Cheng Chin receives Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award
Promoting new research directions in the physical and mathematical sciences
Professor Cheng Chin has received the ’21–’22 Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award, a Divisional honor that provides $100,000 for intellectually exciting and innovative research ventures that enable new research directions.
Chin joined the University of Chicago in 2005 and has been a full professor in the Department of Physics, the Enrico Fermi Institute, and the James Franck Institute since 2012. He is a pioneer in using ultracold atoms to study the quantum phenomena that underlie the behavior of other particles in the universe.
“I am very excited about this generous support from the PSD, and especially from Stuart Rice,” he said. “The fund will enable a brand new research line into molecular quantum matter, on which my students and I are very excited to begin.”
The Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award was established by the family of Stuart Alan Rice, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Chemistry and former chairman of the Department of Chemistry and dean of the Physical Sciences (1981-1995). It is awarded annually to promote new directions of research in the physical and mathematical sciences at the University of Chicago.
Groundbreaking research from the Vitelli and Littlewood groups featured in WIRED
A general theory of non-reciprocal matter
The Vitelli and Littlewood groups recently published a groundbreaking general theory of non-reciprocal matter using exceptional points and illustrated with examples found in simple systems such as groups of interacting toy robots. The work was original published in Nature in April and is now receiving wider attention via WIRED. Please see the links on the right and the UChicago News story as well.
Center for Bright Beams awarded $22M to boost accelerator science
Continuing to transform electron beam technology
A collaboration of researchers led by Cornell University and including the University of Chicago has been awarded $22.5 million from the National Science Foundation to continue gaining the fundamental understanding needed to transform the brightness of electron beams available to science, medicine and industry.
The Center for Bright Beams (CBB), an NSF Science and Technology Center, was created in 2016 with an initial $23 million award to Cornell and partner institutions, including the University of Chicago and affiliated Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The center integrates accelerator science with condensed matter physics, materials science and surface science in order to advance particle accelerator technologies, which play a key role in creating new breakthroughs in everything from medicine to electronics to particle physics.
The center’s goals are to improve the performance and reduce the cost of accelerator technologies around the world and develop new research instruments that transform the frontiers of biology, materials science, condensed matter physics, particle physics and nuclear physics, as well as new manufacturing tools that enable chip makers to continue shrinking the features of integrated circuits.
“CBB has brought together a remarkably broad palette of researchers encompassing scientists from physics, physical chemistry, materials research, and accelerator science—an unusually diverse team that has the necessary skills and long-range vision to take on the challenge of helping the next-generation of accelerators come to fruition, with impact on many fields,” said Steven J. Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and the James Franck Institute at the University of Chicago, and a co-leader of CBB’s next-generation superconducting radio frequency materials research. “My role has been profoundly rewarding for my research group and for me personally, introducing us to new research directions in advanced superconducting materials design that will ultimately lead to the innovation of lower-cost accelerators with greatly improved brightness and performance.”
David DeMille wins 2021 Cottrell Plus SEED Award
Recognized by Research Corporation for Science Advancement
David DeMille, University of Chicago and the James Franck Institute, is among five physics and astronomy researchers to win Research Corporation for Science Advancement’s competitive Cottrell Plus SEED (Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery) Awards for 2021.
DeMille received a SEED Award for "Developing a New Tabletop-scale Approach to Detect Particles One Million Times More Massive than the Higgs Boson.""
SEED Awards offer Cottrell Scholars the opportunity to start creative new research or educational activities, granting $50,000 for research projects.
Research Corporation for Science Advancement was founded in 1912 and funds basic research in the physical sciences (astronomy, chemistry, physics, and related fields) at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
Biographical Memoir of R. Stephen Berry
by Stuart A. Rice and Joshua Jortner
The National Academy of Sciences recently published a biographical memoir of the remarkable scientific and personal life of R. Stephen Berry, the James Franck Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and integral part of the James Franck Institute from 1964 to 2020. The memoir was written by Stuart A. Rice, Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Chemistry and the James Franck Institute, and Joshua Jortner, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the Tel Aviv University. The memoir can be found online at the National Academy of Sciences and by direct download. More information about Prof. Berry's influential life and career can be found at the University of Chicago News.
Chin group realizes molecular Bose–Einstein condensate
Opening up new fields in quantum chemistry and technology
Researchers have big ideas for the potential of quantum technology, from unhackable networks to earthquake sensors. But all these things depend on a major technological feat: being able to build and control systems of quantum particles, which are among the smallest objects in the universe.
That goal is now a step closer with the publication of a new method by University of Chicago scientists. Published April 28 in Nature, the paper shows how to bring multiple molecules at once into a single quantum state—one of the most important goals in quantum physics.
"People have been trying to do this for decades, so we’re very excited,” said senior author Cheng Chin, a Professor of Physics and the James Franck Instiute who said he has wanted to achieve this goal since he was a graduate student in the 1990s. “I hope this can open new fields in many-body quantum chemistry. There’s evidence that there are a lot of discoveries waiting out there.”
William Irvine an Inaugural Recipient of the Brown Investigator Award
$2 Million award recognizes curiosity-driven basic research in chemistry and physics
The Brown Science Foundation announced March 8 that it has chosen University of Chicago Prof. William Irvine for its inaugural Brown Investigator Award. The award, which recognizes curiosity-driven basic research in chemistry and physics, supports the investigators’ research with $2 million over five years to their respective universities. Irvine, who researches fundamental problems in fluid dynamics and condensed matter, is one of two scientists chosen, along with David Hsieh of Caltech.
“Even among a strong group of candidates, Hsieh and Irvine stood out for their scientific vision and willingness to take risk,” said Marc Kastner, senior science advisor for the Science Philanthropy Alliance and chairman of the foundation’s scientific advisory board, which selected the winners. “They’re clear examples of America’s reservoir of mid-career scientists with the proven track record and restless minds needed to advance daring ideas.”
The Brown Science Foundation, a member of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, was established in 1992 by Ross M. Brown. The foundation announced its invitation-only Brown Investigator Award program in 2020 with plans to make eight awards annually by 2025. The program supports the often-overlooked resource of mid-career physics and chemistry researchers in the U.S. According to its website, the foundation is “dedicated to the belief that scientific discovery is a driving force in the improvement of the human condition.”
Mazziotti group predicts new state of matter
Discovery addresses problem of generating and moving energy efficiently
Three scientists from the Maziotti group in the JFI have run the numbers, and they believe there may be a way to make a material that could conduct both electricity and energy with 100% efficiency—never losing any to heat or friction.
The breakthrough, published Feb. 18 in Physical Review B, suggests a framework for an entirely new type of matter, which could have very useful technological applications in the real world. Though the prediction is based on theory, efforts are underway to test it experimentally.
“We started out trying to answer a really basic question, to see if it was even possible—we thought these two properties might be incompatible in one material,” said co-author and research adviser David Mazziotti, a professor of chemistry and the James Franck Institute and an expert in molecular electronic structure. “But to our surprise, we found the two states actually become entangled at a quantum level, and so reinforce each other.”
Graduate student LeeAnn Sager began to wonder how the two states could be generated in the same material. Mazziotti’s group specializes in exploring the properties and structures of materials and chemicals using computation, so she began plugging different combinations into a computer model. “We scanned through many possibilities, and then to our surprise, found a region where both states could exist together,” she said.
“Being able to combine superconductivity and exciton condensates would be amazing for lots of applications—electronics, spintronics, quantum computing,” said Shiva Safaei, a postdoctoral researcher and the third author on the paper. “Though this is a first step, it looks extremely promising.”
Takeout noodles inspire Tian, Jaeger, and Tokmakoff groups to invent remarkable synthetic tissue
Breakthrough creates tough material able to stretch, heal and defend itself
While eating takeout one day, James Franck Institute scientists Bozhi Tian and Yin Fang started thinking about the noodles—specifically, their elasticity. A specialty of Xi’an, Tian’s hometown in China, is wheat noodles stretched by hand until they become chewy—strong and elastic. Why, the two materials scientists wondered, didn’t they get thin and weak instead?
They started experimenting, ordering pounds and pounds of noodles from the restaurant. “They got very suspicious,” Fang said. “I think they thought we wanted to steal their secrets to open a rival restaurant.”
But what they were preparing was a recipe for synthetic tissue—that could much more closely mimic biological skin and tissue than existing technology.
“It turns out that granules of common starch can be the missing ingredient for a composite that mimics many of the properties of tissue,” said Fang, a UChicago postdoctoral researcher and lead author of a new paper published Jan. 29 in the journal Matter. “We think this could fundamentally change the way we can make tissue-like materials.”
The breakthrough allows the synthetic tissue to stretch in multiple directions but to heal and defend itself by reorganizing its internal structures —which is how human skin protects itself. The discovery could one day lead to applications from soft robotics and medical implants to sustainable food packaging and biofiltration.
John B. Goodenough awarded 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
JFI Doctoral alumnus advised by Clarence Zener
University of Chicago alumnus John B. Goodenough was awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering role in developing the lithium-ion batteries that now power our cell phones, laptop computers and electric cars.
Goodenough, SM’50, PhD’52, a Professor at the University of Texas, Austin, was one of three scientists on Oct. 9 recognized as foundational in the field of modern battery chemistry, sharing this year’s prize with M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University in New York and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University in Japan. Goodenough is among the 92 scholars associated with the University of Chicago to receive a Nobel Prize.
“John Goodenough truly revolutionized modern life with his chemical insight into lithium batteries. His work as a physicist, chemist and engineer is a hallmark of the University of Chicago’s interdisciplinary tradition,” said Prof. Angela Olinto, dean of UChicago’s Division of the Physical Sciences. “This is well-deserved recognition for a career that has been nothing short of extraordinary.”
Dam Thanh Son awarded 2018 ICTP Dirac Medal
For contributions toward understanding novel phases in strongly interacting many-body systems and introducing original cross-disciplinary techniques
Physicist Dam Thanh Son, University Professor at the University of Chicago, has been awarded the 2018 ICTP Dirac Medal for his contributions to revolutionizing human understanding of how quantum mechanics affects large groups of particles.
Son was awarded the medal with physicists Subir Sachdev of Harvard University and Xiao-Gang Wen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The three winners made independent contributions toward understanding novel phases in strongly interacting many-body systems, according to the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, which awards the Dirac Medal.
“I feel very honored to receive this award alongside two colleagues I deeply respect,” Son said. “The prize is especially valuable to me because ICTP is an institution created to help scientists from the developing world, and I am from Vietnam.”
Son joined the UChicago faculty in 2012 and serves as University Professor in Physics, the Enrico Fermi Institute, James Franck Institute and the College. University Professors are selected for internationally recognized eminence in their fields as well as for their potential for high impact across the University.
Mazziotti group develops method to calculate molecular conductivity
Current-constrained approach significantly improves upon prior methods
The smaller and smarter that phones and devices become, the greater the need to build smaller circuits. Forward-thinking scientists in the 1970s suggested that circuits could be built using molecules instead of wires, and over the past decades that technology has become reality.
“Current models tend to overpredict conductance, but our theory outperforms traditional models by as much as one to two orders of magnitude,” said Prof. David Mazziotti, Professor of Chemistry and the James Franck Institute, who coauthored the paper, published May 31 in Nature’s Communications Chemistry.
“Almost all of the big problems that people are trying to solve involve working with materials that are difficult to explore with traditional methods,” he said. “If we can better predict the conductivity, we can more effectively design better molecules and materials.”
Three JFI Faculty elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Recognition for Laurie Butler, Heinrich Jaeger, and Andrei Tokmakoff
Laurie Butler is a Professor of chemistry with the James Frank Institute. She investigates fundamental inter- and intramolecular forces that drive the courses of chemical reactions, integrating our understanding of quantum mechanics into chemistry. Among other applications, her current work has implications for our models of atmospheric and combustion chemistry. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a former Alfred P. Sloan Fellow.
Heinrich Jaeger is the Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics and the James Franck Institute. His laboratory studies the investigation of materials under conditions far from equilibrium, especially to design new classes of smart materials. A focus of Jaeger’s work are granular materials, which are large aggregates of particles in far-from-equilibrium configurations, that exhibit properties intermediate between those of ordinary solids and liquids – which could lead to everything from soft robotic systems that can change shape to new forms of architectural structures that are fully recyclable. He is a former Fulbright Scholar and Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and is currently a fellow of the American Physical Society.
Andrei Tokmakoff is the Henry J. Gale Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry with the James Franck Institute. He studies the chemistry of water, and molecular dynamics of biophysical processes such as protein folding and DNA hybridization. His lab uses advanced spectroscopy to visualize how molecular structure changes with time to study these problems. He was an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and has received the American Physical Society’s Ernest Plyler Prize, among others.
Dupont, Nagel, and Witten collaborative publication selected as milestone for Physical Review E 25th anniversary celebration
Contact line deposits in an evaporating drop
The year 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of Physical Review E. To celebrate the journal’s rich legacy, during the upcoming year we highlight a series of papers that made important contributions to their field. These milestone articles were nominated by members of the Editorial Board of Physical Review E, in collaboration with the journal’s editors. The 25 milestone articles, including an article for each calendar year from 1993 through 2017 and spanning all major subject areas of the journal, will be unveiled in chronological order and will be featured on the journal website.
For the year 2000, the following collaborative work from three groups in the James Franck Institute is featured:
Contact line deposits in an evaporating drop
Robert D. Deegan, Olgica Bakajin, Todd F. Dupont, Greg Huber, Sidney R. Nagel, and Thomas A. Witten
Phys. Rev. E 62, 756 (2000)
In Memoriam: Dean Eastman
Professor Emeritus of Physics in the James Franck Institute
Dean Eastman, Director of Argonne from 1996-1998 and Professor Emeritus of Physics in the James Franck Institute at the University of Chicago, died on March 4, 2018, at the age of 78. His tenure at Argonne lab saw the Advanced Photon Source begin its operations and the Gammasphere (part of the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System) make its first move from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to Argonne.
After receiving three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Eastman had a successful career as a research physicist with IBM, working at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. He became a world-renowned expert on the electronic properties of materials and spectroscopy and vice president of technical strategy and development reengineering, IBM Server Group.
His passion for building and architecture led to his restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Avery Coonley House in Riverside, Illinois. Eastman self-published “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Coonley House Estate: An Unabridged Documentary,” a book detailing the restoration.
Born in Oxford, Wisconsin, Eastman grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.
He is survived by his wife and two brothers.
Simon group builds photon collider
Study examines how to manipulate photons for quantum engineering
Quantum systems behave according to the strange laws that govern the smallest particles in the universe, like electrons. Scientists are increasingly interested in exploring new ways to harness the particles’ odd behaviors, like being in two states at once, and then choosing one only when measured.
Jonathan Simon, the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Physics and the James Franck Institute, is interested in how walls dividing matter and light begin to break down at this scale. Most electronic systems use electrons as the moving parts, but photons can display quantum properties just as easily as electrons—and photons’ quirks could both offer advantages as technologies and serve as models to understand the more slippery electrons. So his team wants to manipulate and stack photons to build matter out of light.
“Essentially we want to make photon systems into a kind of quantum Legos—blown-up materials that you can more easily study and tease out basic quantum design principles,” said Simon, who is also a fellow of the Institute for Molecular Engineering.
Timothy Berkelbach awarded Sloan Research Fellowship
Prestigious early-career recognition
Tim Berkelbach, a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor, is a theoretical chemist who studies the electronic and optical properties of nanoscale materials. His group adapts computational models written for tens of atoms and scales them up to work for sets of hundreds or thousands—which you need to model materials for applications in solar energy, catalysis and manufacturing, chemical sensing and electronics.
“It’s an honor to be selected, especially alongside such an amazing lineup of people who have been recognized as Sloan fellows over the years,” Berkelbach said.
Irvine group uses gyroscopes to find unusual state of matter
Amorphous topological insulators constructed from random point sets
Using a set of gyroscopes linked together, physicists explored the behavior of a material whose structure is arranged randomly, instead of an orderly lattice. They found they could set off one-way ripples around the edges, much like spectators in a sports arena—a “topological wave,” characteristic of a particularly unusual state of matter.
Published Jan. 15 in Nature Physics, the discovery offers new insight into the physics of collective motion and could one day have implications for electronics, optics or other technologies.
The team, led by Assoc. Prof. William Irvine, used gyroscopes—the top-like toys you played with as a kid—as a model system to explore physics. Because gyroscopes move in three dimensions, if you connect them with springs and spin them with motors, you can observe all kinds of things about the rules that govern how objects move together.
“Everything up to this point was engineered. We thought you had to build a particular lattice, and that determines where the wave goes,” said Irvine. “But when we asked what happened if you took away the spatial order, no crystal plane, no clear structure…the answer’s yes. It just works.”
Chin group finds quantum systems work together for change
Observe particles acting coherently as they undergo phase transitions
A study published Dec. 18 in Nature Physics by University of Chicago scientists observed how particles behave as the change takes place in minute detail. In addition to shedding light on the fundamental rules that govern the universe, understanding such transitions could help design more useful technologies.
One of the questions was whether, as particles prepare to transition between quantum states, they can act as one coherent group that “knows” the states of the others, or whether different particles only act independently of one another, or incoherently.
Cheng Chin, Professor in the James Franck Institute and Department of Physics, and his team looked at an experimental setup of tens of thousands of atoms cooled down to near absolute zero. As the system crossed a quantum phase transition, they measured its behavior with an extremely sensitive imaging system.
The conventional wisdom was that the atoms should evolve incoherently after the transition--a hallmark of older “classic” rather than quantum models of physics. “In contrast, we found strong evidence for coherent dynamics,” said graduate student Lei Feng, the first author on the study. “In no moment do they become classical particles; they always behave as waves that evolve in synchrony with each other, which should give theorists a new ingredient to include in how they model such systems that are out of equilibrium.”
Voth group and collaborators find missing clue to how HIV hacks cells to propagate itself
Demonstrates the power of modern computing for simulating viruses
Computer modeling has helped a team of scientists, including several scholars from the the Voth group in the JFI, to decode previously unknown details about the process by which HIV forces cells to spread the virus to other cells. The findings, published Nov. 7 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may offer a new avenue for drugs to combat the virus.
A key part of HIV’s success is a nasty little trick to propagate itself inside the body. Once HIV has infected a cell, it forces the cell to make a little capsule out of its own membrane, filled with the virus. The capsule pinches off—a process called “budding”—and floats away to infect more cells. Once inside another unsuspecting cell, the capsule coating falls apart, and the HIV RNA gets to work.
Scientists knew that budding involves an HIV protein complex called Gag protein, but the details of the molecular process were murky. “For a while now we have had an idea of what the final assembled structure looks like, but all the details in between remained largely unknown,” said Gregory Voth, the Haig P. Papazian Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and corresponding author on the paper.
Since it’s been difficult to get a good molecular-level snapshot of the protein complex with imaging techniques, Voth and his team built a computer model to simulate Gag in action. Simulations allowed them to tweak the model until they arrived at the most likely configurations for the molecular process, which was then validated by experiments in the laboratory of Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus.
Chin group see fireworks from atoms at ultra-low temperatures
Reveals new form of spontaneous quantum scattering in a driven many-body system
“This is a very fundamental behavior that we have never seen before; it was a great surprise to us,” said study author Cheng Chin, Professor of Physics and in the JFI. Published Nov. 6 in Nature, the research details a curious phenomenon — seen in what was thought to be a well-understood system — that may someday be useful in quantum technology applications.
Chin’s lab studies what happens to particles called bosons in a special state called a Bose-Einstein condensate. When cooled down to temperatures near absolute zero, bosons will all condense into the same quantum state. Researchers applied a magnetic field, jostling the atoms, and they began to collide—sending some flying out of the condensate. But rather than a uniform field of random ejections, they saw bright jets of atoms shooting together from the rim of the disk, like miniature fireworks.
The tiny jets may show up in other systems, researchers said and understanding them may help shed light on the underlying physics of other quantum systems.
Bozhi Tian awarded inaugural ETH Materials Research Prize for Young Investigators
Recognized by ETH Zürich at Materials Day 2017 meeting
The ETH Materials Research Prize for Young Investigators recognizes outstanding contributions of young investigators that advance materials, from fundamental to applied research. These contributions could include, for example: the discovery of new classes of materials, the observation of novel phenomena leading to either fundamentally new applications and insights, and work that substantially impacts our understanding or applications of existing materials and phenomena.
Bozhi Tian, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, triumphed over stiff competition. Tian researches interactions between biological and electronic systems; for example, he examines how the behaviour of cells can be mimicked with semiconducting nanomaterials or how special nanomaterials can be used to measure the electrical conductivity of cells.
“Tian combines hard and soft materials in his research and connects the living with the lifeless,” explains Ralph Spolenak, Professor of Nanometallurgy and Head of the Department of Materials at ETH Zürich. “The bridge between these two poles is a major area in today’s materials science, one that is not only important for medicine, but also enables interesting applications in many other areas.”
Sibener group introduces novel method to separate isotopes
Utilizing gas-surface collisions on patterned silicon
In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, a team led by Prof. Steven J. Sibener describes a way to separate isotopes of neon using a beam of gas aimed at a precisely patterned silicon wafer, which reflects the different isotopes at slightly different angles. The method could one day be a less costly and more energy-efficient way to separate isotopes for medicine, electronics and other applications.
“One can think about it like separating the various colors of light into a rainbow using a prism,” said Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and the James Franck Institute. “This is a wonderful and very precise demonstration study, and we are very pleased with the results,” Sibener said. “It has been a delight to run down to the lab every day to see what’s happened. We’re very much looking forward to planning the next steps in this project to explore other atoms and molecules.”
William Irvine elected 2017 APS Fellow and work featured on Physics Today cover
For experiments and theory on the topological aspects of fluid dynamics and mechanical metamaterials
William Irvine was recently elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society, nominated by the Topical Group on Soft Matter. The criterion for APS Fellow election is exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise; e.g., outstanding physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education. Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one's professional peers.
Research for the Irvine group was recently featured on the cover of Physics Today. The Irvine Group at the University of Chicago has put a new twist on the smoke ring. Instead of blowing smoke into the air to create and visualize swirling flows known as vortex rings, they drove 3D-printed hydrofoils, lined with fluorescent dye, through water. Here, the wispy outer ring of white dye reveals a vortex ring; the orange and green trails are a tomographic reconstruction of the ring’s evolution over time. To learn how the group’s technique helped unveil hidden structure in fluid vortices, see the story.
Timothy Berkelbach named an AFOSR Young Investigator
Awarded for Study of Exciton Interactions in Semiconductor Nanostructures
The Young Investigator Program is open to scientists and engineers at research institutions across the United States who received Ph.D. or equivalent degrees in the last five years and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research. The objective of this program is to foster creative basic research in science and engineering, enhance early career development of outstanding young investigators, and increase opportunities for the young investigators to recognize the Air Force mission and the related challenges in science and engineering.
Park group makes atoms-thick Post-It notes for solar cells and circuits
Layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional materials into wafer-scale heterostructures
In a study published Sept. 20 in Nature, UChicago and Cornell University researchers describe an innovative method to make stacks of semiconductors just a few atoms thick. The technique offers scientists and engineers a simple, cost-effective method to make thin, uniform layers of these materials, which could expand capabilities for devices from solar cells to cell phones.
“The scale of the problem we’re looking at is, imagine trying to lay down a flat sheet of plastic wrap the size of Chicago without getting any air bubbles in it,” said Jiwoong Park, a UChicago professor in the Department of Chemistry, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the James Franck Institute, who led the study. “When the material itself is just atoms thick, every little stray atom is a problem. We expect this new method to accelerate the discovery of novel materials, as well as enabling large-scale manufacturing,” Park said.
Cheng Chin receives BEC 2017 Award
Recognized at biennial conference on Bose-Einstein Condensation
The 2017 Junior BEC Award is given to Cheng Chin for important contributions to the field of Bose-Einstein condensation, including the study of Feshbach resonances, scale invariance in 2D Bose gases, and universality near a quantum phase transition in 2D optical lattices.
Bozhi Tian named one of "Talented Twelve"
Chemical & Engineering News identifies young rising stars
Recognized as a "Bioelectronics Boss" who turns common reagents into unconventional materials, twists ordinary lab procedures into uncommon ones, and finds ways of using his creations in nontraditional applications.
“Bozhi is the real definition of an interdisciplinary scientist,” says fellow Chicago chemistry professor Andrei Tokmakoff. He adds that Tian is also fearless, thoughtful, and soft-spoken, which is unusual in the materials business, where there can be a lot of bluster.
Study examines feeding frenzy behavior in certain worms
Mathematical model helps explain animals’ decision-making process
The C. elegans roundworm sees by eating, sucking in big gulps of bacteria to learn about its surrounding environment. As researchers watched, they noticed an odd pattern marked by “bursts” of eating.
JFI researchers including the Dinner group develeoped a mathematical model to explain such eating bursts. The findings, published Aug. 10 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, help inform a broader understanding of animals’ feeding behavior and the science of decision-making.
“It’s an interesting model for understanding the processes that underlie how animals decide where and when to eat,” said lead author Monika Scholz, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute international student research fellow with UChicago’s Biophysical Sciences program and now at Princeton University. “For these worms, it’s all about the balance between speed and accuracy.”
Irvine group measures intertwining vortices in laboratory
Clever experiment documents multi-scale fluid dynamics
The new findings, published Aug. 3 in Science, are the first to show that helicity maintains a constant value during the flow of viscous fluids. Vortex dynamics have important applications in everyday life; meteorologists, for example, view helicity as a factor that contributes to the formation of supercell tornadoes.
“The fact that we have some measurements for the first time that show helicity can be preserved, especially in the presence of stretching, can translate directly to those efforts,” said William Irvine, an Associate Professor of Physics in the James Franck Institute, who published the findings along with four co-authors.
Simulating helicity in those flows has been difficult because of the widely separated yet interconnecting scales in which they operate. Previous work had been largely theoretical and involved hypothetical, simpler fluids totally lacking in viscosity. Calculations showed that helicity was conserved in these hypothetical fluids, but viscosity emerged as a significant factor in the flow of actual fluids.
“One of the core problems is that you need to sample or measure features of the flow that exist on very different length scales,” said Martin Scheeler, the study’s lead author, who recently completed his Doctorate in Physics in the JFI. The scales range from the diameter of a vortex (approximately 30 centimeters or one foot) to the diameter of its thin core (approximately one milllimeter or three hundredths of an inch).
“You need to measure the flow inside the core as well as the overall shape evolution of that vortex,” Irvine said. “That’s quite a separation.” Irvine characterized Scheeler’s work in overcoming the experimental challenges— simultaneously tracking the fine details of the flow while still measuring the critical larger-scale dynamics—as “a tour de force.”
Arvind Murugan receives 2017 Simons Investigator award
For research in Mathematical Modeling of Living Systems
Arvind Murugan works on how organisms enhance information uptake from the environment by using inference from past experience and has applied such ideas to self-assembly dynamics, olfaction, circadian clocks and stress-response pathways. The Simons Investigators program provides a stable base of support for outstanding scientists, enabling them to undertake long-term study of fundamental questions.
Talapin group develops DOLFIN approach to build nanomaterials into electronic devices
New method promises easier nanoscale manufacturing
The new research, published in Science, is expected to make such materials easily available for eventual use in everything from LED displays to cellular phones to photodetectors and solar cells. Though nanomaterials are promising for future devices, ways to build them into complex structures have been limited and small-scale.
“This is a step needed to move quantum dots and many other nanomaterials from proof-of-concept experiments to real technology we can use,” said co-author Dmitri Talapin, Professor of Chemistry in the James Franck Institute and Scientist with the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne. “It really expands our horizons.”
The new technique, called DOLFIN, makes different nanomaterials directly into “ink” in a process that bypasses the need to lay down a polymer stencil. Talapin and his team carefully designed chemical coatings for individual particles. These coatings react with light, so if you shine light through a patterned mask, the light will transfer the pattern directly into the layer of nanoparticles below—wiring them into useful devices.
“We found the quality of the patterns was comparable to those made with state-of-the-art techniques,” said lead author Yuanyuan Wang, postdoctoral researcher in the Talapin group. “It can be used with a wide range of materials, including semiconductors, metals, oxides or magnetic materials—all commonly used in electronics manufacturing.”
The team is working toward commercializing the DOLFIN technology in partnership with UChicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Vincenzo Vitelli to join Faculty
Arriving in Autumn 2017
The JFI is pleased to welcome the Vitelli group to campus in Autumn 2017.
Chin group settle debate over how exotic quantum particles form
Implications for universality
New research by physicists at the University of Chicago settles a longstanding disagreement over the formation of exotic quantum particles known as Efimov molecules. The findings, published last month in Nature Physics, address differences between how theorists say Efimov molecules should form and the way researchers say they did form in experiments. The study found that the simple picture scientists formulated based on almost 10 years of experimentation had it wrong—a result that has implications for understanding how the first complex molecules formed in the early universe and how complex materials came into being.
“I have to say that I am surprised,” Chin said. “This was an experiment where I did not anticipate the result before we got the data.”
The data came from extremely sensitive experiments done with cesium and lithium atoms using techniques devised by Jacob Johansen, previously a graduate student in Chin’s lab who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. Krutik Patel, a graduate student at UChicago, and Brian DeSalvo, a postdoctoral researcher at UChicago, also contributed to the work.
JaegerFest: In Honor of Heinrich Jaeger's 60th Birthday
The World in a Grain of Sand: A Symposium on the Collective Behavior of Particles
In honor of Heinrich Jaeger’s 60th birthday and to celebrate his highly productive and inspiring scientific career, the MRSEC, JFI, and Physics Department hosted a special Symposium on June 2-3. JaegerFest welcomed to campus more than 100 friends, colleagues, staff and administrators both current and retired, as well as many generations of current and former graduate students. Participants enjoyed a full day of talks related to granular physics, and dinner at the local Experimental Station that included a "roast" where everyone could only think of nice things to say.
Suri Vaikuntanathan awarded Sloan Research Fellowship
Prestigious early-career recognition
The Sloan Research Fellows are the rising stars of the academic community,” says Paul L. Joskow, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “Through their achievements and ambition, these young scholars are transforming their fields and opening up entirely new research horizons. We are proud to support them at this crucial stage of their careers.”
New method uses heat flow to levitate variety of objects
Undergraduates in Chin group lead breakthrough work
Third-year Frankie Fung and fourth-year Mykhaylo Usatyuk led a team of UChicago researchers who demonstrated how to levitate a variety of objects—ceramic and polyethylene spheres, glass bubbles, ice particles, lint strands and thistle seeds—between a warm plate and a cold plate in a vacuum chamber.
“They made lots of intriguing observations that blew my mind,” said Cheng Chin, professor of physics, whose ultracold lab in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science was home to the experiments.
New SPIFF method improves accuracy of imaging systems
Collaborative work by the Dinner, Rice, and Scherer groups
The newly developed SPIFF (single-pixel interior filling function) method provides a way to detect and correct systematic errors in data and image analysis used in many areas of science and engineering.
“Anyone working with imaging data on tiny objects — or objects that appear tiny — who wants to determine and track their positions in time and space will benefit from the single-pixel interior filling function method,” said co-principal investigator Norbert Scherer.
Myford Super 7 lathe dedication
New tool for the JFI Student Machine Shop
Stuart Rice generously donated a Myford Super 7 Lathe to the JFI Student Machine Shop, and we had a dedication ceremony on January 10, 2017. The lathe is already being put to good use.
Prof. Robert Gomer, 1924-2016
Former JFI Director and pioneering chemist passes away at the age of 92.
Prof. Emeritus Robert Gomer, a chemical physicist who pioneered techniques for studying molecules and taught at the University of Chicago for nearly a half-century, died Dec. 12 of complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was 92.
Chin group confirms theory describing principles of phase transitions
Ultracold atoms unveil a universal symmetry of systems crossing continuous phase transitions
For systems near continuous phase transitions, the details don’t matter. In principle, a universal theory can be applied to understand continuous phase transitions whether they occur in biological cell membranes, magnets, liquid crystals, or even in the entire early universe! But while the universal theory of static systems near continuous phase transitions has been generally successful, the degree to which the dynamics of crossing such transitions can be universally explained presents an exciting new frontier.
Recent work by the Chin group uncovers these universal features in the dynamics of ultracold atoms in a shaking optical lattice. When the researchers shake the lattice they find that atoms undergo a continuous, quantum phase transition, after which they must choose between two new ground states with either leftward or rightward momentum. This causes the gas to split into domains with atoms in one momentum state or the other, which can then be observed using a microscope. The researchers found that the details are indeed irrelevant: the growth of domains over time and their pattern across space are independent of the rate at which the transition is crossed, once they account for a simple power-law scaling of space and time. These findings support the universal scaling symmetry of phase transition dynamics, which provides a simple, powerful prediction for the behavior of a huge variety of systems when they cross continuous phase transitions.
Heinrich Jaeger receives 2016 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring
When it comes to graduate education, it’s the questions that concern Heinrich Jaeger, not the answers.
“Many students might think that we would be very much laboring to find answers to big questions, and that is certainly true,” says Jaeger. “But the important aspect of mentoring is to find questions. How do you bring students to the point that they will ask research questions that are interesting and important?”
New Device Steps Toward Isolating Single Electrons for Quantum Computing
The Schuster Group has integrated trapped electrons with superconducting quantum circuits
“A key aspect of this experiment is that we have integrated trapped electrons with more well-developed superconducting quantum circuits,” said graduate student Ge Yang, lead author of the Physical Review X paper that reported the group’s findings. The team captured the electrons by coaxing them to float above the surface of liquid helium at extremely low temperatures.