• 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

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

Today’s historic 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

  • New Research Center
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Materials Research

Innovative materials are the foundation of countless breakthrough technologies, and the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center will develop them. The new center is supported by a six-year, $15.6 million award from the National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program. It is led by Professor Nadya Mason of Engineering at Illinois’ Department of Physics and its Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory

By building highly interdisciplinary teams of researchers and students, the Illinois Materials Research Center will focus on two types of materials. One group will study new magnetic materials, where ultra-fast magnetic variations could form the basis of smaller, more robust magnetic memory storage. The second group will design materials that can withstand bending and crumpling that typically destroys the properties of those materials and even create materials where crumpling enhances performance.

  • In the Media
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Biological Physics

Quanta Magazine recently spoke with Goldenfeld about collective phenomena, expanding the Modern Synthesis model of evolution, and using quantitative and theoretical tools from physics to gain insights into mysteries surrounding early life on Earth and the interactions between cyanobacteria and predatory viruses. A condensed and edited version of that conversation follows.

Assistant Professors Jessie Shelton and Benjamin Hooberman of the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have been selected for 2017 DOE Early Career Awards. They are among 65 early-career scientists nationwide to receive the five-year awards through the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Early Career Research Program, now in its second year. According to the DOE, this year’s awardees were selected from a pool of about 1,150 applicants, working in research areas identified by the DOE as high priorities for the nation.

  • Outreach

The most intriguing and relevant science happens at the highest levels of scientific pursuit-at major research universities and laboratories, far above and beyond typical high-school science curriculum. But this summer, 12 rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors-eight from Centennial and four from Central High Schools, both in Champaign-had the rare opportunity to partake in cutting-edge scientific research at a leading research institution.

The six-week summer-research Young Scholars Program (YSP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was initiated by members of the Nuclear Physics Laboratory (NPL) group, who soon joined forces with other faculty members in the Department of Physics and with faculty members of the POETS Engineering Research Center.

Imagine planting a single seed and, with great precision, being able to predict the exact height of the tree that grows from it. Now imagine traveling to the future and snapping photographic proof that you were right.

If you think of the seed as the early universe, and the tree as the universe the way it looks now, you have an idea of what the Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration has just done. In a presentation today at the American Physical Society Division of Particles and Fields meeting at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, DES scientists will unveil the most accurate measurement ever made of the present large-scale structure of the universe.

These measurements of the amount and “clumpiness” (or distribution) of dark matter in the present-day cosmos were made with a precision that, for the first time, rivals that of inferences from the early universe by the European Space Agency’s orbiting Planck observatory. The new DES result (the tree, in the above metaphor) is close to “forecasts” made from the Planck measurements of the distant past (the seed), allowing scientists to understand more about the ways the universe has evolved over 14 billion years.

“This result is beyond exciting,” said Scott Dodelson of Fermilab, one of the lead scientists on this result. “For the first time, we’re able to see the current structure of the universe with the same clarity that we can see its infancy, and we can follow the threads from one to the other, confirming many predictions along the way.”

It took two years on a supercomputer to simulate 1.2 microseconds in the life of the HIV capsid, a protein cage that shuttles the HIV virus to the nucleus of a human cell. The 64-million-atom simulation offers new insights into how the virus senses its environment and completes its infective cycle.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

  • Accolades

The Center for Advanced Study has appointed seven new members to its permanent faculty – one of the highest forms of academic recognition the University of Illinois campus makes for outstanding scholarship. The new CAS Professors are Antoinette Burton, history; Gary Dell, psychology; Eduardo Fradkin, physics; Martin Gruebele, chemistry; Sharon Hammes-Schiffer, chemistry; Harry Liebersohn, history; and Catherine Murphy, chemistry. They join 21 other CAS Professors with permanent appointments, and they will remain full members of their home departments while also serving on the annual selection committee for the CAS Associates and Fellows program.

  • In the Media
  • Biological Physics

A common bacteria is furthering evidence that evolution is not entirely a blind process, subject to random changes in the genes, but that environmental stressors can also play a role. A NASA-funded team is the first group to design a method demonstrating how transposongs-DNA sequences that move positions within a genome-jump from place to place. The researchers saw that the jumping rate of these transposons, aptly-named "jumping genes" increases or decreases depending on factors in the environment, such as food supply.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Condensed Matter Theory
  • ICMT
  • Institute for Condensed Matter Theory

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Princeton University have theoretically predicted a new class of insulating phases of matter in crystalline materials, pinpointed where they might be found in nature, and in the process generalized the fundamental quantum theory of Berry phases in solid state systems. What’s more, these insulators generate electric quadrupole or octupole moments—which can be thought of roughly as very specific electric fields—that are quantized. Quantized observables are a gold standard in condensed matter research, because experimental results that measure these observables have to, in principle, exactly match theoretical predictions—leaving no wiggle room for doubt, even in highly complex systems.

The research, which is the combined effort of graduate student Wladimir Benalcazar and Associate Professor of Physics Taylor Hughes of the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory at the U. of I., and Professor of Physics B. Andrei Bernevig of Princeton, is published in the July 7, 2017 issue of the journal Science.

  • Research

Developing a superconducting computer that would perform computations at high speed without heat dissipation has been the goal of several research and development initiatives since the 1950s. Such a computer would require a fraction of the energy current supercomputers consume, and would be many times faster and more powerful. Despite promising advances in this direction over the last 65 years, substantial obstacles remain, including in developing miniaturized low-dissipation memory.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a new nanoscale memory cell that holds tremendous promise for successful integration with superconducting processors. The new technology, created by Professor of Physics Alexey Bezryadin and graduate student Andrew Murphy, in collaboration with Dmitri Averin, a professor of theoretical physics at State University of New York at Stony Brook, provides stable memory at a smaller size than other proposed memory devices.

  • In the Media

As NASA prepares for this evening’s launch of the NICER space astronomy mission, Emeritus Professor of Physics Fred Lamb of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is at the Kennedy Space Center, as a member of three of the mission’s Science Working Groups. The launch from the world-famous Pad 39A is scheduled for 5:55 P.M. EST.

Lamb, who continues to hold a post-retirement research appointment at Physics Illinois, is a world-recognized expert on the U.S. ground-based missile defense system. He served as co-chair of the American Physical Society’s Study Group on Boost-Phase Intercept for National Missile Defense, which published its report in July 2003. He has been fielding questions from the media on Tuesday's successful interception of an interncontinental ballistic missile during the latest test of its ground-based intercept system, as reported by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

Tuesday's ground-based interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California just after 3:30 p.m. EST. A little more than one hour later, the Pentagon confirmed it had successfully collided with an ICBM-class target over the Pacific Ocean, which had been launched from the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 4,200 miles away.

In this Q&A, Lamb briefly turns his attention away from the pending NICER launch to answer a few questions on the current status of the U.S. Ground-Based Missile Defense System.

  • Research
  • Particle Physics
  • High Energy Physics

What do you get when you revive a beautiful 20-year-old physics machine, carefully transport it 3,200 miles over land and sea to its new home, and then use it to probe strange happenings in a magnetic field? Hopefully you get new insights into the elementary particles that make up everything.

The Muon g-2 experiment, located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has begun its quest for those insights. This month, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab’s accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists’ picture of the universe and how it works.