and that, he says, is when the champagne began to flow.

“It’s really a very nice tradition,” says Schweber. “It’s a way for the entire department to get together and congratulate the students, and for the students to see someone else finishing and a sense of accomplishment for everyone.”

John Wardle, professor of astrophysics, who has taught at Brandeis for 40 years, says there are about half a dozen ceremonies each year.

Bi defended his thesis on July 25, then spent a month in China before returning for the ceremony and to take his leave.

“It’s been a real pleasure working with Max,” says Bulbul Chakraborty, the Enid and Nate Ancell Professor of Physics. “He’s been here for six years and will now head to Syracuse for a post-doctoral. I’m really going to miss him.”

Bi thanked Chakraborty and his fellow grad students for keeping him honest by poking holes in his ideas and making him return to the drawing board. The students grinned broadly, knowing that soon they too would have an opportunity to leave their mark.


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