Piet Hut

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Piet Hut
Piet Hut
Born (1952-09-26) September 26, 1952 (age 71)
Alma materUtrecht University
University of Amsterdam
Known forBarnes–Hut algorithm
Scientific career
Interdisciplinary Studies
InstitutionsInstitute for Advanced Study
Doctoral advisorEd van den Heuvel

Piet Hut (born September 26, 1952) is a Dutch astrophysicist, who divides his time between research in computer simulations of dense stellar systems and broadly interdisciplinary collaborations, ranging from other fields in natural science to computer science, cognitive psychology and philosophy.

He is currently the Head of the Program in Interdisciplinary Studies[1][2] at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, New Jersey, United States.[3] Asteroid 17031 Piethut is named after him, in honor of his work in planetary dynamics and for co-founding the B612 Foundation, which focuses on prevention of asteroid impacts on Earth.


In the Netherlands, Hut did a double PhD program, at Utrecht University, in particle physics under Martinus Veltman and in Amsterdam in astrophysics under Ed van den Heuvel, resulting in a PhD at the University of Amsterdam.

Previously an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Hut was in 1985, at the age of 32, appointed as a full professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. At the time, he was the youngest professor appointed there.

Hut became a corresponding member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996.[4]

Astrophysics research[edit]

An accomplished astrophysicist, Hut is best known for the Barnes–Hut simulation algorithm, developed with Joshua Barnes. By using a tree-based data structure, the Barnes–Hut method significantly speeds up the calculation of the gravitational motion of large numbers of stars, making accessible such problems as collisions between galaxies. Barnes–Hut simulation algorithm, which has become a standard in n-body problems, reduces its complexity to N log N.

Hut introduced the concept of pseudo-synchronicity, which is now widely cited in the literature on tidal evolution of exoplanets.[5][6][7]

He co-authored a graduate textbook "The Gravitational Million Body Problem".,[8] invented a mathematical sequence called Piet Hut's "coat-hanger" sequence,[9] and has pioneered the use of virtual worlds for research and education in (astro)physics.[10]

Hut is one of the founders of the B612 Foundation, MODEST,[11] MICA,[12] ACS,[13] the GRAPE (Gravity Pipe) project, and AMUSE.[14]

Interdisciplinary research[edit]

Hut's broadly interdisciplinary research[15][16][17] started with his study of an asteroid impact to explain the demise of the dinosaurs, when he edited a review article for Nature with four paleontologists, two geologists and one other astrophysicist.[18] He has also widely engaged in joint research with computer scientists[19][20] and philosophers and cognitive psychologists.[21][22]

In recognition of his work, he was invited to participate in various conferences, spanning a range from a workshop with the 14th Dalai Lama and five physicists in Dharamsala, India[23] to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,[24] and he has been invited as a member of the Husserl Circle.[25][26]

Hut is one of the founders of the Kira Institute.

Employment controversy[edit]

In July, 2000, IAS sued Hut in federal district court, seeking to enforce a 1996 agreement in which Hut had promised to resign by mid-2001.[27][28] According to IAS Director Phillip Griffiths, Hut had been hired in expectation of his eventually succeeding professor John N. Bahcall as leader of the astrophysics group, but "was not performing" at the required level.[29] Hut's rebuttal was first, that his work was not inferior but only (to some eyes) unfashionable, and second, that he had been coerced into signing any agreement. Many prominent astrophysicists defended the quality of Hut's work, while others based their support on the importance of academic tenure to creative scholarship. The case was eventually settled out of court, with Hut transferring out of IAS's School of Natural Sciences while being appointed Head of a new Program in Interdisciplinary Studies.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Institute for Advanced Study Program in Interdisciplinary Studies retrieved 2011-12-07.
  2. ^ Program in Interdisciplinary Studies individual homepage page for Piet Hut retrieved 2011-12-07.
  3. ^ Institute for Advanced Study Faculty and Emeriti page for Piet Hut retrieved 2011-12-07.
  4. ^ "P. Hut". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 30 January 2016. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  5. ^ Hut, P.: Tidal Evolution in Close Binary Systems, 1981, Astron. Astrophys. 99, 126-140.
  6. ^ Systemic web log, pseudo-synchronization December 11th, 2006 retrieved 2011-12-07.
  7. ^ Gliese 581 c#Tidal lock
  8. ^ Heggie D., Hut P. (2003). The Gravitational Million-Body Problem: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Star Cluster Dynamics ISBN 978-0-521-77486-4
  9. ^ Sloane, N. J. A. (ed.). "Sequence A088325 (Piet Hut's "coat-hanger")". The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. OEIS Foundation. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  10. ^ Ugotrade Astrophysics in Virtual Worlds: Implementing N-Body Simulations in OpenSim retrieved 2011-12-07.
  11. ^ Modeling and Observing DEnse STellar systems retrieved 2011-12-07.
  12. ^ Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics retrieved 2011-12-07.
  13. ^ The Art of Computational Science retrieved 2011-12-07.
  14. ^ AMUSE retrieved 2011-12-07.
  15. ^ "Geology & Paleontology". www.sns.ias.edu. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  16. ^ "Computational Science". www.sns.ias.edu. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  17. ^ "Natural Philosophy". www.sns.ias.edu. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  18. ^ Hut, P. et al., 1987, Nature, 329, 118-126.
  19. ^ Hut, P. and Sussman, G.J., 1987, Scientific American, 255, 145-153.
  20. ^ Taubes, G., 1997, Discover 18, No. 6, 76-83 (with online version: The Star Machine Archived 2018-01-04 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 2011-12-07).
  21. ^ Hut, P. and Shepard, R. 1996, J. Consc. Stud. 3, No. 4, 313-329.
  22. ^ Hut, P. and van Fraassen, B. 1997, J. Consc. Stud. 4, No. 2, 167-180.
  23. ^ Hut, P., 2004, in The New Physics and Cosmology, ed.: A. Zajonc. ISBN 978-0-19-515994-3
  24. ^ "Activities in 1999–2000". www.sns.ias.edu. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  25. ^ The Husserl Circle, last conference program, Bloomington 2001 Archived 2016-03-06 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 2011-12-07.
  26. ^ "The Role of Husserl's Epoche for Science". www.sns.ias.edu. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  27. ^ John Sullivan, "In Princeton, A Scholar's Unseemly Dismissal", The New York Times, October 8, 2000
  28. ^ U.S. District Court of New Jersey, Case 3:2000-cv-03595
  29. ^ Constance Holden, "Institute Goes to Court to Remove Researcher", Science, vol. 290, pp. 683-685, 27 October 2000 doi:10.1126/science.290.5492.683b (Subscription required to read full article)
  30. ^ Robin Wilson, "The Professor Who Would Not Leave", The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 24, 2000. (Subscription required to read full article)

External links[edit]