Spotlight on new faculty: Eric Kuo, Physics Education Research

Jessica Raley for Illinois Physics

The Department of Physics at Illinois welcomes an extraordinary set of ten new faculty members this year. Eight of them have arrived on campus and have begun setting up their labs and settling into life in Champaign-Urbana. Two more faculty are set to arrive in January. We will feature each of them here over the next couple of weeks. Check back regularly to learn more about the exciting work these new faculty members are doing.

Professor Eric Kuo (right) discusses AP Physics education with Maggie Mahmood.
Professor Eric Kuo (right) discusses AP Physics education with Maggie Mahmood.


Gary Gladding and Victoria Christensen Faculty Fellow Eric Kuo

Eric Kuo studies the mechanisms of how physics students think and learn, using these investigations to inform design and assessment of new instructional methods. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to learning, he draws on principles and techniques from related fields, including psychology, cognitive science, and the learning sciences. A major focus of his work is clarifying problem-solving expertise: how do people learn to apply what they know to solve unfamiliar problems? His continuing research investigates the impact of students’ (i) mathematical and conceptual cognition and (ii) motivation, attitudes, and beliefs about learning on how they solve physics problems. Building on this work, he has shown that a mathematical sensemaking-focused curriculum can foster problem-solving insights and physical interpretations of mathematical results. At Illinois, he plans to develop quantitative and qualitative characterizations of student problem solving in physics courses, as well as develop and test different instructional techniques, including the use of causal reasoning diagrams and future iterations of the mathematical sensemaking curriculum. Eric will join the Illinois Physics faculty in January 2020.

For more information about Eric's work, or to inquire about joining his research group, click here.

Recent News

  • Research

An international team of researchers led by Paul Scherrer Institute postdoctoral researcher Niels Schröter now provide an important benchmark for how "strong" topological phenonena can be in a real material. Writing in Science, the team reports experiments in which they observed that, in the topological semimetal palladium gallium (PdGa), one of the most common classifiers of topological phenomena, the Chern number, can reach the maximum value that is allowed in any metallic crystal. That this is possible in a real material has never been shown before. Moreover, the team has established ways to control the sign of the Chern number, which might bring new opportunities for exploring, and exploiting, topological phenomena. Illinois Physics Professor Barry Bradlyn contributed to the theoretical work elucidating the team's experiments.

At the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), over 200 physicists across dozens of institutions are collaborating on a project called COMPASS. This experiment (short for Common Muon and Proton Apparatus for Structure and Spectroscopy) uses CERN’s Super Proton Synchrotron to tear apart protons with a particle beam, allowing researchers to see the subatomic quarks and gluons that make up these building blocks of the universe. But particle beams aren’t the only futuretech in play – the experiments are also enabled by a heavy dose of supercomputing power.

New findings from physicists at the University of Illinois, in collaboration with researchers at The University of Tokyo and others, clarify the physics of coupling topological materials with simple, conventional superconductors.

Through a novel method they devised to fabricate bulk insulating topological insulator (TI) films on superconductor (SC) substrates, the researchers were able to more precisely test the proximity effect, or coupling when two materials contact one another, between TIs and SCs. They found that when the TI film is bulk insulating, no superconductivity is observed at the top surface, but if it is a metal, as in prior work, strong, long-range superconducting order is seen. The experimental efforts were led by physics Professor Tai-Chang Chiang and Joseph Andrew Hlevyack, postdoctoral researcher in Professor Chiang’s group, in collaboration with Professor James N. Eckstein’s group including Yang Bai, Professor Kozo Okazaki’s Lab at The U. of Tokyo, and five other institutes internationally. The findings are published in Physical Review Letters, which has been highlighted as a PRL Editors’ Suggestion.

  • Accolades

Illinois Physics Assistant Professor Barry Bradlyn has been selected for a 2020 National Science Foundation CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) Award. This award is conferred annually in support of junior faculty who excel in the role of teacher-scholars by integrating outstanding research programs with excellent educational programs. Receipt of this award also reflects great promise for a lifetime of leadership within the recipients’ respective fields.

Bradlyn is a theoretical condensed matter physicist whose work studying the novel quantum properties inherent in topological insulators and topological semimetals has already shed new light on these extraordinary systems. Among his contributions, he developed a real-space formulation of topological band theory, allowing for the prediction of many new topological insulators and semimetals.