Laser focused on Alpha Centauri

Shine a laser pointer at a cat, and the cat may see and try to catch the light, but it certainly won’t feel it.

What if that light were not a milliwatt laser, but one hundred trillion times stronger — and the cat were essentially weightless, floating in space?

“Normally, optical forces are zero — you don’t feel light pushing on you. But with a very strong laser on a very light object, the forces start to be measurable and significant, and we are interested in studying those forces,” says Victor Brar, assistant professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “A new idea called laser sailing is one area where these optical forces become relevant.”

Brar, with graduate student Joel Siegel and colleagues, conducted a set of simulations in which they show that a self-stabilizing laser sail is theoretically achievable, making it that much more feasible that a spacecraft will make it to neighboring star systems in our lifetime.

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First cohort of students dives into new quantum computing master’s

The inaugural MS in Physics–Quantum Computing is the first program of its kind in the U.S. It addresses an emerging workforce need by preparing students to enter this rapidly growing and highly complex field. Most of the students will complete their degrees August, and we checked in with them one semester into their studies.

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Physics Students Offered Phi Beta Kappa Membership

Ten physics students have been honored with an invitation to join Phi Beta Kappa:

Dongxia Wu
Mari McPheron
Runze Li
Vicky Wen
Max McLachlan
Adam Shandonay
Thomas Yan
Sean Huth
Christopher DuPre
Steven Kan