Brian DeMarco named University Scholar

Siv Schwink

Professor of Physics and Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs Brian DeMarco poses in his research lab at the Loomis Laboratory of Physics in Urbana. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Professor of Physics and Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs Brian DeMarco poses in his research lab at the Loomis Laboratory of Physics in Urbana. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Professor and Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs Brian DeMarco has been named a University Scholar by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The award recognizes faculty who have made significant contributions in their fields of research and teaching, in line with the university’s reputation for leading-edge innovation and excellence. DeMarco is among 5 faculty members on the Urbana campus to be named to this honor in this selection round.

"Exceptional faculty are at the very core of the University of Illinois’ standing as a global leader in education and innovation," said Barbara Wilson, the executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs for the U. of I. System. "The University Scholars program honors the best of the best, and showcases the leading-edge scholarship and teaching that help transform students’ lives and drive progress for our state and nation."

Professor DeMarco is an experimental physicist who works at the intersection of atomic, molecular, and optical physics and condensed matter physics. His research group at the Loomis Laboratory of Physics is using quantum simulation—experiments that involve ultracold atoms trapped in optical lattices that simulate models of strongly correlated electronic solids—to solve outstanding problems in condensed matter physics. His 1999 experiment that resulted in a degenerate Fermi gas launched a new frontier in atomic, molecular, and optical physics. DeMarco's research has been highlighted on the NSF LiveScience and Discoveries websites.

DeMarco is the recipient of numerous honors, most notably an NSF CAREER Award, an ONR Young Investigator Award, and a Sloan Foundation Fellowship. He has demonstrated a strong commitment of service to the scientific community: he serves on the APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) and the National Academy of Science Intelligence Science and Technology Experts Group (ISTEG). He is currently Chair of the NASA Fundamental Physical Sciences Standing Review Board and was in the 2016-2017 class of the Defense Sciences Study Group.

DeMarco received his B.A. in physics with a mathematics minor from the State University of New York at Geneseo in 1996, graduating summa cum laude. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2001. He joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in 2003, following a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, CO.

The 2018 University Scholars will be honored at a ceremony taking place September 13, 2018 at the iHotel and Conference Center in Champaign. University Scholars receive an annual stipend for three years to be applied toward university-related teaching or research costs.

The Department of Physics is well represented on the list of prior recipients of this honor. Since it was first conferred in 1985, there have been 17 physics faculty members who were named University Scholars, including Peter Abbamonte(2014), Kevin Pitts (2013), Taekjip Ha (2009), Paul Selvin (2006), Philip Phillips (2003), Douglas Beck (2001), David Hertzog (2000), Anthony Liss, (1999), Dale Van Harlingen (1998), Paul Goldbart (1996), Klaus Schulten (1996), Donald Ginsberg (1994), Steven Errede (1991), Miles Klein (1989), Stephen Wolfram (1988), Gordon Baym (1987), and Ralph Simmons (1986).

Recent News

  • In the Media

As the chair of the NASA Fundamental Physical Sciences  Review Board, which has oversight responsibility for the recently launched Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), Professor Brian DeMarco plays a seminal role in the "Coolest Experiment in the Universe," taking place on the International Space Station. DeMarco is featured in the video released in conjunction with this press release. The ultra-cold-atom experiment will study a Bose-Einstein condensate in space to uncover a new understanding of its properties and interactions at a temperature barely above absolute zero.

  • Accolades

Professor Peter Abbamonte has been named the Fox Family Professor in Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Named faculty appointments signify a distinction beyond that of professorial rank, recognizing distinguished scholars for their prominence in research, teaching, and service.

  • In the Media

A second solar farm planned in Savoy will put the University of Illinois in the lead among American universities in terms of solar energy, a top campus proponent says.

The campus is moving ahead with a 55-acre solar farm along the north side of Curtis Road, between First and Neil streets in Savoy, about a mile south of the first 21-acre farm on Windsor Road.

Physics Professor Scott Willenbrock, who recently served as a provost's fellow for sustainability, briefed the Academic Senate about the project Monday, saying it will help the campus meet its goal of generating 5 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources. That target was part of the Illinois Climate Action Plan, known as iCap.

  • Research
  • Biological Physics

A previously unappreciated interaction in the genome turns out to have possibly been one of the driving forces in the emergence of advanced life, billions of years ago.

This discovery began with a curiosity for retrotransposons, known as “jumping genes,” which are DNA sequences that copy and paste themselves within the genome, multiplying rapidly. Nearly half of the human genome is made up of retrotransposons, but bacteria hardly have them at all.

Nigel Goldenfeld, Swanlund Endowed Chair of Physics and leader of the Biocomplexity research theme at the IGB, and Thomas Kuhlman, a former physics professor at Illinois who is now at University of California, Riverside, wondered why this is.“We thought a really simple thing to try was to just take one (retrotransposon) out of my genome and put it into the bacteria just to see what would happen,” Kuhlman said. “And it turned out to be really quite interesting.”