Welcome new faculty: Asst. Professor Julia "Jessie" Shelton

Siv Schwink
2/6/2014

Julia Shelton, known to friends and colleagues as Jessie, is a theoretical high-energy particle physicist, with a background in string theory. Her research program is focused on particle phenomenology, and particularly on identifying and modeling beyond-the-standard-model physics.

“The upcoming decade will be a historic watershed in our understanding of physics at the electroweak scale,” comments Shelton. “The complementary probes of beyond-the-standard-model physics coming from colliders on one hand and cosmology on the other promises a fruitful interplay of collider, direct detection, and astrophysical observations in the upcoming years. I work towards developing a comprehensive picture of physics beyond the electroweak scale, with collider and dark matter studies both forming an integral part of my research program.”

Shelton’s background in string theory through her graduate work and her first postdoctoral appointment has influenced her approach to particle physics.

“My field change from string theory to particle physics meant that I came into the field somewhat late—I didn’t grow up as a grad student in phenomenology,” she explains. “A very large number of models of electroweak-scale physics  had been extensively developed at that point, and it seemed more urgent to me to take a bottom-up approach,  asking theoretical questions about how we can distinguish new physics models from the Standard Model and from each other in sharp and useful ways.”

“I’m very interested in evidence of new particle physics, wherever we can see it,” she comments. “Today, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is our primary discovery machine. Its initial run produced a flood of data, dramatically altering our picture of the electroweak scale.  Right now the LHC is  in the middle of a two-year shut down (while it undergoes upgrades to operate at higher energy), so it’s a good time to reassess the theoretical motivations for potential LHC signals, and develop  new search strategies that take full advantage of the discovery potential of the LHC.  . The experimental program at the LHC is broad and well motivated, but the LHC is a blunt instrument in that it’s often hard to find  things if you don’t know what you’re looking for —there are places where new physics could be hiding..”

With the promise of exciting new physics on the horizon, Shelton is happy to have Physics Illinois as her home base from which to explore it.

“Illinois is an exciting place to be,” remarks Shelton. “The department is both dynamic and friendly. The particle physics group here is very strong, and the level of communication between theorists and experimentalists is uncommon. . Additionally, the department’s geographic proximity to national labs and  Chicago is a great benefit in terms of having a larger community with which to collaborate.”

Shelton also looks forward to teaching: “Communicating a beautiful piece of physics is the heart of what I find attractive about teaching,” shares Shelton. “A solid foundation in physics is useful to students across a spectrum of disciplines, regardless of their future need for Newton's laws, because it teaches an analytical approach to the world and a quantitative approach to problems.”

Shelton received her bachelor’s degree cum laude in physics from Princeton University in 2000. She received her doctoral degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006, working under thesis adviser Washington Taylor.

Prior to joining the faculty at Illinois, Shelton worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the High Energy Theory Group at Rutgers University (2006–2009), then in the Theoretical Particle Group at Yale University (2009–20012), and finally in the High Energy Theory Group at Harvard University (2012-2013).

Shelton is a recipient of the LHC Theory Initiative Travel and Computing Award (2011), the Andrew M. Lockett Award for Excellence in Theoretical Physics (2006), and a Graduate Student Award for the Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates and Students (2003). She was also selected a Goldwater Scholar (1998).

Recent News

  • Research Funding

The United States Department of Energy awards $2.2 million to the FAIR Framework for Physics-Inspired Artificial Intelligence in High Energy Physics project, spearheaded by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ Center for Artificial Intelligence Innovation (CAII) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The primary focus of this project is to advance our understanding of the relationship between data and artificial intelligence (AI) models by exploring relationships among them through the development of FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) frameworks. Using High Energy Physics (HEP) as the science driver, this project will develop a FAIR framework to advance our understanding of AI, provide new insights to apply AI techniques, and provide an environment where novel approaches to AI can be explored.

This project is an interdisciplinary, multi-department, and multi-institutional effort led by Eliu Huerta, principal investigator, director of the CAII, senior research scientist at NCSA, and faculty in Physics, Astronomy, Computational Science and Engineering and the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe at UIUC. Alongside Huerta are co-PIs from Illinois: Zhizhen Zhao, assistant professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Coordinated Science Laboratory; Mark Neubauer, professor of physics, member of Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe, and faculty affiliate in ECE, NCSA, and the CAII; Volodymyr Kindratenko, co-director of the CAII, senior research scientist at NCSA, and faculty at ECE and Computer Science; Daniel S. Katz, assistant director of Scientific Software and Applications at NCSA, faculty in ECE, CS, and School of Information Sciences. In addition, the team is joined by co-PIs Roger Rusack, professor of physics at the University of Minnesota; Philip Harris, assistant professor of physics at MIT; and Javier Duarte, assistant professor in physics at UC San Diego.

  • Research

This year, 31 research teams have been awarded a combined 5.87 million node hours on the Summit supercomputer, the OLCF’s 200 petaflop IBM AC922 system. The research performed through the ALCC program this year will range from the impact of jets on offshore wind farms to the structure and states of quantum materials to the behavior of plasma within fusion reactors—all computationally intensive scientific applications necessitating the power of a large-scale supercomputer like Summit.

  • In Memoriam

Jim was widely viewed as one of the best teachers in the Physics Department. He was frequently listed in the University’s roster of excellent instructors and won awards for his classroom skills. In 2012, he received the Arnold T. Nordsieck Physics Award for Teaching Excellence for his “patient, insightful, and inspiring physics teaching, one problem at a time, that encourages undergraduate students to take their understanding to a new level.”

  • Research

Now a team of theoretical physicists at the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory (ICMT) in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led by Illinois Physics Professor Philip Phillips, has for the first time exactly solved a representative model of the cuprate problem, the 1992 Hatsugai-Kohmoto (HK) model of a doped Mott insulator.