Professor Cara Battersby has been awarded an NSF CAREER grant! “The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
Prof. Battersby’s CAREER Award is entitled “CAREER: Shining STARs Amidst the Turbulence” and is an ambitious project to complete the first-ever systematic study of turbulence in an extreme environment, the center of our galaxy. Turbulence is poorly understood yet plays a pivotal role in the setting the Initial Mass Function (IMF), which underpins all of modern astrophysics. The results from this research will be brought into under-resourced high school classrooms through lesson plans jointly developed by K-12 teachers and undergraduate students from traditionally under-represented groups. Battersby aims to recruit and retain students from under-represented groups in STEM through a new mentorship program UConn-STARs.
UConn is now home to tools that have played an instrumental role in mapping the universe — 10 large aluminum plates used as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Measuring 32 inches across, one-eighth of an inch thick, and with thousands of tiny holes drilled in them, these plates may not be the type of instruments most people would initially picture; however, they have helped answer important questions about the universe.
Jonathan Trump, associate professor of physics, helped design the final round of plate observations for SDSS, which observed over three million objects in the sky, including stars, galaxies, and supermassive black holes from a telescope in New Mexico.
UConn’s collaboration with the Department of Defense Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is launching a new project. It is titled Multiscale Modeling and Characterization of Metamaterials, Functional Ceramics and Photonics. This is a $4.7 M contract with $1M for Physics. The project’s goal is to explore and advance the understanding of electronic, photonic, magnetic, and multiferroic materials, with future applications in the aerospace industry. Two experimental condensed matter physicists Dr. Menka Jain and Dr. Ilya Sochnikov will contribute to the understanding of magnetic and multiferroic materials. The project supports 4 graduate Research Assistants in the Physics Department and is a unique life-transformative and career-building opportunity for them.
The article The Largest Suite of Cosmic Simulations for AI Training Is Now Free to Download; Already Spurring Discoveries describe research of a team of astrophysicists that includes UConn Professor of Physics Daniel Anglés-Alcázar.
“Machine learning is revolutionizing many areas of science, but it requires a huge amount of data to exploit,” says Anglés-Alcázar. “The CAMELS (which stands for Cosmology and Astrophysics with MachinELearning Simulations) public data release, with thousands of simulated universes covering a broad range of plausible physics, will provide the galaxy formation and cosmology communities with a unique opportunity to explore the potential of new machine-learning algorithms to solve a variety of problems.”
UConn Physics Professor Jonathan Trump is part of a group of scientists who will be the first to conduct research using the James Webb space telescope. The local Fox News TV station conducted an interview with Prof. Trump.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched on December 25, 2021. The telescope is named after James E. Webb who was the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968 and played an integral role in the Apollo program. JWST is intended to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship mission in astrophysics. It is designed to provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, viewing objects up to 100 times fainter, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology.
On Friday December 3rd, a group of U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rick Scott (R-FL) introduced a bipartisan a resolution to recognize the significant scientific, educational, and economic contributions made by the Arecibo Observatory telescope.
“The telescope at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory was a scientific marvel, extensively expanding our understanding of the universe,” said Blumenthal. “Its collapse left a significant educational void for our country and the scientific community across the world. I’m proud to recognize its important contributions alongside my colleagues and express our strong support for further studies for how best to replace—and build upon—this telescope’s capabilities at the world-class Arecibo Observatory.”
Read more here, including a link to the full resolution. The research of several UConn physicists has greatly benefited from the Arecibo telescope over the years.
Chiara Mingarelli, Assistant Professor of Physics at UConn, is the lead researcher on a $650,000 Collaborative Research Grant from the National Science Foundation, half of which is earmarked for UConn, to conduct an experiment to prove the existence of supermassive black hole binaries. This grant will combine, for the first time, traditional astronomy with gravitational wave astronomy.
“This project is really setting up a whole new way to think about low-frequency gravitational-wave and extragalactic astronomy,” Mingarelli says. “With our new method, not only can we make predictions about the amplitude of the gravitational wave background, but we can also make predictions of where the likeliest and closest supermassive black hole systems are.”
For more information about Prof. Mingarelli research, see the recent article in UConn Today.
Akhshik gleans new information about very distant galaxies using a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Due to the forces of gravity, light from distant galaxies is focused to appear brighter, and the images appear in different parts of the sky at different times, explains Akhshik. The researchers were also able to detect new details of distant galaxies through observations from different telescopes, which Akhshik says is almost like layering different filters on the same image.
At the center of galaxies, like our own Milky Way, lie massive black holes surrounded by spinning gas. Some shine brightly, with a continuous supply of fuel, while others go dormant for millions of years, only to reawaken with a serendipitous influx of gas. It remains largely a mystery how gas flows across the universe to feed these massive black holes. UConn Assistant Professor of Physics Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, lead author on a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, addresses some of the questions surrounding these massive and enigmatic features of the universe by using new, high-powered simulations.
As we approach the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, UConn is set for having classes in person again, students on campus, and our first taste of somewhat normal university life in a year and a half. Students, faculty, and staff are all required to be vaccinated, masks are required indoors, classrooms will be fully utilized and our labs are fully open once again. As with the rest of America, we are both excited to be coming back but nervous about what the future may hold.
The past year has been difficult for us, as with everyone else. We had been teaching most classes remotely, research labs have been open but running at reduced capacity, and our new physics building has been eerily quiet for the most part. What has surprised me the most has been the number of successes racked up within the department despite the trying times. Within this newsletter there are some great stories on some accomplishments, including the UConn contribution to the world-famous muon g-2 result, our part in the new world of multi-messenger astronomy, and Nora Berrah’s prestigious term as a Blaise Pascal International Scholar. This has also been one of our best years in winning external research funding, with particularly notable successes among our newer hires.
Another development over the past year is that the renovations of the new physics building have been largely completed and it is fully open, including the new Light Court in the center of our studio teaching labs. Physics now occupies the space that was formerly the Mathematics Building. Unfortunately, I cannot yet extend an open invitation to come visit, but I hope you will do so once the pandemic recedes and we are fully open. Given uncertainty in the health situation, we still cannot schedule major public events for this year. Our next Katzenstein Lecture is scheduled for September 23, 2022. The speaker will be Donna Strickland from the University of Waterloo (Canada), the 2018 Nobel Laureate for developing chirped pulse amplification – a key ingredient in today’s ultrafast laser technology. When the time comes, we will be sending out invitations. I hope many of you can attend the lecture, visit our building, and attend the following banquet.
I close by wishing all of us health and a successful return to a more normal kind of life over the next year.