News

  • Accolades

Celia Elliott, Physics Illinois’ director of external affairs and special projects, has received the 2016 SPaRC Career Achievement Award, for her significant and sustained contributions throughout her career to the field of research administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The award was presented by the campus’s Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance group on Friday, September 16, 2016, during the SPaRC Retreat at the I-Hotel in Urbana.
Elliott is widely recognized among the department’s faculty as the pivotal resource for all things pertaining to successful grant writing and administration.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Physics professor Taylor Hughes and mechanical science and engineering professor Gaurav Bahl of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are part of an interdisciplinary team that will study non-reversible sound wave propagation over the next four years, with a range of promising potential applications.

The National Science Foundation has announced a $2-million research award to the team, which includes University of Oregon physics professor Hailin Wang and Duke University electrical and computer engineering professor Steven Cummer. The grant is part of a broader $18-million NSF-funded initiative, the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program, supporting nine teams—a total of 37 researchers at 17 institutions—to pursue fundamental research in the area of new light and acoustic wave propagation, known as NewLAW.

  • In the Media

Edward Seidel, director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, was named interim vice president for research to succeed Lawrence Schook, a biomedical researcher who announced last spring that he would step down after more than five years to return to his research. Seidel will assume office Sept. 1, pending approval from UI trustees.

  • Accolades

Andrea Young, a physics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been awarded the 2016 McMillan Award for outstanding contributions in condensed matter physics. Named in memory of physicist William McMillan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the award is presented annually for distinguished research performed within five years of receiving a Ph.D.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Experimenters have approximated the Leggett and Garg test. In 2011, White and colleagues demonstrated the extrastrong correlations in quantum optics, although in an average way and not with a single photon. Now, Joseph Formaggio, a neutrino physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and colleagues provide a demonstration using data from the Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search (MINOS) experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, which fires neutrinos at near-light-speed 735 kilometers to a 5.4-kiloton detector in the Soudan Mine in Minnesota.

  • Accolades
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Emeritus and Research Professor Tai-Chang Chiang of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been elected by the Academia Sinica to its 2016 class of Academicians. He is among 22 scholars across all academic disciplines to receive this high honor this year. Academia Sinica is the national academy of Taiwan. Former Academicians in the mathematics and physics division include Nobel laureates T.D. Lee, C.N. Yang, Sam Ting, and Daniel Tsui.

Over the course of his career, Chiang has made lasting contributions to condensed matter physics, surface science, and synchrotron radiation research, including several truly groundbreaking findings. He has authored about 300 journal articles, and his work has been cited more than 8,500 times.

  • In the Media

To most fans, it’s just a fun spectacle. But to Alan Nathan, home-run hitting is a physics problem. Given the distance between home plate and the outfield wall, what combination of ball speed, bat angle and external factors will send the ball out of the park?

“It's driven by a need to understand,” he said. “It’s the same reason I did experimental nuclear physics for many years.”

  • Our Alumni

Three leaders in radiation oncology, including clinicians and researchers from Duke University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, have been named recipients of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed upon members of the world’s largest radiation oncology society. Benedick A. Fraass, PhD, FASTRO, Christopher G. Willett, MD, FASTRO, and Anthony L. Zietman, MD, FASTRO, will be recognized at an awards ceremony during ASTRO’s 58th Annual Meeting, to be held September 25-28, 2016, in Boston. Fraass is an alumnus of Physics Illinois (MS 1975, PhD 1980) and a former student of Professor Ralph Simmons.

  • Accolades
  • High Energy Physics

Aida El-Khadra, a professor of physics specializing in high-energy theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is one of four scientists nationwide recently appointed Fermilab Distinguished Scholars.

Fermilab Distinguished Scholars are rotating multi-year appointments for U.S. particle theorists in the Fermilab Theoretical Physics Department. The Fermilab Director appoints Scholars for a term of two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension by mutual agreement. Fermilab Distinguished Scholars are expected to spend at least one month total per year in residence at Fermilab. During the term of their appointment, Scholars have a Fermilab affiliation and the same research opportunities and support infrastructure as Fermilab scientists. Scholars are encouraged to propose and/or participate in thematic programs organized with members of Fermilab's Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics Departments.

  • Research
  • Nuclear Physics

Tracking particles created in subatomic smashups takes precision. So before the components that make up detectors at colliders like the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) get the chance to see a single collision, physicists want to be sure they are up to the task. A group of physicists and students hoping to one day build a new detector at RHIC—a DOE Office of Science User Facility for nuclear physics research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—recently spent time at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory putting key particle-tracking components to the test.

  • Research

In less than the blink of an eye Einstein’s theory of relativity is on its way to becoming just another science fact. Scientists observed gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of spacetime for the second time—and researchers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were part of the Ligo collaboration identifying the event.

  • Research
  • Nuclear Physics

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory will work to understand the emergent properties of the superhot primordial soup called "quark-gluon plasma" (QGP), generated at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). QGP's perfect fluidity and other collective properties are a mystery.To address that mystery, a group of nuclear physicists has formed a new scientific collaboration that will expand on discoveries made by RHIC’s existing STAR and PHENIX research groups. This new collaboration, made up of veterans of the field and researchers just beginning their careers, has precise ideas about the measurements its members would like to make—and hopes of upgrading the PHENIX detector to make those measurements at RHIC.

  • Research
  • Biological Physics

“Jumping genes” are ubiquitous. Every domain of life hosts these sequences of DNA that can “jump” from one position to another along a chromosome; in fact, nearly half the human genome is made up of jumping genes. Depending on their specific excision and insertion points, jumping genes can interrupt or trigger gene expression, driving genetic mutation and contributing to cell diversification. Since their discovery in the 1940s, researchers have been able to study the behavior of these jumping genes, generally known as transposons or transposable elements (TE), primarily through indirect methods that infer individual activity from bulk results.  However, such techniques are not sensitive enough to determine precisely how or why the transposons jump, and what factors trigger their activity.

Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have observed jumping gene activity in real time within living cells. The study is the collaborative effort of physics professors Thomas Kuhlman and Nigel Goldenfeld, at the Center for the Physics of Living Cells, a National Science Foundation Physics Frontiers Center.

  • Accolades
  • Condensed Matter Physics

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.

  • Our Students

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.”

  • Accolades

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.