News

  • In the Media

A second solar farm planned in Savoy will put the University of Illinois in the lead among American universities in terms of solar energy, a top campus proponent says.

The campus is moving ahead with a 55-acre solar farm along the north side of Curtis Road, between First and Neil streets in Savoy, about a mile south of the first 21-acre farm on Windsor Road.

Physics Professor Scott Willenbrock, who recently served as a provost's fellow for sustainability, briefed the Academic Senate about the project Monday, saying it will help the campus meet its goal of generating 5 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources. That target was part of the Illinois Climate Action Plan, known as iCap.

  • Research
  • Biological Physics

A previously unappreciated interaction in the genome turns out to have possibly been one of the driving forces in the emergence of advanced life, billions of years ago.

This discovery began with a curiosity for retrotransposons, known as “jumping genes,” which are DNA sequences that copy and paste themselves within the genome, multiplying rapidly. Nearly half of the human genome is made up of retrotransposons, but bacteria hardly have them at all.

Nigel Goldenfeld, Swanlund Endowed Chair of Physics and leader of the Biocomplexity research theme at the IGB, and Thomas Kuhlman, a former physics professor at Illinois who is now at University of California, Riverside, wondered why this is.“We thought a really simple thing to try was to just take one (retrotransposon) out of my genome and put it into the bacteria just to see what would happen,” Kuhlman said. “And it turned out to be really quite interesting.”

  • Research
  • High Energy Physics
  • Particle Physics
The lead ion run is under way. On 8 November at 21:19, the four experiments at the Large Hadron Collider - ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb - recorded their first collisions of lead nuclei since 2015. For three weeks and a half, the world’s biggest accelerator will collide these nuclei, comprising 208 protons and neutrons, at an energy of 5.02 teraelectronvolts (TeV) for each colliding pair of nucleons (protons and neutrons). This will be the fourth run of this kind since the collider began operation. In 2013 and 2016, lead ions were collided with protons in the LHC.

Anne Sickles is co-convener of the ATLAS Heavy Ion Working Group, which will use these data.
  • Outreach
  • Quantum Information Science
  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
  • Quantum Physics
  • Quantum Computing

A two-day summit in Chicago taking place November 8 and 9 has brought together leading experts in quantum information science to advance U.S. efforts in what’s been called the next technological “space race”—and to position Illinois at the forefront of that race. The inaugural Chicago Quantum Summit, hosted by the Chicago Quantum Exchange, includes high-level representation from Microsoft, IBM, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently joined the Chicago Quantum Exchange as a core member, making it one of the largest quantum information science (QIS) collaborations in the world. The exchange was formed last year as an alliance between the University of Chicago and the two Illinois-based national laboratories, Argonne and Fermilab.

Representing the U of I at the summit are physics professors Brian DeMarco, Paul Kwiat, and Dale Van Harlingen, who are key players in the planned Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology Center (IQUIST) on the U of I campus. The U of I news bureau announced last week the university’s $15-million commitment to the new center, which will form a collaboration of physicists, engineers, and computer scientists to develop new algorithms, materials, and devices to advance QIS.

  • Accolades

Loomis Laboratory has been awarded a third-place prize in the Energy Conservation Incentive Program of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This program, administered by Facilities and Services, both funds and recognizes efforts to reduce energy consumption through facilities upgrades. A plaque commemorating the award will be mounted in the Walnut Hallway. The award comes with a $26,000 prize for additional energy projects.

  • Research
  • Quantum Information Science
  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is making a $15 million investment in the emerging area of quantum information science and engineering, a field poised to revolutionize computing, communication, security, measurement and sensing by utilizing the unique and powerful capabilities of quantum mechanics.

  • Alumni News
  • In the Media
  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

“We don’t know because no one has tried it,” says Rebecca Holmes, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Three years ago, when she was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Holmes was part of a team led by Paul Kwiat that showed people could detect short bursts of light consisting of just three photons. In 2016, a competing group of researchers, led by physicist Alipasha Vaziri at Rockefeller University in New York, found that humans can indeed see single photons. Seeing, though, might not accurately describe the experience. Vaziri, who tried out the photon-glimpsing himself, told the journal Nature, “It’s not like seeing light. It’s almost a feeling, at the threshold of imagination.”

  • Research
  • Astrophysics/Cosmology
  • Astrophysics

U of I Professor Joaquin Vieira and his team built all of the cryogenic optics for the SPT-3G camera, which were a critical component of the project. This entailed developing a new type of anti-reflection coating for the optics that could survive down to 0.3 degrees above absolute zero, a feat that required about four years of research and development.

  • Accolades
  • Alumni News
  • Biological Physics
  • Quantitative Physics

Dr. Hong-Yan Shih, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Physics and at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been selected for the 2019 Dissertation Award in Statistical and Nonlinear Physics of the American Physical Society (APS). This award recognizes exceptional young scientists who have performed original doctoral thesis work of outstanding scientific quality in the area of statistical and nonlinear physics. Shih will be presented with the award at the APS March Meeting, where she will give an invited talk.

Shih completed her doctoral dissertation titled “Spatial-temporal patterns in evolutionary ecology and fluid turbulence” in 2017 working in Professor Nigel Goldenfeld’s theoretical physics group. It explores “the turbulence of ecosystems and the ecology of turbulence.” In her thesis, Shih reports on three projects at the boundaries of ecology and evolution, analyzed using methods from statistical mechanics, and a fourth project that made a major advance to the important problem of the laminar-turbulent transition of fluids in pipes. This latter problem was first scientifically studied in 1883, and Shih’s contribution arose from an unusual perspective.

  • In the Media
  • Quantum Computing

“I see the country at a crossroads with quantum information systems,” said Brian DeMarco, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois who specializes in quantum computing and has worked with government organizations on the technology. “I can see things not working out, where the balance is not good, and it derails our ability to compete.”

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Theory

The team, which also includes Illinois condensed matter physicist Karin Dahmen and her graduate student Li Shu, published its results in Communications Physics. The experimental work was done by Dr. Yang Hu, as part of his Ph. D thesis. 

Until this study researchers couldn’t make sense of the mechanism behind dislocation avalanche within a structure. However, the Illinois team found that a series of dislocations piling up forming a dam to prohibit movement. Behind the dam are tangled dislocations. Once there is enough pressure, an avalanche forms causing the dam to give way and sudden movement of the tangled dislocations, which weakens the metal and can eventually lead to catastrophic failure. By having a better understanding of this process, this study promises to aid in developing even stronger materials in the future and to better predict when a structure may be in peril.

  • Research
  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
  • Condensed Matter Theory

A team of experimental physicists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have made the first observation of a specific type of TI that’s induced by disorder. Professor Bryce Gadway and his graduate students Eric Meier and Alex An used atomic quantum simulation, an experimental technique employing finely tuned lasers and ultracold atoms about a billion times colder than room temperature, to mimic the physical properties of 1D electronic wires having precisely tunable disorder. The system starts with trivial topology just outside the regime of a topological insulator; adding disorder nudges the system into the nontrivial topological phase.

  • Accolades
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Professor Nadya Mason has been elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) "for seminal contributions to the understanding of electronic transport in low dimensional conductors, mesoscopic superconducting systems, and topological quantum materials."

Mason is an experimental condensed matter physicist who has earned a reputation for her deep-sighted and thorough lines of attack on the most pressing problems in strongly correlated nanoscale physics.

  • Alumni News
  • In the Media
  • Biological Physics

These days, Cissé, a newly minted American citizen, is breaking paradigms instead of electronics. He and colleagues are making movies using super-resolution microscopes to learn how genes are turned on. Researchers have spent decades studying this fundamental question.

Cissé thinks physics can help biologists better understand and predict the process of turning genes on, which involves copying genetic instructions from DNA into RNA. His work describes how and when proteins congregate to instigate this process, which keeps cells functioning properly throughout life.

  • Outreach
  • Quantum Information Science

Two University of Illinois faculty members are at the White House in Washington, D.C., today, attending the Advancing American Leadership in QIS Summit.

Quantum Information Science (QIS) and Technology has emerged over the last decade as one of the hottest topics in physics. Researchers collaborating across physics, engineering, and computer science have shown that quantum mechanics—one of the most successful theories of physics that explains nature from the scale of tiny atoms to massive neutron stars—can be a powerful platform for information processing and technologies that will revolutionize security, communication, and computing.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Recently, a team of scientists led by Pablo Jarillo-Herrero at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a huge stir in the field of condensed matter physics when they showed that two sheets of graphene twisted at specific angles—dubbed “magic-angle” graphene—display two emergent phases of matter not observed in single sheets of graphene. Graphene is a honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms—it’s essentially a one-atom-thick layer of graphite, the dark, flaky material in pencils. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have recently shown that the insulating behavior reported by the MIT team has been misattributed. Professor Philip Phillips, a noted expert in the physics of Mott insulators, says a careful review of the MIT experimental data by his team revealed that the insulating behavior of the “magic-angle” graphene is not Mott insulation, but something even more profounda Wigner crystal.