Toni Pitts receives Leadership in Diversity Award

Siv Schwink
11/14/2016 2:19 PM

Toni Pitts, Coordinator of Recruiting and Special Programs, Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Toni Pitts, Coordinator of Recruiting and Special Programs, Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Toni Pitts, coordinator of recruiting and special programs at Physics Illinois, has received the Leadership in Diversity Award from The Office of Diversity, Equity and Access at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This award recognizes exceptional dedication to and success in promoting diversity and inclusion via research, hiring practices, courses, programs and events.

Pitts started at the University in October 1999 and has been with the Department of Physics for 13 years, where she works directly with prospective, incoming, and current students. Recognizing the great asset a diverse student body is to the department’s culture of creativity and innovation, Pitts has been a champion of outreach and community-building efforts that increase enrollment of students from groups historically underrepresented in physics.

Pitts coordinates the department’s undergraduate recruitment efforts, including student visits, departmental mailings, student call bank, and student/parent visit days. Her efforts have contributed to a 70 percent increase in physics enrollments over the last few years.

She is the primary coordinator of the Saturday Physics for Everyone program, which has given her the opportunity to work directly with about 150 students. She is also responsible for special programs, such as the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Pitts also runs the Department of Physics REU program, hosting a dozen students from other institutions at Illinois for a 10-week summer research program.

Pitts also coordinates with other programs, such as the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering and Illini Summer Academies to bring high school students to the physics department to learn more about a future in physics.

Pitts was presented with the award at the 31st Annual Celebration of Diversity on November 11, 2016.

Recent News

  • Outreach

It’s up to you and your team to save the free world from evil forces plotting its destruction, and you have precisely 60 minutes to do it. You must find out what happened to Professor Schrödenberg, a University of Illinois physicist who disappeared after developing a top-secret quantum computer that can crack any digital-security encryption code in the world.  Unfortunately, the previous groups of special agents assigned to the case disappeared while investigating the very room in which you now find yourself locked up, Schrödenberg’s secret lab.

LabEscape is a new science-themed escape room now open at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, testing the puzzle-solving skills of groups of up to six participants at a time. Escape rooms, a new form of entertainment cropping up in cities across the U.S. and around the globe, provide in-person mystery-adventure experiences that have been compared to living out a video-game or movie script. A team of participants is presented with a storyline and locked into a room with only one hour to find and decipher a sequence of interactive puzzles that will unlock the door and complete the mission. Two escape room businesses are already in operation in the area, C-U Adventures in Time and Space in Urbana and Brainstorm Escapes in Champaign.

 

  • Research
  • AMO/Quantum Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Topological insulators, an exciting, relatively new class of materials, are capable of carrying electricity along the edge of the surface, while the bulk of the material acts as an electrical insulator. Practical applications for these materials are still mostly a matter of theory, as scientists probe their microscopic properties to better understand the fundamental physics that govern their peculiar behavior.

Using atomic quantum-simulation, an experimental technique involving finely tuned lasers and ultracold atoms about a billion times colder than room temperature, to replicate the properties of a topological insulator, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has directly observed for the first time the protected boundary state (the topological soliton state) of the topological insulator trans-polyacetylene. The transport properties of this organic polymer are typical of topological insulators and of the Su-Schrieffer-Heeger (SSH) model.

Physics graduate students Eric Meier and Fangzhao Alex An, working with Professor Bryce Gadway, developed a new experimental method, an engineered approach that allows the team to probe quantum transport phenomena.

  • Research
  • Astrophysics/Cosmology

In its search for extrasolar planets, the Kepler space telescope looks for stars whose light flux periodically dims, signaling the passing of an orbiting planet in front of the star. But the timing and duration of diminished light flux episodes Kepler detected coming from KIC 846852, known as Tabby’s star, are a mystery. These dimming events vary in magnitude and don’t occur at regular intervals, making an orbiting planet an unlikely explanation. The source of these unusual dimming events is the subject of intense speculation. Suggestions from astronomers, astrophysicists, and amateur stargazers have ranged from asteroid belts to alien activity.  

Now a team of scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—physics graduate student Mohammed Sheikh, working with Professors Karin Dahmen and Richard Weaver—proffer an entirely novel solution to the Tabby’s star puzzle. They suggest the luminosity variations may be intrinsic to the star itself.

  • Research
  • Astrophysics/Cosmology

"For decades, astronomers have known that supermassive black holes and the stars in their host galaxies grow together," said co-author Joaquin Vieira of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Exactly why they do this is still a mystery. SPT0346-52 is interesting because we have observed an incredible burst of stars forming, and yet found no evidence for a growing supermassive black hole. We would really like to study this galaxy in greater detail and understand what triggered the star formation and how that affects the growth of the black hole."