On Aug. 15, with its successful first season behind it, the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration began its second year of mapping the southern sky in unprecedented detail. Using the Dark Energy Camera, a 570-megapixel imaging device built by the collaboration and mounted on the Victor M. Blanco Telescope in Chile, the survey’s five-year mission is to unravel the fundamental mystery of dark energy and its impact on our universe.
After decades of searching, astronomers have found for the first time ever the progenitor of a white dwarf supernova. The stellar explosion is located 110 million light years away from Earth. The discovery solves the mystery of what creates one of these energetic celestial explosions. The exciting findings come from an international collaboration led by researchers at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The work is published in the August 7 issue of the journal Nature.
The same researchers, examining a second similar supernova, may additionally have detected for the first time the remains of one of these weak supernovas—an undead "zombie star." These findings will be published in the August 11 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
The two discoveries, taken together, outline the life span from birth to death of this variety of white dwarf supernova.
The recent discovery that human somatic cells (the cells of the body) can be reprogrammed in the laboratory to generate pluripotent stem cells has enormous implications for regenerative medicine, a relatively young branch of biomedical research that could lead to revolutionary treatments for many chronic diseases, including cancer.
Pluripotency refers to the incredible ability of some stem cells to develop into any cell type of the body. Laboratory-generated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) appear to be equivalent in every way to these “true” stem cells. The stem cells found in human adults, on the other hand, are rare, difficult to grow in large quantities in the laboratory, and have only limited differentiation potential.
But somatic cells inherently resist reprogramming of gene expression. In fact, multiple cellular mechanisms inhibit it at each phase of the multi-step process in iPSC generation. Until recently, these barriers to reprogramming were poorly understood, limiting their production.
Now researchers have for the first time systematically catalogued the barriers to reprogramming of somatic cells to generate iPSCs.
University of Illinois Swanlund Professor of Physics and Center for Advanced Study Professor of Physics Laura Greene has been elected to the presidential line of the American Physical Society (APS) by a vote of its membership. Starting in January 2015, Greene will serve successive one-year terms as vice president, president elect, president, and past president.
Greene brings to this new role a tremendous amount of experience working to promote the interests of the scientific community, both within the US and internationally. While in office, she intends to focus on three interrelated calls to action that share the same objectives: advancing science, improving education, and ultimately enriching society. These calls to action include building stronger partnerships among universities, national laboratories, and industry; increasing public outreach and public engagement in science; and promoting increased diversity in our global scientific interactions, particularly with developing countries.
Underlying this agenda is Greene’s recognition of the pressing need for sustained and increased funding for both fundamental and applied physics research, which serves as a “fountainhead for technology.” Greene says APS must take a leadership role in promoting public engagement that would engender political support for scientific research.
Woese’s work, despite being central to cutting-edge genome-enabled research across many fields, is not generally taught in classrooms or lecture halls. Now the NASA Astrobiology Institute for Universal Biology at the Institute for Genomic Biology on the University of Illinois campus, in partnership with Coursera, is offering a rare opportunity for anyone to explore and evaluate the entire history of life on Earth, based on Woese’s seminal research. A massive open online course (MOOC) entitled Emergence of Life will run July 14 through September 7, 2014, and will be taught by Bruce Fouke, Illinois professor of biology, director of the Carver Biotech Center, and member of the Institute for Genomic Biology. It will feature previously unreleased interviews with Woese, as well as interviews with some of the most important figures in evolutionary biology today—Bruce Fouke, Swanlund Professor of Physics at Illinois Nigel Goldenfeld, University of Regensburg microbiologist and astrobiologist Karl Stetter, University of Colorado biochemist Norman Pace, and York University historian of biology Jan Sapp. It will also feature beautiful animated visualizations by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’s eDream team.
To view the course trailer and to register for the course, please http://go.illinois.edu/emergenceoflife
For the last two years, scientists on the Enriched Xenon Observatory–200 experiment (EXO-200) have been searching for evidence of an extremely rare nuclear-decay process, neutrinoless double-beta decay, that—if it exists—would point to new physics beyond the standard model. The observatory comprises a tank of liquid xenon installed more than 2,000 feet below the earth’s surface in a salt formation near Carlsbad, NM: it is the most sensitive instrument of its kind in the world.
In an article published recently in the journal Nature, the collaboration shares the results of the first two years of data collection. While there's currently no evidence the neutrinoless double-beta decay takes place, the fact that it has not been detected at the current sensitivity level indicates the lower limit of the half-life of the proposed particle decay process would be at least 1025 years—around one million-billion years more than the age of the universe.
EXO-200 is a collaboration of close to 100 physicists from 7 countries and 10 US institutions, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Illinois group–physics professors Liang Yang and Doug Beck along with two postdocs and two graduate students—played an important role in analyzing the first two years of data.
On May 22, 2014, Nobel laureate Anthony Leggett, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Physics at the U. of I., was one of five foreign experts who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss how best to further China’s efforts to attract overseas experts to China’s universities, research institutions, and industry. Since becoming president in March 2013, Xi has sought to build on the “1,000 experts” initiative introduced under his predecessor, to attract leaders in science, technology, finance, and manufacturing to China in order to encourage innovation within these areas.
A total of fifty foreign experts were hand picked to attend the day’s meetings at the Shanghai Xijiao State Guest Hotel, but none of the guests learned the identity of the high official they would be meeting with until that morning. Fifteen from the group made presentations during a morning session.
In the afternoon, after a group photo was taken with Xi, just five of the experts—Leggett, along with Dutch expert on education and culture Annette Nijs, US aeronautical engineer Patrick Power, German virologist Ralf Altmeyer, and US financial expert Gregory Gibb—addressed Xi, sharing insights and recommendations based on their personal experiences in China.
College of Engineering Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Professor Kevin Pitts has been selected to receive the Arnold T. Nordsieck Physics Award for Teaching Excellence for the 2013–2014 academic year. The citation reads: “for his creation and inspirational teaching of innovative courses that introduce undergraduates to the philosophy, fidelity, and elegance of science.”
An inspiring teacher and mentor, Pitts regularly makes the List of Teachers Ranked Excellent by their Students and is a six-time recipient of the U. of I. Engineering Council’s Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Adviser. The passion and energy Pitts brings to his teaching is complemented by a commitment to best pedagogic methods. His teaching philosophy and style are shaped by the example of his own teachers and colleagues—and by his students.
Professor Paul Kwiat has been selected to receive the Doug and Judy Davis Award for Excellence in Teaching Undergraduate Physics. The citations reads, “for his significant contributions to the teaching of statistical physics and quantum mechanics to undergraduate students in physics and engineering.”
This award was created and funded by Doug and Judy Davis to recognize faculty or staff members who truly enhance undergraduate education in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois.
Three from Physics Illinois—graduate student Brian Busemeyer and undergraduate students Michelle Kelley and David Schmid—have each been selected for three-year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Graduate student Matthew Lapa received an honorable mention. Recipients are selected based on having demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research.
Two Physics Illinois alumni were also included among the 2014 awardees—James Antonaglia, who is studying physics at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Emily Sprague, who is studying chemistry at Northwestern.