News

  • 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.

  • Events

The late Professor Emeritus of Physics and former Head of Department Jeremiah Sullivan served as the third director of the Program in Arms Control & Domestic and International Security (ACDIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from 1986 to 1994. Now, ACDIS and Illinois Physics are joining forces to present the First Jeremiah Sullivan Memorial Lecture, taking place on Monday, April 30, from 5 to 6 p.m., in 141 Loomis Laboratory in Urbana. This event is open to the public; there is no admission fee.

Dr. Jürgen Scheffran, a professor of geography at the University of Hamburg and senior research fellow at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy Hamburg, will deliver the talk, “Nuclear Disarmament and Civil Society: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Nobel Peace Price for ICAN 2017.”

  • Accolades

Associate Head for Graduate Programs and Professor S. Lance Cooper has been awarded the 2018 Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award of the Office of the Provost at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

One of the Campus Awards for Excellence in Instruction conferred annually at the campus’s Celebration of Teaching Excellence, this accolade recognizes sustained excellence in graduate student mentoring; innovative approaches to graduate advising; major impact on graduate student scholarship and professional development; and other contributions in the form of courses and curricula, workshops, or similar initiatives. Cooper was presented with the award on April 12, 2018.

  • Diversity Program

The University of Illinois has received a three-year, $1 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to continue funding for the Sloan University Center of Exemplary Mentoring at Illinois. The program, started in 2015, supports underrepresented minority doctoral students in science, technology, engineering and math fields and is one of nine UCEMs throughout the country.

The UCEM emphasizes mentoring, professional development and social activities to build a community of scholars. The center hosts an extensive orientation program for new students, workshops and seminars in addition to financial support in the form of scholarships. The center also works with departments to set up a mentoring team for each scholar and monitors academic and research progress.

  • Events

Sir Anthony Leggett, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, turned 80 years old on March 26. To celebrate, the Department of Physics is hosting a physics symposium in his honor, with participants coming from around the world. The symposium, “AJL@80: Challenges in Quantum Foundations, Condensed Matter Physics and Beyond,” is targeted for physicists and requires pre-registeration. It begins tonight, Thursday evening, and will go through Saturday evening (March 29 – 31, 2018).

In conjunction with the symposium, two public presentations will be offered back-to-back on Friday, March 30, starting at 7:30 p.m., at the I Hotel and Conference Center’s Illini Ballroom. (1900 S. First St., Champaign). There is no admission fee and registration is not required—all are welcome.

  • In the Media
  • Biological Physics

In a paper in Nano Letters ("Optical Voltage Sensing Using DNA Origami"), a research team, led by Keyser, Philip Tinnefeld from the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at Technical University Braunschweig, and Aleksei Aksimentiev from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has now reported for the first time, that a voltage can be read out in a nanopore with a dedicated Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) sensor on a DNA origami.

  • Research
  • Condensed Matter Theory
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Researchers have produced a “human scale” demonstration of a new phase of matter called quadrupole topological insulators that was recently predicted using theoretical physics. These are the first experimental findings to validate this theory.

The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature.

The team’s work with QTIs was born out of the decade-old understanding of the properties of a class of materials called topological insulators. “TIs are electrical insulators on the inside and conductors along their boundaries, and may hold great potential for helping build low-power, robust computers and devices, all defined at the atomic scale,” said mechanical science and engineering professor and senior investigator Gaurav Bahl.

The uncommon properties of TIs make them a special form of electronic matter. “Collections of electrons can form their own phases within materials. These can be familiar solid, liquid and gas phases like water, but they can also sometimes form more unusual phases like a TI,” said co-author and physics professor Taylor Hughes.