ICASU's new interaction space is built for out-of-this-world collaborations
3/2/2023 2:42:38 PM
RThe Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe (ICASU) has new digs! ICASU was founded by the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2020 to spark collaborative interdisciplinary research, education, and outreach related to the fundamental physics of the cosmos. The center’s membership includes UIUC scientists in fields outside of physics, including astronomy, computer science, mathematics, and philosophy.
Already, ICASU has opened up many new lines of inquiry that reflect new synergies among research specializations. Some of these interactions represent first-of-their-kind collaborations across research areas that have not historically teamed up to address fundamental questions bridging specializations. To date, ICASU research is supported by collaborative and individual grants totaling more than $22 million in the past three years.
The new open space on the second floor of Loomis Laboratory provides a central gathering place for scientists studying the cosmos to interact and share ideas. The space contains large monitors for presentations, glass dry-erase boards for doing calculations, plenty of tables that can be configured according to group size, offices for visiting scholars and guests of the center, and a small room for virtual meetings.
Illinois Physics Professor Nicolás Yunes, ICASU’s founding director, notes, “An interaction space is crucial to catalyze collaboration and spark cross-pollinating ideas that can act as bridges between different fields. We dream of the space being occupied by visitors and by Illinois professors and researchers discussing the latest ideas and pushing the frontiers of knowledge.”
The new space was inaugurated with a departmental reception held Friday, February 24. Yunes welcomed everyone and shared his hopes that the space will support rich interactions among ICASU members and visiting scholars. A larger reception is planned for Fall 2023.
At the reception on Friday, Illinois Physics Professor and Head Matthias Grosse Perdekamp acknowledged the generous support of donors to the Illinois Physics Priority Fund, which made the new ICASU space possible. He also thanked Illinois Physics Facility Operations Coordinator Luke Prunkard and Construction Project Coordinator Richard Dillingham and his team at Facilities & Services for working overtime to make sure the remodel was completed on schedule.
Illinois Physics and Astronomy Professor Charles Gammie, a founding member of ICASU, marked the occasion by presenting Yunes with a hammer he said was made of iron “forged in a supernova and brought to Loomis Lab,” crafted in the Physics Machine Shop by Research Engineer Eric Thorsland and the machine shop staff. The head of the hammer is engraved with a Latin phrase, “Percutite id cum malleo,” which in English means, “Hit it with a hammer”—an homage to the vision and drive behind the new center’s creation. Yunes says the ceremonial hammer will stay with the center and be passed down from director to director.
Now that the space is open, plans are being laid to make good use of it. For example, the first workshop to be hosted in the new space will focus on modified gravity, from mathematics to physics, and will take place this May. The workshop is being jointly organized by Illinois Physics Professor Philip Phillips and Illinois Math Professor Gabriele La Nave.
Once hired, ICASU’s administrative support staff member will have a desk in the space. No other permanent full-time faculty or staff will have offices in the space–it is purely for interacting and supporting collaborations.
ICASU is an interdisciplinary research hub that brings together scientists working on unsolved problems at the intersections of astrophysics, cosmology, gravity, high energy physics, and nuclear physics. At the time of publication, ICASU’s membership includes 35 core faculty members, 7 affiliated faculty members, and more than 100 exceptional postdoctoral researchers and graduate student fellows from the UIUC Departments of Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Philosophy, as well as the UIUC School of Information Sciences and Center for Astrophysical Surveys.
ICASU researchers ask questions such as, what is the universe made of at the most fundamental level? What are the principles, symmetries, and forces that govern the interactions of the fundamental particles and fields? And how does the universe work at all scales of energy, curvature, and size? These questions are explored in nuclear physics through the study of all forms of nuclear matter; in high energy physics through the study of particle interactions at all energy scales; in cosmology through the study of the evolution of the universe; and in gravitational physics through the study of black holes, neutron stars and gravitational waves. ICASU enables its membership to explore the connections among these fields and catalyzes interdisciplinary research that deepens our understanding of the universe.