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  • Student Initiative

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, it was the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory in over 80 years. It ravaged the island’s infrastructure—tearing up roadways, destroying power lines, razing homes, and contaminating fresh water sources.

Now, more than a month later, there is still no power, many don’t have access to clean water, and transportation and communication are limited across the island. More than 73,000 of the island’s 3.4 million residents have evacuated and are now in Florida. And mounting evidence reported by news agencies in the U.S. suggests the official death toll of 51 is grossly undercounted.

Luis Miguel de Jesús Astacio closely followed the catastrophic storm and its aftermath in the news. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he had moved to Urbana on August 14 to attend the prestigious PhD program in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Events

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign working in dark matter research have gotten together and planned a celebration of Dark Matter Day (October 31), just a few days early. A free screening of the visually stunning documentary, Seeing the Beginning of Time, will take place at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) on October 24, 2017, at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A session with a panel of experts. This event is open to all, though seating is limited.

Seeing the Beginning of Time is a 50-minute visually stunning journey through deep space and time, co-produced by the NCSA, and Thomas Lucas Productions. The trailer is viewable on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=5P0vfe5dC5A.

  • Accolades
  • Condensed Matter Physics

The American Chemical Society (ACS), through its Division of History of Chemistry, has an award that acknowledges these greatest of strides: the Chemical Breakthrough Awards are presented annually in recognition of “seminal chemistry publications, books, and patents that have been revolutionary in concept, broad in scope, and long-term in impact.” These awards are made to the department where the breakthrough occurred, not to the individual scientists or inventors.

This year, the ACS honored the discovery of “J-coupling” (also known as spin-spin coupling) in liquids, a breakthrough that enabled scientists to use Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to identify atoms that are joined by a chemical bond and so to determine the structure of molecules.

  • Looking back
  • Astrophysics
  • Astrophysics/Cosmology
  • Astronomy
  • Numerical Relativity

The historic October 16 joint announcement by the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Europe-based Virgo detector of the first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars is doubly noteworthy. It’s also the first cosmic event observed in both gravitational waves and light—some 70 ground- and space-based observatories observed the colliding neutron stars. This is arguably the biggest moment to date in “multi-messenger astronomy.”

In a press release issued by LIGO and Virgo collaborations, National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova comments, “It is tremendously exciting to experience a rare event that transforms our understanding of the workings of the universe. This discovery realizes a long-standing goal many of us have had, that is, to simultaneously observe rare cosmic events using both traditional as well as gravitational-wave observatories. Only through NSF’s four-decade investment in gravitational-wave observatories, coupled with telescopes that observe from radio to gamma-ray wavelengths, are we able to expand our opportunities to detect new cosmic phenomena and piece together a fresh narrative of the physics of stars in their death throes.”

Well before the development of today’s innovative technologies supporting this simultaneous gravitational-wave and optical observation, early research in numerical relativity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign helped to lay the theoretical foundation for it. In fact, many features of the discovery had been predicted in the early computational simulations of Professor of Physics and Astronomy Stuart Shapiro and his group.

  • Research
  • Astrophysics
  • Astrophysics/Cosmology

A team of scientists using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), the primary observing tool of the Dark Energy Survey (DES), was among the first to observe the fiery aftermath of a recently detected burst of gravitational waves, recording images of the first confirmed explosion from two colliding neutron stars ever seen by astronomers.

Scientists on the DES joined forces with a team of astronomers based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) for this effort, working with observatories around the world to bolster the original data from DECam. Images taken with DECam captured the flaring-up and fading over time of a kilonova – an explosion similar to a supernova, but on a smaller scale – that occurs when collapsed stars (called neutron stars) crash into each other, creating heavy radioactive elements.

Two scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are members of the DES collaboration, Professors Joaquin Vieira of the Departments of Astronomy and of Physics and Felipe Menanteau of the Department

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LabEscape

LabEscape

In the first science-based escape room, it's up to you and your team to save the free world from evil forces plotting its destruction, and you have precisely 60 minutes to do it. You must find out what happened to Professor Schrödenberg, a University of Illinois physicist who disappeared after developing a top-secret quantum computer. The previous groups of special agents assigned to the case disappeared while investigating the very room in which you now find yourself locked up, Schrödenberg's secret lab.

Saturday Physics for Everyone

Saturday Physics for Everyone

Free Saturday-morning lectures on modern aspects of the physical sciences for high school students and the general public! Learn about recent advances in the physical sciences from world-class scientists and researchers and gain an understanding of how physics affects development in modern technology and influences your daily life. Select Saturdays in the fall, 10:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at Loomis Laboratory of Physics in Urbana. Click for full schedule!

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