Reports on recent events within the larger scientific world, with a member of the department explaining the science and commenting on its significance.

Goodwin School 3rd grade visits the Physics Learning Labs

About one mile from the Gant plaza, Goodwin Elementary School teaches some really bright kids. On January 15, 2019, science teacher Nancy Titchen and Goodwin teachers brought the entire 3rd grade class on a field trip to the Physics Learning Labs mock-up studio for some science fun. Students enjoyed a liquid nitrogen show, witnessed quantum effects in superconducting magnetic levitation, experienced mechanics concepts such as angular momentum, and learned about vibrations and the phenomenon mechanical of resonance. The expert hands of a star team of PhD students (Erin Curry and Donal Sheets) and new laboratory technicians (James Jaconetta and Zac Transport) ensured students had a great time and learned some interesting science. Big thanks to the staff and the Goodwin School!

Nora Berrah Named 2018 AAAS Fellow

Physics professor Nora Berrah has been named a 2018 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Prof. Berrah has been recognized for her distinguished contributions to the field of molecular dynamics, particularly for pioneering non-linear science using x-ray lasers and spectroscopy using synchrotron light sources.

Prof. Berrah

View full story on CLAS website.

Welcoming Barrett Wells as new department head


In August 2018, Professor Barrett Wells entered as the new head of the Physics department, following Professor Nora Berrah.  Barrett is an experimental condensed matter physicists with a robust research program involved in both synthesis and advanced experimentation around novel phases of quantum materials. Barrett brings to the department strong administrative talent, having served a long term as the associate department head for undergraduate affairs as well as chairing many important committees since his arrival at UConn.

Learn more about Professor Wells and the physics department from a recent interview produced by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UConn Physics major wins national recognition for research

Connor Occhialini – Finalist 2018 LeRoy Apker Undergraduate Achievements Award

by Jason Hancock

One of our star undergraduates, Connor Occhialini, has won national recognition as a finalist in the 2018 LeRoy Apker Undergraduate Achievements Award competition for his research in the UConn Physics department. The honor and distinction is awarded not only for the excellent research achievements of the student, but also for the department that provides the supportive environment and opportunities for students to excel in research. Connor is in fact the second Apker finalist in three years’ time (Michael Cantara was a 2016 Apker finalist). Connor graduated with a BS in Physics from UConn in May 2018 and stayed on as a researcher during summer 2018. During his time here, he developed theoretical models, helped build a pump-probe laser system, and carried out advanced analysis of X-ray scattering data which revealed a new context for an unusual phenomenon – negative thermal expansion. With these outstanding achievements, the department presented Connor’s nomination to the 2018 LeRoy Apker award committee of the American Physical Society. Connor was selected to be one of only four Apker finalists from all PhD-granting institutions in the US. With this prestigious honor, the department receives a plaque and a $1000 award to support undergraduate research. Connor is now a PhD student in the Physics Department at MIT.

New gravity wave detection signals collision of two dead stars

For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves — ripples in space-time — in addition to light from the spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light.

The discovery was made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO); the Europe-based Virgo detector; and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories.

Neutron stars are the smallest, densest stars known to exist and are formed when massive stars explode in supernovas. As these neutron stars spiraled together, they emitted gravitational waves that were detectable for about 100 seconds; when they collided, a flash of light in the form of gamma rays was emitted and seen on Earth about two seconds after the gravitational waves. In the days and weeks following the smashup, other forms of light, or electromagnetic radiation — including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves — were detected.

GW+EM Observatories Map

GW170817: A Global Astronomy Event

The observations have given astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to probe a collision of two neutron stars. For example, observations made by the U.S. Gemini Observatory, the European Very Large Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope reveal signatures of recently synthesized material, including gold and platinum, solving a decades-long mystery of where about half of all elements heavier than iron are produced.

The LIGO-Virgo results are published today in the journal Physical Review Letters; additional papers from the LIGO and Virgo collaborations and the astronomical community have been either submitted or accepted for publication in various journals.

“It is tremendously exciting to experience a rare event that transforms our understanding of the workings of the universe,” says France A. Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds LIGO. “This discovery realizes a long-standing goal many of us have had, that is, to simultaneously observe rare cosmic events using both traditional as well as gravitational-wave observatories. Only through NSF’s four-decade investment in gravitational-wave observatories, coupled with telescopes that observe from radio to gamma-ray wavelengths, are we able to expand our opportunities to detect new cosmic phenomena and piece together a fresh narrative of the physics of stars in their death throes.”

Written by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office, full text of original article available here on the LIGO web site.

Landmark g-2 experiment begins second phase in long career of testing the Standard Model

Instead of directly searching for new particles as the LHC experiments are doing in Geneva, the muon g-2 experiment at Fermilab measures a well-known physical property of the muon to ever greater precision, looking for deviations from the value it should have based on the Standard Model of particle physics, assuming that no new forces or particles are in play. UConn theorists Tom Blum and Luchang Jin are contributing to this effort by reducing the theoretical uncertainty on the Standard Model prediction to match the anticipated experimental precision.

The Muon g-2 experiment has begun its search for phantom particles with its world-famous and well-traveled electromagnet.

The Muon g-2 ring with instrumentationThe Muon g-2 ring with instrumentation, awaiting muons at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Credit: Fermilab

What do you get when you revive a beautiful 20-year-old physics machine, carefully transport it 3,200 miles over land and sea to its new home, and then use it to probe strange happenings in a magnetic field? Hopefully you get new insights into the elementary particles that make up everything. The Muon g-2 experiment, located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has begun its quest for those insights. On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab’s accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists’ picture of the universe and how it works.

“The Muon g-2 experiment’s first beam truly signals the start of an important new research program at Fermilab, one that uses muon particles to look for rare and fascinating anomalies in nature,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “After years of preparation, I’m excited to see this experiment begin its search in earnest.”

Getting to this point was a long road for Muon g-2, both figuratively and literally. The first generation of this experiment took place at the U.S. DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The goal of the experiment was to precisely measure one property of the muon – the particles’ precession, or wobble, in a magnetic field. The final results were surprising, hinting at the presence of previously unknown phantom particles or forces affecting the muon’s properties.

Video depicting the first leg of the g-2 electromagnet’s 3,200-mile journey from Brookhaven to Fermilab

The new experiment at Fermilab will make use of the laboratory’s intense beam of muons to definitively answer the questions the Brookhaven experiment raised. And since it would have cost 10 times more to build a completely new machine at Brookhaven rather than move the magnet to Fermilab, the Muon g-2 team transported that large, fragile superconducting magnet in one piece from Long Island to the suburbs of Chicago in the summer of 2013.

The magnet took a barge south around Florida, up the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway and the Illinois River, and was then driven on a specially designed truck over three nights to Fermilab. And thanks to a GPS-powered map online, it collected thousands of fans over its journey, making it one of the most well-known electromagnets in the world.

“Getting the magnet here was only half the battle,” said Chris Polly, project manager of the Muon g-2 experiment. “Since it arrived, the team here at Fermilab has been working around the clock installing detectors, building a control room and, for the past year, adjusting the uniformity of the magnetic field, which must be precisely known to an unprecedented level to obtain any new physics. It’s been a lot of work, but we’re ready now to really get started.”

That work has included the creation of a new beamline to deliver a pure beam of muons to the ring, the installation of a host of instrumentation to measure both the magnetic field and the muons as they circulate within it, and a year-long process of “shimming” the magnet, inserting tiny pieces of metal by hand to shape the magnetic field. The field created by the magnet is now three times more uniform than the one it created at Brookhaven.

The Muon g-2 electromagnet arriving at Fermilab

The Muon g-2 electromagnet arriving at Fermilab in July 2013 after a 3,200-mile journey from Brookhaven National Laboratory. Credit: Fermilab

Over the next few weeks the Muon g-2 team will test the equipment installed around the magnet, which will be storing and measuring muons for the first time in 16 years. Later this year, they will start taking science-quality data, and if their results confirm the anomaly first seen at Brookhaven, it will mean that the elegant picture of the universe that scientists have been working on for decades is incomplete, and that new particles or forces may be out there, waiting to be discovered.

“It’s an exciting time for the whole team, and for physics,” said David Hertzog of the University of Washington, co-spokesperson of the Muon g-2 collaboration. “The magnet has been working, and working fantastically well. It won’t be long until we have our first results, and a better view through the window that the Brookhaven experiment opened for us.”

The Muon g-2 collaboration includes more than 150 scientists and engineers from more than 30 institutions in nine countries.

Learn more about the Muon g-2 experiment. Take a 360-degree tour of the Muon g-2 experiment hall.

The Muon g-2 experiment is supported by DOE’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.

Fermilab Media Contact

  • Andre Salles, Fermilab Office of Communication, 630-840-6733, media@fnal.gov

Science contacts

  • David Hertzog, Muon g-2 collaboration co-spokesperson, University of Washington, 206-543-0839, hertzog@uw.edu
  • Chris Polly, Muon g-2 project manager, Fermilab, 630-840-2552, polly@fnal.gov
  • B. Lee Roberts, Muon g-2 collaboration co-spokesperson, Boston University, 791-799-7483, roberts@bu.edu

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website and follow us on Twitter @Fermilab.

Brookhaven National Laboratory and Fermilab are supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.  For more information, please visit the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.

Physics society names three APS Fellows

The American Physical Society (APS) has named three UConn Physics faculty as APS Fellows. APS Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one’s professional peers and is an honor bestowed by election. The criterion for 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.

In 2016, George Gibson, George Rawitscher, and Alan Wuosmaa are named Fellows of the American Physical Society.

APS Fellow George Gibson: For deepening our understanding of molecules in strong fields

APS Fellow George Rawitscher: “For pioneering contributions to the development of the continuum discretized coupled channels method for including the coupling to break-up channels in three-body models of deuteron elastic scattering, break-up and stripping and for his deep studies of the role of nonlocality in the nucleon-nucleus optical potential.”

APS Fellow Alan Wuosmaa: “For essential contributions to nuclear physics over a wide range of topics including the demonstration of the nonexistence of positron lines in collisions with very heavy nuclei at the Coulomb barrier, the nature of cluster structures in nuclei, studies of particle multiplicities in relativistic heavy-ion collisions, and the exploration of single-particle properties of light exotic nuclei.”