Victor Brar, Wisconsin Center for Semiconductor Thermal Photonics earn UW Research Forward funding

Sixteen projects were chosen in the third round of UW–Madison’s Research Forward competition, including one from Physics.

The Wisconsin Center for Semiconductor Thermal Photonics will explore fundamental science at the intersection of semiconductor technology and radiative heat transfer. This cross-disciplinary center will explore thermal radiation in unconventional semiconductor materials, in nanostructures, and in extreme conditions, and achieve control of the directionality and timing of radiative heat transfer at unprecedented scales. New technologies will emerge from these fundamental studies, including low-cost spectrometers, imaging and ranging, and energy harvesting and active cooling.

The project is led by ECE associate professor and physics affiliate professor Mikhail Kats as Principal Investigator, with Physics associate professor Victor Brar as one of the co-PIs.

Research Forward, a competition sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCRGE), is intended to stimulate and support highly innovative and groundbreaking research at UW–Madison.

The initiative is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and will provide funding for 1–2 years, depending on the needs and scope of the project.


Three students receive Sophomore Research Fellowships

Three students — two physics majors, one astronomy-physics — have received a UW–Madison Sophomore Research Fellowship as a fellow or honorable mention. The students are:

  • Ella ChevalierAstronomy-Physics; working with Ke Zhang (Astronomy)
  • Erica MageeMathematics, Physics; working with Martin Zanni (Chemistry)
  • Elias MettnerPhysics; working with Abdollah Mohammadi (Physics)

The fellowships include a stipend to each student and to their faculty advisers. Fellowships are funded by grants from the Brittingham Wisconsin Trust and the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest, with additional support from UW-System, the Chancellor’s Office and the Provost’s Office.

Wasikul Islam honored with UW Postdoc Association Excellence in Service Award

Wasikul Islam, a postdoc in Sau Lan Wu’s group, was recognized by the UW–Madison Postdoc Association with an Excellence in Service Award. He was nominated for his science outreach activities, promotion of basic sciences, volunteering and mentorship to undergrad Physics students through various non-profit organizations including the American Physical Society. 

The Postdoc Excellence Awards recognize current postdocs on the UW-Madison campus that contribute their time, knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm to mentoring, teaching, and service. They were established to encourage and reward excellence, innovation, and effectiveness in the mentoring, teaching, and service of UW-Madison postdocs. The 2023 winners were honored at the Celebration of Postdoc Excellence on May 19.

a zoomed out photo shows a man receiving an award from a woman on an elevate stage, with a screen behind them showing his photo, name, and award won
Wasikul Islam receives his award at the 2023 Celebration of Postdoc Excellence, held May 19.

Ke Fang earns NSF CAREER award

profile photo of Ke Fang
Ke Fang

Congrats to Ke Fang, assistant professor of physics, WIPAC faculty member, and HAWC spokesperson, on earning an NSF CAREER award! CAREER awards are NSF’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.

Fang’s award is sponsored by the NSF Windows on the Universe: Multimessenger Astrophysics program. In multimessenger astrophysics, scientists search for multiple high energy signals to identify their sources and learn more about the makeup of our universe. WIPAC hosts both the IceCube neutrino telescope and the HAWC gamma ray telescope, and Fang says she is excited to have access to high-quality data from both. In her NSF proposal, she plans to use that data in two ways.

“One is evolving novel data analysis techniques to study the problems that remain outstanding, such as the source of high-energy neutrinos,” Fang says. “The second part is once we have these data analysis results, then we’ll use numerical simulations to understand our observations.”

In addition to an innovative research component, NSF proposals require that the research has broader societal impacts, such as working toward greater inclusion in STEM or increasing public understanding of science. Once again, Fang finds herself well-positioned at WIPAC, where the outreach team has developed Master Classes, a one-day event where high school students come to WIPAC, spend time with scientists, and learn about topics not typically covered in high school physics class. Currently, the students learn about IceCube’s instrumentation and how to analyze the complex detector data.

“The course is already well designed, but from my perspective, I use a lot of numerical simulation in my research, so one thing I proposed to do is that I would design a module that would incorporate some of these modern numerical study techniques into the master class,” Fang says. “The students will now learn how to study physics using supercomputers, using numerical simulations.”

Researchers capture elusive missing step in the final act of photosynthesis

an abstract background with a 35mm film with several panels showing the molecular process described in the study

This story was modified from one originally published by SLAC

Photosynthesis plays a crucial role in shaping and sustaining life on Earth, yet many aspects of the process remain a mystery. One such mystery is how Photosystem II, a protein complex in plants, algae and cyanobacteria, harvests energy from sunlight and uses it to split water, producing the oxygen we breathe. Now researchers from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, together with collaborators from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and other institutions have succeeded in cracking a key secret of Photosystem II.

Profile picture of Uwe Bergmann
Uwe Bergmann

Using SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) and the SPring-8 Angstrom Compact free electron LAser (SACLA) in Japan, they captured for the first time in atomic detail what happens in the final moments leading up to the release of breathable oxygen. The data reveal an intermediate reaction step that had not been observed before.

The results, published today in Nature, shed light on how nature has optimized photosynthesis and are helping scientists develop artificial photosynthetic systems that mimic photosynthesis to harvest natural sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into hydrogen and carbon-based fuels.

“The splitting of water to molecular oxygen by photosynthesis has dramatically reshaped our early planet, eventually leading to complex life forms that rely on oxygen for respiration, including ourselves,” says Uwe Bergmann, a physics professor at UW–Madison. “Capturing the final steps of this process in real time with x-ray laser pulses, and bringing to light the individual atoms involved, is thrilling and adds an important piece to solving this over 3-billion-year-old puzzle.”

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