The 2023 High Energy Astrophysics Division’s Early-Career Prize is awarded to Dr. Chiara Mingarelli for her leadership in the analysis of pulsar timing array data and her contributions to our understanding of the stochastic gravitational wave background.
For more information about the Prize, see https://head.aas.org/awards/earlycareer/earlycareer.prize.html
Daniel McCarron, a physics professor, received a grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research for his work analyzing the quantum mechanical behavior of a simple hydrocarbon molecule: CH, or methylidyne. A highly reactive gas, methylidyne is abundant in the interstellar medium, and its simple composition promises to allow researchers to study the role of quantum mechanics within organic chemistry.
In order to expose the quantum nature of these molecules, Prof. McCarron has devised a way to cool them down to a millionth of a degree above absolute zero using laser light. At such a low temperature, “quantum effects are amplified and can reveal themselves in the lab,” he says. “You don’t really get that in a beaker at room temperature – things just happen too quickly and too chaotically.”
The AFOSR is funding the purchase of a high-powered laser to assist in slowing down beams of CH radicals from about 100 meters per second to several centimeters per second. This laser-cooling and trapping technology will allow amplifying and better study of the quantum behavior of this organic molecule, with an eye toward furthering scientific knowledge about the role of quantum mechanics in chemical reactions in general—a field where successful research has been scarce.
Second-year graduate student Andrea Mejia received in Fall 2022 the CT Space Grant Award for her Graduate Research on “Constraining Black Hole Binaries and Mergers” where she studies, by means of numerical simulations, how Active Galactic Nuclei form and eventually merge stellar mass black hole binaries, see https://ctspacegrant.org/funding-programs/faculty/past-recipients. In addition, Andrea successfully secured in May 2023 an ACCESS Explore Grant. These grants are designed specifically for graduate students in need of advanced computing and data resources for research purposes. Andrea’s grant provides 716,800 cpu-hours on high-performance computing systems to be used by May 2024. Originating from Andrea’s undergraduate research at her prior institution, Hunter College, this well-funded research will help to interpret data on gravitational waves from black hole mergers observed by LIGO and VIRGO. For her graduate studies at UConn, however, Andrea plans to pursue a different career path and switch from mergers of stellar mass black holes in theoretical astrophysics to collisions of subatomic particles in theoretical particle and nuclear physics.
Prof. Chiara Mingarelli is the Inspiring Women in Science awards 2022 Scientific Achievement Runner-Up.
The Inspiring Women in Science awards celebrate and support the achievements of women in science, and all those who work to encourage girls and young women to engage with STEM subjects and stay in STEM careers around the world.
Professors Jain and Sochnikov received NSF research grant entitled “New Quantum Elastocaloric Demagnetization Refrigeration for the Millikelvin Range”. A major focus of their research will be the cooling of quantum chips. For this purpose, their teams will study ‘spin liquids’, which can be harnessed to achieve millikelvin temperatures without magnetic fields. At such low temperatures, quantum phase transitions drive cryocooling. This research uses novel techniques to induce and tune these types of phase transitions. In the future, this research will transform our ability to build energy-efficient, large-scale quantum computers.
Prof. Nora Berrah received the Honorary Doctoral Degree from the University of Turku in Finland. The ceremonial conferment was on October 8, 2021. This honor comes with the University of Turku Doctoral Certificate as well as a “Hat and a Sword”, the latter symbolizing the “Doctors’ Rank but also Sharpness of Thought and Role in Defending Science”. A picture of the hat and sword is shown.
Two UConn Physics graduate students were recently awarded the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS) scholarship to support their work in the field of directed energy. Brandin Davis and Zhanna Rodnova received awards for their research on developing long-wavelength infra-red radiation sources. They were among 20 national winners. DEPS awards students scholarships of up to $10,000 to students carrying out promising research in directed energy technology, high-power laser development, high-power microwaves, and ultrashort pulse lasers. Brandin and Zhanna are both part of Prof. Carlos Trallero’s research group, which focuses on studies of light-matter interaction using high-power ultrashort pulse lasers.
Prof. Thomas Blum is one of two faculty to receive the Research Excellence award from the University of Connecticut in 2022. Tom came to UConn in 2004 and is a professor and associate department head for undergraduate education in the Physics Department. As a theoretical physicist, Blum specializes in making difficult, detailed mathematical calculations concerning how basic theories of physics, such as quantum mechanics, play out in setting the properties and behavior of matter, in his case the tiniest particles known. Notably, Blum is able to figure out how to perform calculations that others have found not possible. He has held visiting professorships at KEK in Japan, CERN in Switzerland, and the Helmholtz Institute in Germany. He has also won research awards including an Outstanding Junior Investigator award from the US Department of Energy, the Ken Wilson Award (top award in his subfield), is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and was named a Fermilab Distinguished Scholar. At the same time, he is also a dedicated mentor, who supports the development of junior colleagues, and undergraduate and graduate students.
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.
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.