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What is the true nature of dark matter? What is dark energy? Why is the expansion of the universe accelerating? Why is there way more matter than antimatter in the universe? And is Einstein’s theory of general relativity correct even under the most extreme conditions in the universe?

These big fundamental questions have yet to be answered.

According to Nicolas Yunes, founding director of the new Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe (ICASU) housed in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, scientists are making great strides in our understanding of the fundamental nature of our universe by collaborating across scientific disciplines.

“Our scientific understanding of the universe is at a tipping point, thanks to recent observations and to new computational and mathematical models for understanding these observations,” comments Yunes. “The level of complexity, however, is such that a compartmentalized approach to science is useful no longer, and only through collaboration can we shed new light on the nature of the universe.”

  • Outreach

The Physics Education Research (PER) group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received a $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to improve the quality and accessibility of high school physics courses across the State of Illinois through a new program called the Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools (IPaSS) Partnership Program. The IPaSS program already kicked off its first intensive summer institute in mid-June, welcoming a small cohort of four physics teachers. The number of teachers in the IPaSS program will expand incrementally each year over the four years of grant funding, maxing out at 40 Illinois physics teachers.

The goal of the new program will be to provide high school students across the state with the highest quality high school physics experience, engaging students’ interest in STEM fields and preparing them to succeed at competitive research institutions like the U of I. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math—fields the U.S. government has recognized are a high educational priority for a strong tech-field workforce. The program will not only help align existing high school physics courses with university-level expectations, but will also provide support for under-resourced high schools to offer physics courses for the first time.

  • Research

An international team of researchers led by Paul Scherrer Institute postdoctoral researcher Niels Schröter now provide an important benchmark for how "strong" topological phenonena can be in a real material. Writing in Science, the team reports experiments in which they observed that, in the topological semimetal palladium gallium (PdGa), one of the most common classifiers of topological phenomena, the Chern number, can reach the maximum value that is allowed in any metallic crystal. That this is possible in a real material has never been shown before. Moreover, the team has established ways to control the sign of the Chern number, which might bring new opportunities for exploring, and exploiting, topological phenomena. Illinois Physics Professor Barry Bradlyn contributed to the theoretical work elucidating the team's experiments.

Research Highlights

Article abstract: We derive the general analytical solution of the viscous hydrodynamic equations for an ultrarelativistic gas of hard spheres undergoing Bjorken expansion, taking into account effects from particle number conservation, and use it to analytically determine its attractor at late times. Differently than all the cases considered before involving rapidly expanding fluids, in this example the gradient expansion converges. We exactly determine the hydrodynamic attractor of this system when its microscopic dynamics is modeled by the Boltzmann equation with a fully nonlinear collision kernel. The exact late time attractor of this system can be reasonably described by hydrodynamics even when the gradients are large.

Illinois Physics Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic presents complex challenges that bridge science and teaching with economics and politics. Illinois Physics faculty are hard at work addressing some of these challenges. Here are just a few examples.

  • COVID-19 Briefing Series with Chancellor Jones, Professor Goldenfeld and Professor Maslov
  • Physics faculty, teaching assistants bring hands-on labs to students online
  • Cena y Ciencias outreach program continues to reach kids by delivering take-home science kits

donor stories

Alumnus gift continues legacy of excellence at Illinois Physics

“We deeply appreciate Gary Kelly’s generosity and his investment in our department’s core missions of research, teaching, and outreach,” comments Head of Department and Professor Matthias Grosse Perdekamp. “Unrestricted funds such as these are applied where they will make the greatest impact. Through his generosity, Gary Kelly’s legacy at Illinois will include his support of important new opportunities directly in line with our core missions. A large portion of Gary’s gift will support the research of exceptional women faculty early in their careers, enabling Illinois Physics to attract and retain promising women physicists.”

Engineering Visionary Scholarships

Sara Shahid

Give to the Engineering Visionary Scholarship. EVS attracts the brightest students, ensures a diverse and talented class, and helps reduce student debt.

“The relief of financial burden this scholarship has lifted from my family‚Äôs shoulders is truly a priceless gift, and the generosity of donors that have made this possible inspires me to want to give others this same gift of relief, security, and most of all educational opportunity, as it has done for me.”

— Sara Shahid, Engineering Physics Class of '22, EVS Scholarship recipient

Learn more

Watch Professor Nadya Mason's TED talk!

Watch Professor Nadya Mason's TED talk!

Curious how stuff works? Do a hands-on experiment at home, says physicist Nadya Mason. She shows how you can demystify the world around you by tapping into your scientific curiosity -- and performs a few onstage experiments of her own using magnets, dollar bills, dry ice and more.

Watch the Center for the Physics of Living Cells video

Watch the Center for the Physics of Living Cells video

The Center for the Physics of Living Cells is an NSF Physics Frontiers Center. In true "Urbana style," theoretical and experimental scientists collaborating at the CPLC are elucidating the fundamental processes at the core of life in quantitative physical detail.  The CPLC Summer School is world renowned for its training of young scientists in leading-edge research methods, advancing this interdisciplinary physics frontier.

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Events this week

Fri
8/21

Eric Petersen, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Fri
9/4
12 p.m.
Dr. Mohammed Sheikh, Deep Learning Researcher, Standard Cognition
Virtual Event