Research, teaching and outreach in Physics at UW–Madison
Month: February 2023
Royal visit strengthens WIPAC and IceCube’s partnership with Thailand
A budding collaboration between the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center and Chiang Mai University in Thailand took a grand turn with a visit to the Royal Palace in Bangkok. There, discussions between scientists from WIPAC, a University of Wisconsin–Madison research center, and Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn explored how to increase research opportunities for Thai researchers and technical staff at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.
IceCube, a unique telescope that has instrumented a billion tons of South Pole ice, searches for tiny, ghostlike particles called neutrinos to study the most powerful cosmic engines in the universe. HRH Sirindhorn’s fascination with physics, astronomy and Antarctic research has become evident in her strong advocacy for this work in general and IceCube science in particular.
The Wonders of Physics shows in Chamberlin Hall, Feb 11-12 and Feb 18-19, kept the audience riveted with scientific experiments that demonstrated physics principles with panache. It also was a landmark show of sorts, as Professor Clint Sprott handed over control to Haddie McLean in the show’s 40th year. The show aims to to generate interest in physics among people of all ages and backgrounds.
New quantum sensing technique reveals magnetic connections
By Leah Hesla, Q-NEXT
A research team supported by the Q-NEXT quantum research center demonstrates a new way to use quantum sensors to tease out relationships between microscopic magnetic fields.
Say you notice a sudden drop in temperature on both your patio and kitchen thermometers. At first, you think it’s because of a cold snap, so you crank up the heat in your home. Then you realize that while the outside has indeed become colder, inside, someone left the refrigerator door open.
Initially, you thought the temperature drops were correlated. Later, you saw that they weren’t.
Recognizing when readings are correlated is important not only for your home heating bill but for all of science. It’s especially challenging when measuring properties of atoms.
Now scientists — including those from UW–Madison physics professor Shimon Kolkowitz‘s group — have developed a method, reported in Science, that enables them to see whether magnetic fields detected by a pair of atom-scale quantum sensors are correlated or not.
Physicists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison directly measured, for the first time at nanometer resolution, the fluid-like flow of electrons in graphene. The results, which will appear in the journal Science on Feb. 17, have applications in developing new, low-resistance materials, where electrical transport would be more efficient.
Graphene, an atom-thick sheet of carbon arranged in a honeycomb pattern, is an especially pure electrical conductor, making it an ideal material to study electron flow with very low resistance. Here, researchers intentionally added impurities at known distances and found that electron flow changes from gas-like to fluid-like as temperatures rise.
“All conductive materials contain impurities and imperfections that block electron flow, which causes resistance. Historically, people have taken a low-resolution approach to identifying where resistance comes from,” says Zach Krebs, a physics graduate student at UW–Madison and co-lead author of the study. “In this study, we image how charge flows around an impurity and actually see how that impurity blocks current and causes resistance, which is something that hasn’t been done before to distinguish gas-like and fluid-like electron flow.
The researchers intentionally introduced obstacles in the graphene, spaced at controlled distances and then applied a current across the sheet. Using a technique called scanning tunneling potentiomentry (STP), they measured the voltage with nanometer resolution at all points on the graphene, producing a 2D map of the electron flow pattern.
No matter the obstacle spacing, the drop in voltage through the channel was much lower at higher temp (77 kelvins) vs lower temp (4 K), indicating lower resistance with more electrons passing through.
At temperatures near absolute zero, electrons in graphene behave like a gas: they diffuse in all directions and are more likely to hit obstacles than they are to interact with each other. Resistance is higher, and electron flow is relatively inefficient. At higher temperatures — 77 K, or minus 196 C — the fluid-like behavior of electron flow means they are interacting with each other more than they are hitting obstacles, flowing like water between two rocks in the middle of a stream. It is as if the electrons are communicating information about the obstacle to each other and diverting around the rocks.
“We did a quantitative analysis [of the voltage map] and found that at the higher temperature, the resistance is much lower in the channel. The electrons were flowing more freely and fluid-like,” Krebs says. “Graphene is so clean that we’re forcing the electrons to interact with each other before they interact with anything else, and that is crucial in getting them to behave like a fluid.”
Former UW–Madison graduate student Wyatt Behn is a co-first author on this study conducted in physics professor Victor Brar’s group. Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DE-SC00020313), the Office of Naval Research (N00014-20-1-2356) and the National Science Foundation (DMR-1653661).
Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science!
February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and we’re more than happy to showcase some of our women physicists! We collected photos from women in the department, which you can see in a collage above. Some women also chose to share a bit about their research and/or what being a woman in science and woman in physics means to them. Those quotes are below.
Abby Warden, graduate student
My name is Abby Warden, a 5th year graduate student working in experimental high energy physics. My current work includes assembling Gas Electron Multiplier (GEM) chambers for electronics testing. GEMs are the newest muon sub detector that will be installed in the general particle detector, the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS).
Dr. Camilla Galloni, Post-doc
Seen some muons? Working on the muon detector of the CMS experiment: GE11 installed in 2020 and successfully operated is the precursor of the GE21 and ME0 detectors now being constructed for the high luminosity LHC upgrade. This big “camera” takes “snapshots” of particles produced in high energy proton collisions and helps understand the fundamental interactions of nature.
Elise Chavez, graduate student
I’ve always been drawn to figuring out how the world works and it led me to my research and passion of learning how the universe works fundamentally at the subatomic level. I work with the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) that lies along the Large Hadron Colider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva. Being a woman in physics is a strange duality. There are times when I feel empowered and times I feel very small. It is strength, confidence, and understanding, but it is also alienating, discouraging, and conflicting. It has taught me a lot about people and myself. It gave me a passion to help and support women and minorities in physics because it is for everyone. Diversity is what helps discovery thrive and I hope one day that it can be solely an uplifting experience.
Dr. Charis Koraka, post-doc
Curiosity, along with kindness and compassion are some of the greatest human qualities and those that make societies prosper. The quest of understanding the laws and properties of the universe, has always been a driving source and what made me turn to physics. With perseverance, nothing is impossible!
Wren Vetens, graduate student
My experience as a woman in physics has been marked by perseverance, community, and solidarity. There is still much to be done to achieve equality within the field of physics but we can do our part by standing up for and supporting each other, especially supporting our juniors and those who are disabled, LGBTQ+, and/or POC. I chose physics because I am compelled to always look deeper when I have questions about the nature of life, the universe, and everything. The very same drive that led me to study Physics also led me to coming to terms with my own identity as a queer person, nonbinary person, and transgender woman. Suffice to say, I would not be who I am today without physics or without my gender, and really the two are simply manifestations of that drive. I am currently wrapping up my PhD in experimental particle physics as a part of the CMS collaboration and hoping to graduate this year. My research topic is a search for the unique signature of a long-lived composite particle made of six quarks, which could in principle be produced at the LHC and detected with the CMS detector.
Prof. Tulika Bose
I am an experimental particle physicist working on the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. I love being part of a large international physics collaboration looking to answer some of the most fundamental questions in physics today – what is responsible for dark matter ? What is the matter-antimatter asymmetry in our universe due to ? Are there new exotic particles out there ? We try to answer these questions using our detector, cutting-edge instrumentation, modern software (incorporating Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning) and high-performance computing!
I study plasma astrophysics: how electric and magnetic fields interact with charged particles in astrophysical systems. This is an incredibly broad field and I enjoy all of it – how sunspots and solar flares work, how a single proton can acquire the energy of a hard hit tennis ball, and what the blotchy rings imaged around supermassive black holes are really telling us, to give just a few examples.
Having the time and capacity to study these things has been an incredible privilege. I’m grateful to my parents, who thought my mind was worth developing, and to my many wonderful teachers, colleagues, and students – I hope I do as well by them as they did and do by me. I’m grateful to the social infrastructure that gave me food, water, and shelter, cured my illnesses, and allowed me reproductive freedom of choice so I could become a person who lives her dreams.
Haddie McLean, outreach specialist
I love that my job allows me to bring physics to children, our next generation of scientists. I want to show them that physics is fun and it’s for everyone. I hope to inspire them to pursue a career in science.
Prof. Jim Lawler has passed away
Professor Jim Lawler, the Arthur and Aurelia Schawlow Professor Emerit of Physics at UW–Madison, passed away January 29, 2023. He was 71.
Lawler was an atomic, molecular & optical physicist with a focus developing and applying laser spectroscopic techniques for determining accurate absolute atomic transition probabilities. He received his MS (’74) and PhD (’78) from this department, studying with now-professor emerit Wilmer Anderson. In the two years after earning his doctorate, he was a research associate at Stanford University, and returned to UW–Madison as an assistant professor in 1980. He remained on the faculty until his retirement in May 2022.
Lawler served as department chair from 1994-1997. He also accumulated numerous awards and honors over his distinguished career. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the U.K. Institute of Physics, and in 2020 he was elected a Legacy Fellow of the inaugural class of American Astronomical Society Fellows. He won the 1992 W. P. Allis Prize of the American Physical Society and the 1995 Penning Award from the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics for research in plasma physics, the two highest National and International Awards in the field of Low Temperature Plasma Physics. In 2017, he won Laboratory Astrophysics Prize of the American Astronomical Society for research in spectroscopy.
At the time of Lawler’s retirement, longtime collaborator Blair Savage, UW–Madison professor emeritus of astronomy, said of Lawler’s contributions to the field:
“Jim’s work in laboratory astrophysics provided extremely important atomic ultraviolet transition probabilities in support of the Hubble Space Telescope programs to determine elemental abundances of gaseous matter in the interstellar medium from three different ultraviolet spectrographs over the 32-year history of the space observatory. They included the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.”
During his tenure, Lawler supervised 26 PhD students and 10 terminal MS students. Those students and postdocs have gone on to prestigious National Research Council Fellowships, group lead positions at major companies, and tenured professorships, amongst many others.