News

  • Research
  • Biological Physics

In a new study in cells, University of Illinois researchers have adapted CRISPR gene-editing technology to cause the cell’s internal machinery to skip over a small portion of a gene when transcribing it into a template for protein building. This gives researchers a way not only to eliminate a mutated gene sequence, but to influence how the gene is expressed and regulated.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter
  • Condensed Matter Theory

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed an algorithm that could provide meaningful answers to condensed matter physicists in their searches for novel and emergent properties in materials. The algorithm, invented by physics professor Bryan Clark and his graduate student Eli Chertkov, inverts the typical mathematical process condensed matter physicists use to search for interesting physics. Their new method starts with the answer—what kinds of physical properties would be interesting to find—and works backward to the question—what class of materials would host such properties.

  • In the Media

Scientists recently announced the discovery of a subatomic particle that made its way to Earth from an event that occurred 3.7 billion light-years away. Sensors buried within Antarctic ice detected the ghostly cosmic particle, called a neutrino, and traced its origin to a rapidly spinning galactic nucleus known as a blazar. Physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian spoke with physics professor Liang Yang about the significance of the discovery.

  • In the Media

Paul Kwiat asks his volunteers to sit inside a small, dark room. As their eyes adjust to the lack of light, each volunteer props his or her head on a chin rest—as you would at an optometrist’s—and gazes with one eye at a dim red cross. On either side of the cross is an optical fiber, positioned to pipe a single photon of light at either the left or the right side of a volunteer’s eye.

Even as he verifies the human eye’s ability to detect single photons, Kwiat, an experimental quantum physicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and his colleagues are setting their sights higher: to use human vision to probe the very foundations of quantum mechanics, according to a paper they submitted to the preprint server arXiv on June 21.

  • Research
  • Biological Physics

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have predicted new physics governing compression of water under a high-gradient electric field. Physics Professor Aleksei Aksimentiev and his post doctoral researcher James Wilson found that a high electric field applied to a tiny hole in a graphene membrane would compress the water molecules travelling through the pore by 3 percent. The predicted water compression may eventually prove useful in high-precision filtering of biomolecules for biomedical research.

  • Research
  • Biological Physics
  • Biophysics

A new synthetic enzyme, crafted from DNA rather than protein, flips lipid molecules within the cell membrane, triggering a signal pathway that could be harnessed to induce cell death in cancer cells.   

Researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Cambridge say their lipid-scrambling DNA enzyme is the first in its class to outperform naturally occurring enzymes – and does so by three orders of magnitude. They published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

  • Accolades
  • High Energy Physics

Assistant Professor of Physics Thomas Faulkner has been selected by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science to receive an Early Career Award. The DOE Early Career Research Program, now in its ninth year, provides award recipients with significant funding over a five year period. Faulkner is among 84 scientists at U.S. universities and DOE-supported national laboratories to be selected this year. He is one of only two scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to receive the honor this year.

The Early Career Award recognizes promising scientists within 10 years of having earned their doctoral degrees, working in research areas supported by the DOE Office of Science. Faulkner’s research proposal in theoretical high-energy physics is entitled, “New perspectives on QFT and gravity from quantum entanglement.”

  • Research
  • Biological Physics
  • Biophysics

The mechanism of pattern formation in living systems is of paramount interest to bioengineers seeking to develop living tissue in the laboratory. Engineered tissues would have countless potential medical applications, but in order to synthesize living tissues, scientists need to understand the genesis of pattern formation in living systems.

A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University has brought science one step closer to a molecular-level understanding of how patterns form in living tissue. The researchers engineered bacteria that, when incubated and grown, exhibited stochastic Turing patterns: a “lawn” of synthesized bacteria in a petri dish fluoresced an irregular pattern of red polka dots on a field of green.

  • In the Media

Two CERN theoretical physicists have taken a page out of Google’s playbook in an attempt to better measure the impact of scientists and their published research. In a recent study published on arXiv, Alessandro Strumia and Riccardo Torre propose new metrics that use principles of Google’s PageRank algorithm, which determines the order in which websites appear in search results.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Theory

Cheaper and more efficient photonic devices, such as lasers, optical fibers, and other light sources, may be possible with confined light that is unaffected by imperfections in the material that confines it, according to new research. A team of physicists from Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Illinois have demonstrated in a proof-of-concept experiment that they can contain light in such a way that makes it highly insensitive to defects that might be present in a material. The results of the research appear online on June 4, 2018 in the journal Nature Photonics.

  • Alumni News

Experiments that measure the lifetime of neutrons reveal a perplexing and unresolved discrepancy. While this lifetime has been measured to a precision within 1 percent using different techniques, apparent conflicts in the measurements offer the exciting possibility of learning about as-yet undiscovered physics.

Now, a team led by scientists in the Nuclear Science Division at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has enlisted powerful supercomputers to calculate a quantity known as the “nucleon axial coupling,” or gA—which is central to our understanding of a neutron’s lifetimewith an unprecedented precision. Their method offers a clear path to further improvements that may help to resolve the experimental discrepancy.

Illinois Physics alumnus Chia Cheng “Jason” Chang is lead author on the paper. Chang received his bachelor’s degree in 2008 and his doctoral degree in 2015, both from the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Chmpaign. Chang’s doctoral adviser at Illinois was Professor Aida El-Khadra. These results were achieved while Chang was a postdoctoral researcher in Berkeley Lab’s Nuclear Science Division. Chang currently holds an appointment as a research scientist at the Interdisciplinary Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Program (iTHEMS) of the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), Japan.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Theory

We analyze the interplay between a d-wave uniform superconducting and a pair-density-wave (PDW) order parameter in the neighborhood of a vortex. We develop a phenomenological nonlinear sigma model, solve the saddle-point equation for the order-parameter configuration, and compute the resulting local density of states in the vortex halo. The intertwining of the two superconducting orders leads to a charge density modulation with the same periodicity as the PDW, which is twice the period of the charge density wave that arises as a second harmonic of the PDW itself. We discuss key features of the charge density modulation that can be directly compared with recent results from scanning tunneling microscopy and speculate on the role PDW order may play in the global phase diagram of the hole-doped cuprates.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Now, a novel sample-growing technique developed at the U. of I. has overcome these obstacles. Developed by physics professor James Eckstein in collaboration with physics professor Tai-Chang Chiang, the new “flip-chip” TI/SC sample-growing technique allowed the scientists to produce layered thin-films of the well-studied TI bismuth selenide on top of the prototypical SC niobium—despite their incompatible crystalline lattice structures and the highly reactive nature of niobium.

These two materials taken together are ideal for probing fundamental aspects of the TI/SC physics, according to Chiang: “This is arguably the simplest example of a TI/SC in terms of the electronic and chemical structures. And the SC we used has the highest transition temperature among all elements in the periodic table, which makes the physics more accessible. This is really ideal; it provides a simpler, more accessible basis for exploring the basics of topological superconductivity,” Chiang comments.