Michelle Kelley wins “Outstanding Poster Presentation” at Undergraduate Women in Physics conference

Siv Schwink

Physics Illinois senior Michelle Kelley won an award for “Outstanding Poster Presentation” at the 2014 Midwest Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at the University of Chicago. Kelley created the poster while participating in the 2013 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program last summer at the Department of Physics at the University of Washington in Seattle, funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Kelley’s winning poster, entitled “Quantized superfluid vortex ring dynamics in the unitary Fermi gas,” is based on the work she carried out under the guidance of UW physicists Michael McNeil Forbes and Aurel Bulgac. The team’s research is published in the article “Quantized Superfluid Vortex Rings in the Unitary Fermi Gas” January 17, 2014 in Physical Review Letters, v. 112, issue 2, 025301 (2014).

Kelley comments, “I had an illuminating time in Seattle. I worked with theoretical and numerical models and ran simulations to try to explore the seemingly weird results of experiments conducted this past spring at the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms.” 

Kelley, an Illinois native who grew up in the Chicago suburbs in Schaumburg and graduated from Hoffman Estates High School, is planning an academic career in physics, either as a professor or research physicist. After she graduates from Physics Illinois at the end of this semester, she will enroll in an advanced degree program, though she is still weighing her options for graduate school.

Kelley is currently a finalist in the running for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which would support her seeking a master of philosophy degree in scientific computing, before going on to pursue a doctoral degree in physics. 

As a future academician, Kelley aspires to be a good communicator of science, not only to students with a strong interest, but also to young people who haven’t yet learned how much fun science is.

“I’m really interested in educational outreach opportunities for high school or younger students, to get them interested in physics and science,” she shares.

It’s a subject she herself is especially passionate about: “I’m a lover of all academic subjects. I love math and physics, but I also love philosophy. Of course, you can’t major in everything, and I think physics is the closest thing to doing that—and for me, physics is the most rigorous and fulfilling.

“When I’m talking to my non-science friends, I like to tell them that my planned career path is just to learn about the universe for as long as I can.”


Recent News

Assistant Professors Jessie Shelton and Benjamin Hooberman of the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have been selected for 2017 DOE Early Career Awards. They are among 65 early-career scientists nationwide to receive the five-year awards through the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program, now in its second year. According to the DOE, this year’s awardees were selected from a pool of about 1,150 applicants, working in research areas identified by the DOE as high priorities for the nation.

  • Outreach

The most intriguing and relevant science happens at the highest levels of scientific pursuit-at major research universities and laboratories, far above and beyond typical high-school science curriculum. But this summer, 12 rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors-eight from Centennial and four from Central High Schools, both in Champaign-had the rare opportunity to partake in cutting-edge scientific research at a leading research institution.

The six-week summer-research Young Scholars Program (YSP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was initiated by members of the Nuclear Physics Laboratory (NPL) group, who soon joined forces with other faculty members in the Department of Physics and with faculty members of the POETS Engineering Research Center.

Imagine planting a single seed and, with great precision, being able to predict the exact height of the tree that grows from it. Now imagine traveling to the future and snapping photographic proof that you were right.

If you think of the seed as the early universe, and the tree as the universe the way it looks now, you have an idea of what the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration has just done. In a presentation today at the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields meeting at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, DES scientists will unveil the most accurate measurement ever made of the present large-scale structure of the universe.

These measurements of the amount and “clumpiness” (or distribution) of dark matter in the present-day cosmos were made with a precision that, for the first time, rivals that of inferences from the early universe by the European Space Agency’s orbiting Planck observatory. The new DES result (the tree, in the above metaphor) is close to “forecasts” made from the Planck measurements of the distant past (the seed), allowing scientists to understand more about the ways the universe has evolved over 14 billion years.

“This result is beyond exciting,” said Scott Dodelson of Fermilab, one of the lead scientists on this result. “For the first time, we’re able to see the current structure of the universe with the same clarity that we can see its infancy, and we can follow the threads from one to the other, confirming many predictions along the way.”

It took two years on a supercomputer to simulate 1.2 microseconds in the life of the HIV capsid, a protein cage that shuttles the HIV virus to the nucleus of a human cell. The 64-million-atom simulation offers new insights into how the virus senses its environment and completes its infective cycle.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications.