Jonathan I. Katz

​Professor of Physics
PhD, Cornell University
research interests:
  • Astrophysics
  • Soft Matter
  • Climate
  • Applied Physics
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • MSC 1105-142-02
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Katz's current work focuses on astronomical Fast Radio Bursts. These brief (millisecond) bright events are believed to originate at "cosmological" distances, but their sources and mechanisms remain a mystery. He is studying the statistics of waiting times between episodic events, from repeating Fast Radio Bursts to seismology and slip in plastic flow.

    The brightness of Fast Radio Bursts indicates a coherent emission process, like that of pulsars, and their brevity requires an origin in objects of neutron-star dimensions. However, they are too luminous to be pulsar pulses unless the pulsars are extraordinarily fast, strongly magnetized and efficient or are narrowly beamed. The novel hypothesis of beaming permits many other models, and the problem is to decide which is correct.

    Undergraduate students working with Katz on weather data have set upper bounds on any increase in drought and storms as the climate warms and have developed novel descriptions of the changing frequency of temperature extremes. Other undergraduates have studied the properties of starch suspensions and found remarkable hysteresis in their shear stiffening behavior.

    recent courses

    Classical Mechanics (Physics 507)

    The culminating achievements in this classical discipline are presented: Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulation of the classical equations of motion with application to constrained systems, including action principles, the Hamilton-Jacobi equation, and Euler angles and rigid body rotation.

      Classical Electrodynamics II (Physics 506)

      Time-varying electric and magnetic fields. Electromagnetic waves and radiation; simple antennas. Waveguides and effects of dispersion. Retardation effects and special relativity.

        Energy and Environmental Physics (Physics 344)

        This intermediate-level course applies basic physics principles to this increasingly important area. It is designed for all science and engineering majors with an interest in energy and environmental issues. Topics to be covered include population trends, fossil fuel use, renewable energy sources, energy storage strategies and climate change. Particular emphasis will be given to the use of the fundamental laws of physics, such as energy conservation, as well as more general concepts such as local and global stability, chaotic behavior, probability and risk. The aim of the course is the development of analytical skills and familiarity with important concepts, in order to enable an independent and informed view of environmental problems and possible solutions. A one-year introductory physics class on the level of Physics 191-192 is required. This course may also be taken as Physics 444, which requires an additional independent project.

          Classical Electrodynamics I (Physics 505)

          Classical electromagnetism in microscopic and macroscopic forms: electromagnetic fields of and forces between charged particles. Applications to electrostatic, magnetostatic, electrodynamic, and radiation problems.

            The Biggest Bangs : the Mystery of Gamma-Ray Bursts, the Most Violent Explosions in the Universe

            The Biggest Bangs : the Mystery of Gamma-Ray Bursts, the Most Violent Explosions in the Universe

            Gamma-ray bursts are the most violent events since the birth of the universe. They are about ten times more energetic than the most powerful supernovae. At their peak, gamma-ray bursts are the brightest objects in space, about 100,000 times brighter than an entire galaxy. And yet until recently these titanic eruptions were the most mysterious events in astronomy. In The Biggest Bangs, astrophysicist Jonathan Katz offers a fascinating account of the scientific quest to unravel the mystery of these incredible phenomena. With an eye for colorful detail and a talent for translating scientific jargon into plain English, Katz ranges from the accidental discovery of gamma-ray bursts (by a Cold War satellite system monitoring the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) to the frustrating but ultimately successful efforts to localize these bursts in distant galaxies. He describes the theories, the equipment (the most recent breakthrough was made with a telescope you could carry under your arm), and the pioneers who have finally begun to explain these strange bursts. And along the way, he offers important lessons about science itself, arguing that "small science" is as valuable as institutionalized "big science," that observations are more the product of advances in technology than of theory, and that theory is only "the concentrated essence of experiment." With the advent of the space age a mere 40 years ago, we have grown used to strangeness in the universe--and confident in science's ability to explain it. In The Biggest Bangs, Jonathan Katz shows that there are still wonders out there that exceed the bounds of our imagination and defy our ability to understand them.