Headlines

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

Prof. Cara Battersby Awarded an NSF CAREER grant

Cara Battersby CAREER AwardProfessor 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.

Plates that Helped Map the Universe, Now at UConn

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.

For more information, see the full UConn Today story here. This story was also featured in May edition of Connecticut Magazine (page 32).

Two Physicists are in Project Daedalus that Focuses on Materials for Aerospace in New $4.7 Million Contract

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.

For more information, see UConn Today article

Research of UConn Professor Daniel Angles-Alcazar featured in UConn Today

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 MachinE Learning 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.”

Prof. J. Trump interview about the launch of the James Webb telescope

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.

U.S. Senators introduce a resolution to recognize the Arecibo Observatory Telescope

The massive dish at Arecibo Observatory as seen in spring 2019. (Image credit: Arecibo Observatory/University of Central Florida)

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.

A Physics Ph.D. Student’s Step-By-Step Journey to Storrs and Distant Galaxies

UConn Physics graduate student Mohammed (Mo) Akhshik works on data gathered using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and has led to exciting discoveries, some while he served as the science Principle Investigator of the REQUIEM HST program from which he is co-author on two publications, one in Nature and one in Nature Astronomy. Akhshik is also a recipient of a national fellowship as a NASA FINESST Future Investigator.

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.

For more details, see the article in UConn Today.

Professor Daniel Anglés-Alcázar research featured in ‘UConn Today’ and CBC radio interview

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.

For more details, please check the article in UConn Today, and Prof. Anglés-Alcázar’s recent radio interview by Canadian Broadcast Corporation.

Undergraduate Researcher Nicole Khusid featured in UConn Today

Physics major Nicole Khusid, a rising senior at UConn, was featured in a UConn Today article about her research. Nicole has been working on gravitional lensing of distant sources of gravitational waves, seeking to understand their multimessenger signals and detectability by future astrophysics facilities. Nicole was awarded a SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fund) award to perform this research wtih Prof. Chiara Mingarelli. For the full story, see the article in UConn Today.

Standard model challenged by new measurement

The following article appeared in UConn Today on May 20, 2021 under by-line  

Physicists are one step closer to describing an anomaly, called the Muon g-2, that could challenge the fundamental laws of physics. It seems the muon may be breaking what have been understood as the laws of physics, and the findings announced on April 7th were met with much excitement and speculation at what this might mean. UConn physics researchers Professor Thomas Blum and Assistant Professor Luchang Jin helped pioneer the theoretical physics behind the findings, and they recently met with UConn Today to help explain the excitement.

What is a muon, and how do you study them?

Blum: A muon is a “fundamental particle,” meaning it’s an elementary particle like an electron or a photon. Muons are unstable, so they don’t live very long. Unlike an electron, where we can focus on them as long as we want and do measurements, we only have a little bit of time to take measurements of muons.

The way researchers perform the experiment is by slamming particles into other particles to create the muons, and they eventually collect them into a beam. This beam of muons travels at almost the speed of light where they live a little bit longer than they would if they were at rest. That’s Einstein’s theory of relativity in action.

The researchers put the muons into what’s called a storage ring where, eventually, they decay into other particles, and it’s those other particles that are detected in the experiment.

Muons have a property called a magnetic moment, which is like a little compass that points in the direction of the magnetic field that it’s in. In the storage ring, there’s a uniform magnetic field, and as the muons are going around in the storage ring, their magnetic moment, which would be perfectly aligned with their direction of travel if there were no anomaly, actually precesses with respect to the direction of travel as it goes around the ring, because of the interaction with the magnetic field.

It’s that precession that they’re measuring, because the precession is proportional to the strength of the magnetic moment. We can measure this magnetic moment extremely precisely in experiments, and we can calculate its value theoretically very precisely, to less than one-half part per million. Then we can compare the two and see how well they agree.

Can you explain the excitement surrounding these results?

Blum: For a long time — almost 20 years — the best measurement had been done at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island, where they measured this magnetic moment very precisely, and found that it didn’t agree with our best fundamental theory, which is called the Standard Model of particle physics. The discrepancy wasn’t big enough to say that there was definitely something wrong with the Standard Model or not.

The new results are from a new experiment done to measure the magnetic moment even more precisely. That effort has been going on at Fermilab outside of Chicago for a few years now, and they just announced these results in early April. Their measurement is completely compatible with the Brookhaven value, and if you take the two together, then the disagreement with the Standard Model gets even worse: it now stands at 4.2 standard deviations.

People are very excited, because this could possibly signal that there is new physics in the universe that that we don’t know about yet. The new physics could be new particles that we’ve never seen before, or new interactions beyond the ones we know about already and that could explain the difference between what’s measured and what’s calculated. So that’s what everybody’s excited about.

Can you tell us about the Standard Model?

Jin: The Standard Model describes electromagnetic interactions between charged particles. It also describes the so called weak interactions, which is responsible for nuclear decay. The weak interactions become more important in high energy collisions, and unifies with the electromagnetic interactions. Lastly, the Standard Model describes the strong interactions, which bind quarks into nucleons and nuclei.

Basically, the Standard Model describes everything around us, ranging from things happening in our daily lives to the high-energy proton collisions in the Large Hadron Collider, with the major exception being gravity, which is only sort of visible, but we can feel it because gravity forces always add up, and there are a lot of other massive objects around us. It also doesn’t include dark matter, if we actually do have that in the universe.

People believe, and I think this is really true, that the Standard Model cannot possibly describe everything to extremely high precision, especially when we accelerate subatomic particles to very high energies. However, it was not very clear how high the energy or the precision has to be before we can see some discrepancies. We know the upper bound — usually referred to as the Planck scale, where the Standard Model has to fail due to the omission of gravity. But the Planck scale is so high that there is little hope to be able to perform experiments at that high energy. It is very nice to find a concrete example that the Standard Model actually misses something, and the g-2 anomaly is a very good candidate.

What roles did you each have in this research?

Jin: Theoretically, we decomposed the g-2 into contributions from the different types of interactions. At present, most of the values are obtained by analytic calculations of the various contributions. Other experimentally measurable quantities that have little to do with the muon magnetic moment experiments in terms of what they measure can be related through the Standard Model to the Muon g-2 value. So, to a large extent, this can still be viewed as a theory prediction. Blum pioneered the first lattice calculation for a certain g-2 contribution called the hadronic vacuum polarization, which doesn’t use experimental data at all.

Blum: Jin came up with new methods to compute the Hadronic Light-by-Light contribution which allowed us – with colleagues at Brookhaven National Lab, Columbia University, and Nagoya University – to compute it completely for the first time without experimental input. What Jin and I are doing, along with a host of other theorists around the world, is trying to better calculate the value of this magnetic moment from the theory side, so that we can have an even better comparison with the experimental measurements.

Jin: The Standard Model itself has a few parameters, which for most, we know very, very precisely. This includes the masses of the fundamental particles. In principle, as one might imagine, the theory prediction of the Muon g-2 is a very complicated expression just in terms of these numbers. We are not able to do that yet, but maybe soon we can. We expect that if we continue to improve our calculations, and as computers continue to get faster, the last digit determination may become more accurate.

To dig deeper into the science behind the findings, read Blum and Jin’s feature article on the findings in CERN Courier.