News

  • In the Media

There have been accusations for years that the Major League ball is “juiced,” thus accounting for the increasing power numbers.

MLB officials have categorically denied that, and last year, commissioned a study of the baseball and how it’s produced.

In the landmark 85-page independent report replete with color graphs, algorithms and hypotheses, a group of 10 highly-rated professors and scientists chaired by Alan Nathan determined that the ball is not livelier or “juiced.” Nathan is a professor emeritus of physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

The surge in home runs “seems, instead, to have arisen from a decrease in the ball’s drag properties, which cause it to carry further than previously, given the same set of initial conditions – exit velocity, launch and spray angle, and spin. So, there is indirect evidence that the ball has changed, but we don’t yet know how,” wrote Leonard Mlodinow, in the report’s eight-page executive summary.

  • In the Media

Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Kandice Tanner went to a school where she was one of only a dozen girls among 1200 pupils. She had switched from an all-girl school to avoid the distractions of socializing and to take the more advanced math classes offered at the boys’ school. “Being submerged in an all-male environment early on was beneficial to me,” Tanner says. “I felt comfortable with guys, and more important, I knew I could hold my own in a male-dominated environment.”

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Illinois Physics Professor Philip Phillips and Math Professor Gabriele La Nave have theorized a new kind of electromagnetism far beyond anything conceivable in classical electromagnetism today, a conjecture that would upend our current understanding of the physical world, from the propagation of light to the quantization of charge. Their revolutionary new theory, which Phillips has dubbed “fractional electromagnetism,” would also solve an intriguing problem that has baffled physicists for decades, elucidating emergent behavior in the “strange metal” of the cuprate superconductors.

This research is published in an upcoming colloquium paper in Reviews of Modern Physics (arXiv:1904.01023v1).

  • Accolades
  • Student News

The BPS Art of Science Image Contest took place again this year, during the 63rd Annual Meeting in Baltimore. The image that won first place was submitted by Angela Barragan, PhD Candidate at the Beckman Institute UIUC. Barragan took some time to provide information about the image and the science it represents.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland working with scientists at institutions in Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and the US, have investigated a novel crystalline material, a chiral semimetal, exhibiting never-before-seen electronic properties. These include so-called chiral Rarita-Schwinger fermions in the interior and very long, quadruple topological Fermi arcs on the surface. The crystal, synthesized at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, Germany, comprises aluminum and platinum atoms arranged in a helical pattern, like a spiral staircase. It’s the crystal’s chiral symmetry that hosts exotic emergent electronic properties.

These research findings, published online in the journal Nature Physics on May 6, 2019, validate a 2016 theoretical prediction by University of Illinois Physics Professor Barry Bradlyn (then a postdoc at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science), et al., in the journal Science (vol. 353, no. 6299, aaf5037). That theoretical work was subsequently rounded out by a team of physicists at Princeton University, in research published in 2017 and 2018.

  • In the Media
  • Outreach

The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology hosted the premiere of Quantum Rhapsodies on April 10. The performance was a part of the Beckman Institute’s 30th anniversary celebration, and April 10 was the 119th anniversary of the birth of Arnold Beckman. Mr. Beckman, with his late wife, Mabel, donated $40 million to found the Beckman Institute on the University of Illinois campus.

  • In the Media
  • Outreach
  • Quantum Information Science

Such “escape rooms” have become popular in recent years — immersive games where you and your friends (or strangers) search for clues and solve puzzles to defuse a simulated danger before time runs out.

Paul Kwiat, another University of Illinois physicist, is the creator of this particular escape room, which is one of the few, perhaps the only one, filled with puzzles that are based on science.

  • Accolades

Illinois Physics Senior Academic Advisor Merissa Jones was selected for the 2019 Engineering Council Outstanding Advising Award. This award is presented annually to the top 10 percent of advisers in the College of Engineering. Recipients are nominated and selected by engineering undergraduate students. This is the second year running Jones has received this honor.

“I am genuinely honored to have been nominated for this award. I love what I do and enjoy working with our students. As an advisor, my goal is to help each student to my fullest ability and to enrich their journey through our superb undergraduate programs.”

Illinois Physics Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs and Professor Brian DeMarco comments, “This recognition is well deserved. Merissa plays a central role in our undergraduate programs as our senior (and only) advisor. For her caseload of over 650 physics students, Merissa provides high-quality and compassionate advising on academic and life issues. Her expertise and her master’s degree in educational policies with a concentration in diversity and equity issues are especially valuable to our students. Merissa is also a superstar recruiter who meets with many prospective students and their families. And, she has provided terrific leadership. For example, Merissa developed and manages our peer mentoring program.”

  • In the Media
  • Outreach
  • Quantum Information Science

Science News had the opportunity to try out a different version of LabEscape in Boston at a meeting of the American Physical Society in March. The puzzles are effective and artistic, and some of the reveals seem almost magical until the purveyors explain the scientific principles behind them at the end of the game. For example, some puzzles required the use of polarized glasses like those used to watch 3-D movies. Those challenges provided an opportunity to discuss the polarization of light — the orientation of light’s wiggling electromagnetic waves in a preferred direction. Only waves with the appropriate polarization make it through the lenses. The principle also reveals how 3-D movies work: Different polarizations make it through the right and left lenses, sending a different image to each eye.

  • Events

The Program in Arms Control & International and Domestic Security (ACDIS) and the Department of Physics is hosting the second Jeremiah Sullivan Memorial Lecture, with speaker John Lynn presenting "The Strategies of Terrorism."

The talk is scheduled for Wednesday, May 1, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. in 144 Loomis Laboratory at 1110 West Green St Urbana, IL 61801.

Lynn is a core faculty member of ACDIS and a professor emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the recipient of the 2017 Samuel Eliot Morison Prize and the author of Another Kind of War: The Nature and History of Terrorism, coming out in July 2019. In it, Lynn argues that radical sub-state terrorism should be considered as a kind of war.

In his lecture, Lynn will examine four strategies pursued by terrorist groups: intimidation, initiation, attrition, and evolution. Lynn argues that because radical terrorism attempts to exert a large psychological impact through the commission of relatively small-scale physical violence, terrorism is fundamentally psychological warfare, a weaponizing of the emotions, that is best countered through knowledge, understanding, and perspective.

  • Accolades

Dashawnique Long, office manager for the Illinois Physics Undergraduate Office, has been selected for the 2019 Chancellor’s Distinguished Staff Award. The Award recognized exceptional accomplishments and service to the university. Long shares this honor with only seven other 2019 recipients across campus. The award will be presented at a special ceremony taking place on May 1, 2019.

There is a saying among the Undergraduate Office staff: “All roads lead back to the Undergraduate Office.” As office manager, Long is often the first point of contact for students and teaching assistants needing information or having special requests. She helps students switch courses, provides materials and information, and when appropriate, coordinates with the campus’s Disability Resources & Educational Services, assisting students with letters of accommodation.

Long also handles about 15,000 undergraduate physics exams per semester and recently implemented a new procedure that shrank final-exam processing time from one week to 24 hours. Additionally, she created and manages a pool of physics-exam proctors. She also helps with room reservations for the department, including for special events and office hours, working as a liaison to Facility Management and Scheduling in the Office of the Registrar.

  • Partnerships
  • Quantum Information Science

The Chicago Quantum Exchange, a growing intellectual hub for the research and development of quantum technology, will join forces with the IBM Q Network to provide leaps forward in electronics, computers, sensors and “unhackable” networks.

CQE member institutions will work with IBM Q scientists and engineers through IBM Q’s academic partner program to explore the field of quantum computing, including investigations into materials, fabrication techniques, algorithms, and software and hardware development. A critical component of the partnership will be to enhance efforts to train tomorrow’s quantum workforce; the IBM Q Network will fund up to five positions for postdoctoral researchers to work closely with scientists across the CQE to advance quantum computing.

The Chicago Quantum Exchange is anchored at the University of Chicago. Member institutions include the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The combined resources of the member institutions create a powerful hub of more than 100 scientists and engineers—among the world’s largest collaborative teams for quantum research.

  • Student Spotlight

Sarah Habib, a junior studying engineering physics at the University of Illinois, joined the INCLUSION (Incubating a New Community of Leaders Using Software, Inclusion, Innovation, Interdisciplinary and OpeN-Science) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program and Gravity Group at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in Summer 2018, a decision that led to her publishing her work in three academic papers.

"Working with the REU-INCLUSION program led to being accepted to work with the Gravity Group," said Habib. "It was the research experience that I've learned the most from. With REU, it was the first time I was expected to tackle a problem with no clear answer, which carried over to my work with the Gravity Group, so I got to see what research was like with both programs."

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

Rebecca Holmes is a physicist and staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Her work has been published in Physics World and Applied Optics, among others. She is an alumna of Illinois Physics and a former research-group member of the Kwiat lab.

  • In the Media

In a study reported in the journal Physical Review Physics Education Research, nearly 75% of 471 undergraduate women in physics who responded to a survey offered during a professional conference reported having experienced at least one type of sexual harassment – mostly gender harassment – in their field. U. of I. anthropology professor Kathryn Clancy, a co-author of the report, talked to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the study, which also examined the respondents’ feelings of belonging and legitimacy as scientists and scholars.

  • In the Media

“I wanted to quantify the scope of sexual harassment in physics to enable productive discussions that extend beyond personal anecdotes,” explains Lauren Aycock (an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy), first author of the paper in PRPER. “This study increases the visibility of the problem without relying on women who have experienced sexual harassment to tell their stories.“