Spotlight on new faculty: Jaquelyn Noronha-Hostler, Nuclear Physics

Jessica Raley for Illinois Physics
11/14/2019

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 Jaki Noronha-Hostler (center) works with postdoc Matthew Sievert (right) and graduate students Patrick Carzon (far left) and Travis Dore.
Professor Jaki Noronha-Hostler (center) works with postdoc Matthew Sievert (right) and graduate students Patrick Carzon (far left) and Travis Dore.

Professor Jaki Noronha-Hostler

Jaki Noronha-Hostler is a nuclear physicist. In her research, she does simulations of the most perfect fluid we know of–quark-gluon plasma–moving at the speed of light, and then compares the simulations directly to experimental data. This type of matter is believed to have existed 10-6 seconds after the big bang, so to study it, nuclear experimentalists create billions of “little bangs” in the laboratory. The goal of her current research is to find the location a critical point at which separates the cross-over phase transition (between a quark gluon plasma and hadrons) from a first order phase transition. This research has implications for several areas of physics, including neutron stars, which may contain a quark-gluon plasma at their core. Jaki says, “If we see a critical point, then there is a first order phase transition that could affect the dynamics of neutron star mergers.” Her work also pushes the boundaries of statistics, because new statistical tools have to be developed to analyze the data from the large number of simulations required for this research.

For more information about Jaki's work, or to inquire about joining her research group, visit her website.

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.