Professor Dale Van Harlingen, head of the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been selected to receive a Campus Executive Officer Distinguished Leadership Award by the Office of the Provost. The award recognizes exceptional academic leadership and vision by an executive officer within a college or campus unit.
The tenth head in the department’s 126-year history, Van Harlingen took on the unit’s top administrative role in 2006. His first years were tumultuous ones for the University, marked by abrupt changes in campus leadership and tremendous budgetary challenges. Guiding the department through this period, Van Harlingen sought ways to enhance the department’s productivity and impact through initiatives that would improve research infrastructure, teaching spaces, and strategic hiring of faculty and support staff.
In 2015, a joint team from iSEE and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute) applied for and was awarded a grant from the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC) to buy a Styrofoam densifier. This machine grinds up the plastic collected from campus into small beads and extrudes it in a very dense tube that looks a lot like a giant squirt of toothpaste. Local recycling company Community Resources Inc. (CRI) in Urbana houses and operates for free the University-owned densifier in exchange for the proceeds from the sale of densified Styrofoam. CRI owner Matthew Snyder doesn’t expect to make a profit, but he says he’s dedicated to doing the right thing for the community.
“If it turns out that it’s not economically ideal, it’s not going to harm anyone,” he said. “I started out recycling as an environmentalist, and it turned me into a business guy. (I’m motivated) by a possible environmental benefit, a possible economic benefit, and frankly some curiosity about how it will work out.”
Author: Olivia Harris and Elise Snyder, Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment and The Green Observer Magazine
John Blackburn, a physical-science technical assistant in the experimental nuclear physics group at Physics Illinois, has been selected for a prestigious Chancellor’s Distinguished Staff Award (CDSA) in recognition of his exceptional accomplishments and service to the University of Illinois. Blackburn’s name will be inscribed on a permanent plaque in the Staff Human Resources offices, and he will receive a commemorative plaque and a monetary prize of $2,000.
Blackburn has worked closely with faculty, postdoc, and student members of the nuclear physics group at Illinois for 18 years, fabricating highly specialized advanced scientific instrumentation for experiments at accelerator facilities at national laboratories and in China, Switzerland, and Germany.
The Optics of Fingerprint Sensors
By Courtney Krafczyk, Rebecca Holmes, Michelle Victora, Jia Jun Wong, and Sheldon Scot Schlie, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Illinois, USA
Optical fingerprint sensors use frustrated total internal reflection to distinguish the ridges and valleys in a fingerprint. A source illuminates a high refractive index material at a steep angle. When a finger is pressed against the material, the resulting bright and dark regions are captured with a camera and used to identify a person.
Physics Illinois PhD student Tyler Earnest won an honorable mention award in the Image of Research contest, put on by the University of Illinois Graduate College and the Scholarly Commons of the University Library.
Earnest’s poster, titled, “Building Ribosomes from Computational LEGO,” is based on research he performed under Zaida Luthey-Schulten, the William and Janet Lycan Professor of Chemistry, with an affiliate appointment in the Department of Physics.
For his research, Earnest simulated the system of biogenesis of the ribosomal small unit in Escherichia coli. The study took about a year and a half to complete, and the results were published last year in Biophysical Journal (doi:10.1016/j.bpj.2015.07.030).
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California-Davis (UC Davis) are combining in vivo experimentation with computation for highly accurate prediction of the genome-wide binding pattern of a key protein involved in brain disorders.
“The MeCP2 gene is critical for proper brain development and expressed at near-histone levels in neurons, but the mechanism of its genomic localization remains poorly understood,” explained Jun Song, a professor of bioengineering and of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Using high-resolution MeCP2 binding data, we show that DNA sequence features alone can predict binding with 88% accuracy.”
Stuart Shapiro, a specialist in computer simulations of relativity at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, calls it “the most significant confirmation of the general theory of relativity since its inception”.
Proteins play a large role in DNA regulation, but a new study finds that DNA molecules directly interact with one another in a way that's dependent on the sequence of the DNA and epigenetic factors. This could have implications for how DNA is organized in the cell and even how genes are regulated in different cell types, the researchers say.
Led by Aleksei Aksimentiev, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois, and Taekjip Ha, a professor of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University and an adjunct at the University of Illinois Center for the Physics of Living Cells along with Aksimentiev, the researchers published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Now, two teams at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, working together and attacking the problem from different physics disciplines, have shed new light on our understanding of disordered quantum materials. Professor Brian DeMarco and his group perform innovative experiments in atomic, molecular, and optical physics using ultracold atoms trapped in an optical lattice to simulate phenomena in solid materials. Professor David Ceperley and his group work in theoretical condensed matter physics; they perform supercomputing simulations to model phenomena in solid materials.
The two groups collaborated across physics disciplines to understand how disorder in a quantum material gives rise to an exotic quantum state called a Bose glass. The results are published in Nature Physics in the article, “Probing the Bose glass–superfluid transition using quantum quenches of disorder.”
Brian DeMarco’s group works in the ultracold-atom field that is my own home in physics. They start with a gas of potassium atoms, cool them to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero, and place them in an “optical lattice,” which uses light to create an array of places where the atoms would “like” to sit.