James P. Sethna
Professor of Physics

James P. Sethna


(607) 255-5132


LASSP, Physics Department
412 Physical Science Building
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853


Web Sites

Department Profile
Background BA, 1977, Physics, Harvard University. PhD , 1981, Princeton University. Postdoctoral research associate, Cornell University, 1981-84. Postdoctoral research associate, Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara, 1981-84.
Assistant Professor, Physics, Cornell University, 1984-89. Associate Professor, Phsyics, Cornell University, 1989-95. Professor, Physics, Cornell University, 1995-present. Member, Field of Applied Mathematics, 1996-present. Sloan Research Fellow, 1985. Presidential Young Investigator Award, 1985.

Research Description

Research Areas
Materials science, including crackling noise and avalanches in magnetic systems, tweed in shape-memory alloys, accelerated simulations of surface growth, Arrhenius law for double jumps; glasses, including metallic glasses, low temperature glasses, slow relaxation, and scaling theories of the glass transition; disordered systems, including Griffiths phase in spin glasses, spin glasses on the Bethe lattice, sliding charge-density waves; liquid crystals; Blue Phases as networks of defect lines and in curved space; boojums in chiral smectic films; quantum instanton methods for atomic tunneling; early Berry's phase work in high-temperature superconductors; atomic tunneling from an STM/AFM tip; theory of vortex core states in superconductors; dynamical systems, including transition to chaos from quasiperiodic motion using renormalization group; noise in crumpling paper.

Current Research
We’ve recently been interested in common, universal features we find in nonlinear optimization problems with many parameters; these sloppy models came up in our biological work on signal transduction. Our materials effort studies dislocations and plastic deformation and fracture formation. Historical interests include crackling noise in hysteresis loops and crumpled paper, surface growth using energetic beams, quantum tunneling in the presence of dissipation, frustration in liquid crystal defect structures, low temperature properties of glasses, the onset of chaos, and slow dynamics in glassy systems.


"Scaling theory of continuum dislocation dynamics: Self-organized critical pattern formation ", Yong S. Chen, Woosong Choi, Stefanos Papanikolaou, and James P. Sethna, (submitted).

"Plasticity and deformation of crystals: Analogies to turbulence", Woosong Choi, Yong S. Chen, Stefanos Papanikolaou, and James P. Sethna, (submitted).

Comment on "Sloppy Models, parameter uncertainty, and the role of experimental design", Ricky Chachra, Mark K. Transtrum, and James P. Sethna, Mol. BioSyst., 2011.

"Nucleation at the DNA supercoiling transition", Bryan Daniels and James P. Sethna Phys. Rev. E 83, 041924 (2011).

"Geometry of nonlinear least squares with applications to sloppy models and optimization", Mark K. Transtrum, Benjamin B. Machta, and James P. Sethna Phys. Rev. E 83, 036701 (2011).

"Theory of dielectric breakdown and avalanches at the non-equilibrium Mott transition", Ashivni Shekhawat, Stefanos Papanikolaou, Stefano Zapperi, and James P. Sethna (submitted).

"Superheating field of superconductors within Ginzburg-Landau theory", Mark K. Transtrum, Gianluigi Catelani, James P. Sethna Phys. Rev. B 83, 094505 (2011).

"A minimal model of plasma membrane heterogeneity requires coupling cortical actin to Ising criticality", Benjamin B. Machta, Stefanos Papanikolaou, James P. Sethna, and Sarah L. Veatch, (to be published in the Biophysical Journal).

"Electronic Nematic Ordering of the Intra-unit-cell Pseudogap States in Underdoped Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ", M. J. Lawler, K. Fujita, Jhinhwan Lee, A.R. Schmidt, Y. Kohsaka, Chung Koo Kim, H. Eisaki, S. Uchida, J.C. Davis, J.P. Sethna, and Eun-Ah Kim, Nature 466, 347-351 (2010).

"Bending crystals: Emergence of fractal dislocation structures", Yong S. Chen, Woosong Choi, Stefanos Papanikolaou, and James P. Sethna, Phys. Rev. Lett. 105, 105501, 2010.