News: Faculty


Timothy Berkelbach named an AFOSR Young Investigator

October 11, 2017

Timothy Berkelbach

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

September 20, 2017

Park group research image

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

September 6, 2017

Cheng Chin receiving 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”

August 23, 2017

Bozhi Tian award

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

August 16, 2017

JFI logo

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

August 3, 2017

Irvine research image

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.”


Talapin group develops DOLFIN approach to build nanomaterials into electronic devices

July 27, 2017

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

June 27, 2017

Vincenzo Vitelli

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

June 22, 2017

Cheng Chin

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

June 5, 2017

JaegerFest Group Photo

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

February 21, 2017

Sloan Foundation Logo

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.”

Press Release

New method uses heat flow to levitate variety of objects

February 15, 2017

Research image

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

February 4, 2017

Research image

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

January 30, 2017

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

January 12, 2017

Robert Gomer

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.