UW-Madison one step closer to harnessing the power of the sun through fusion research

For the first time, a fusion device at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has generated plasma, inching one step closer toward using nuclear fusion as a source of carbon-free energy.

The post UW-Madison one step closer to harnessing the power of the sun through fusion research appeared first on WPR.

Read the full article at: https://www.wpr.org/news/uw-madison-one-step-closer-to-harnessing-the-power-of-the-sun-through-fusion-research

Justin Edwards earns National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship

profile photo of Justin Edwards, with text overlay that says "Edwards chosen for prestigious NDSEG fellowship"

Physics PhD and ECE MS student Justin Edwards has been awarded the prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship in the category of Physics (including Optics), with a proposal titled “Multispectral imaging in the near infrared for next-generation analog night vision systems”. Justin is advised by ECE Professor and physics affiliate professor Mikhail Kats and collaborates extensively with ECE PhD students Rabeeya Hamid and Demeng Feng, and the group of Dan Congreve at Stanford University.

First plasma marks major milestone in UW–Madison fusion energy research

a cyan blue cloud of light illuminates the majority of the shot

A fusion device at the University of Wisconsin–Madison generated plasma for the first time Monday, opening a door to making the highly anticipated, carbon-free energy source a reality.

Over the past four years, a team of UW–Madison physicists and engineers has been constructing and testing the fusion energy device, known as WHAM (Wisconsin HTS Axisymmetric Mirror) in UW’s Physical Sciences Lab in Stoughton. It transitioned to operations mode this week, marking a major milestone for the yearslong research project that’s received support from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The outlook for decarbonizing our energy sector is just much higher with fusion than anything else,” says Cary Forest, a UW–Madison physics professor who has helped lead the development of WHAM. “First plasma is a crucial first step for us in that direction.”

WHAM started in 2020 as a partnership between UW–Madison, MIT and the company Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Now, WHAM will operate as a public-private partnership between UW–Madison and spinoff company Realta Fusion Inc., positioning it as major force for fusion research advances at the university.

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Elliot Claveau, honorary fellow in the Department of Physics and experimental scientist at Realta Fusion, raises his hands in celebration of achieving a plasma from the control room at the Wisconsin HTS Axisymmetric Mirror Project (WHAM) experiment being conducted at the Wisconsin Plasma Physics Laboratory in Stoughton, Wisconsin on July 16, 2024. Part of a public-private partnership between UW–Madison and Realta Fusion Inc, the WHAM achieved the milestone of creating plasma as part of fusion energy research. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW–Madison)


The Wisconsin HTS Axisymmetric Mirror Project (WHAM) experiment being conducted at the Wisconsin Plasma Physics Laboratory in Stoughton, Wisconsin is pictured on July 16, 2024. Part of a public-private partnership between UW–Madison and Realta Fusion Inc, the WHAM achieved the milestone of creating plasma as part of fusion energy research. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW–Madison)


an animated GIF showing fusion at the particle/atomic level, moving from lithium + neutron = tritium + helium waste. Then, tritium + deuterium = neutron + helium waste + lots of energy
The fusion reaction at the atomic level. | Credit: Sarah Perdue, UW–Madison Physics

DARPA Researchers Highlight Application Areas for Quantum Computing

This post is modified from one originally published by DARPA

Amid efforts to explore quantum computers’ transformative potential, one foundational element remains missing from the discussion about quantum: What are the benchmarks that predict whether tomorrow’s quantum computers will be truly revolutionary? In 2021, DARPA’s Quantum Benchmarking program kicked off with the goal of reinventing the metrics critical to measuring quantum computing progress and applying scientific rigor to often unsubstantiated claims about quantum computing’s future promise.

Six months into the second phase of the program, five teams have highlighted research findings focused on specific applications where quantum computing might make outsized impact over digital supercomputers. Equally important, researchers estimated what size quantum computer is needed to achieve the desired performance and how valuable the computation would be. Pre-prints of these results are available on arxiv.org.

Three teams — University of Southern California, HRL Laboratories, and L3Harris — focused on benchmarks and applications while two other teams — Rigetti Computing and Zapata Computing — estimated required quantum computing resources. MIT Lincoln Laboratory, NASA, and Los Alamos National Laboratory provided subject matter expertise, software integration, and test and evaluation capabilities.

The HRL team includes UW–Madison physics professor Matt Otten.

To view the pre-print titles, abstracts, and links to the full text, as well as open-source software code developed by the teams, visit: Publications highlighting potential impact of quantum computing in specific applications.

Read the full DARPA story

New NOvA results add to mystery of neutrinos

The international NOvA collaboration presented new results at the Neutrino 2024 conference in Milan, Italy, on June 17. The collaboration doubled their neutrino data since their previous release four years ago, including adding a new low-energy sample of electron neutrinos. The new results are consistent with previous NOvA results, but with improved precision. The data favor the “normal” ordering of neutrino masses more strongly than before, but ambiguity remains around the neutrino’s oscillation properties.

At UW–Madison, the NOvA collaboration includes physics professor Brian Rebel, postdoc Adam Lister, former postdoc Tom Carroll, and grad student Anna Cooleybeck.

The latest NOvA data provide a very precise measurement of the bigger splitting between the squared neutrino masses and slightly favor the normal mass ordering. That precision on the mass splitting means that, when coupled with data from other experiments performed at nuclear reactors, the data favor the normal ordering at almost 7:1 odds. This suggests that neutrinos adhere to the normal ordering, but physicists have not met the high threshold of certainty required to declare a discovery.

Read the full story, originally published by Fermilab

Mark Saffman part of team awarded in latest round of Research Forward funding

This story was originally published by the OVCR

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) hosts the Research Forward initiative to stimulate and support highly innovative and groundbreaking research at the University of Wisconsin–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.

Research Forward seeks to support collaborative, multidisciplinary, multi-investigator research projects that are high-risk, high-impact, and transformative. It seeks to fund research projects that have the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study as well as projects that require significant development prior to the submission of applications for external funding. Collaborative research proposals are welcome from within any of the four divisions (Arts & Humanities, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences), as are cross-divisional collaborations.

Physics professor Mark Saffman is part of a team awarded funding in Round 4 of the Research Forward competition for their project:

Quanta sensing for next generation quantum computing

Future quantum computers could open new scientific and engineering frontiers, impacting existential challenges like climate change. However, quantum information is delicate; it leaks with time and is prone to significant errors. These errors are exacerbated by imperfect reading and writing of quantum bits (qubits). These challenges fundamentally limit our ability to run quantum programs, and could hold back this powerful technology. Fast and accurate qubit readout, therefore, is essential for unlocking the quantum advantage. Current quantum computers use conventional cameras for reading qubits, which are inherently slow and noisy.

This research project will use quanta (single-photon) sensors for fast and accurate qubit readout. Quanta sensors detect individual photons scattered from qubits, thus enabling sensing qubits at 2-3 orders of magnitude higher speeds (few microseconds from ~10 milliseconds), thereby transforming the capabilities (speed, accuracy) of future quantum computers, and for the first time, paving the way for scalable and practical quantum computing.

Principal investigator: Mohit Gupta, associate professor of computer sciences

Co-PIs: Mark Saffman, professor of physics; Swamit Tannu, assistant professor of computer sciences; Andreas Velten, associate professor of biostatistics and medical informatics, electrical and computer engineering

Entangled neutrinos may lead to heavier element formation

Elements are the building blocks of every chemical in the universe, but how and where the different elements formed is not entirely understood. A new paper in The Astrophysical Journal by University of Wisconsin–Madison physics professor Baha Balantekin and colleagues with the Network for Neutrinos, Nuclear Astrophysics, and Symmetries (N3AS) Physics Frontier Center, shows how entangled neutrinos could be required for the formation of elements above approximately atomic number 140 via neutron capture in an intermediate-rate process, or i-process.

Profile photo of Baha Balantekin
Baha Balantekin

Why it’s important

“Where the chemical elements are made is not clear, and we do not know all the possible ways they can be made,” Balantekin says. “We believe that some are made in supernovae explosions or neutron star mergers, and many of these objects are governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, so then you can use the stars to explore aspects of quantum mechanics.”

What is already known?

  • Immediately after the Big Bang, lighter elements like hydrogen and helium were abundant. Heavier elements, up to iron (atomic number 26) continued to form through nuclear fusion in the centers of hot stars.
  • Above iron, fusion is no longer energetically favorable, and nuclear synthesis occurs via neutron capture, where neutrons glom onto atomic nuclei. At high enough concentrations, neutrons can convert into protons, increasing the atomic number of the element by one.
  • This conversion is dependent on neutrinos and antineutrinos. Neutron capture has been found to occur slowly (s-process, over years) and rapidly (r-process, within minutes); an intermediate timescale, or i-process has been proposed but little evidence exists to support it. Rapid or intermediate neutron capture can only take place in catastrophic events where a huge amount of energy is released, such as supernova collapse.
  • “When a supernova collapse occurs, you start with a big star, which is gravitationally bound, and that binding has energy,” Balantekin says. “When it collapses, that energy has to be released, and it turns out that energy is released in neutrinos.”
  • The laws of quantum mechanics state that those neutrinos can become entangled because they interact in the collapsing supernova. Entanglement is when any two or more particles interacted and then “remember” the others, no matter how far apart they might be.

A quick summary of the research

  • “One question we can ask is if these neutrinos are entangled with each other or not,” Balantekin says. “This paper shows that if the neutrinos are entangled, then there is an enhanced new process of element production, the i-process.”
a plot of mass number A (atomic number) on the x-axis and abundance as a log scale on the y-axis. a purple line shows the i-process abundance, black line shows r-process, and grey line shows s-process. Above atomic number 140 or so, there is a visible enhancement of the purple line over the other two lines (below 140 the black and grey lines are much higher abundance values than the purple line)
The abundance pattern based on calculations in this paper (ν i-process pattern; purple line), compared with the solar system s-process (gray line) and r-process (black line) abundance data (Sneden et al. 2008). The ν i abundance for A = 143 is scaled to the solar r-process data for pattern comparison. | Source: The Astrophysical Journal

The experimental and simulated evidence

  • The researchers used two known facts to set up their calculations: well-established rates of neutron capture, and catalogs of the atomic spectra of stars, which astronomers have collected over decades to identify the abundance of different elements. They also knew that a supernova collapse produces on the order of 10^58 neutrinos, a number that is far too large to use in any standard calculations.
  • Instead, they made simulations of up to eight neutrinos and calculated the abundance of elements that would be created via neutron capture if the neutrinos were entangled, or were not entangled.
  • “We have a system of, say, three neutrinos and three antineutrinos together in a region where there are protons and neutrons and see if that changes anything about element formation,” Balantekin says. “We calculate the abundances of elements that are produced in the star, and you see that the entangled or not entangled cases give you different abundances.”
  • The simulations showed that elements with atomic number greater than 140 are likely to be enhanced by i-process neutron capture — but only if the neutrinos are entangled.

Caveats and future work

  • Balantekin points out that these simulations are just “hints” based on astronomical observations. Astrophysics research requires using the cosmos as a lab, and it is difficult to conduct true experimental tests on earth.
  • “There’s something called the standard model of particle physics, which determines the interaction of particles. The neutrino-neutrino interaction is one aspect of the standard model which has not been tested in the lab, it can only be tested in astrophysical extremes,” Balantekin says. “But other aspects of the standard model have been tested in the lab, so one believes that it should all work.”
  • The researchers are currently using more astrophysical data of element abundance in extreme environments to see if those abundances continue to be explained by entangled neutrinos.

This research is supported in part by the National Science Foundation grants Nos. PHY-1630782 and PHY-2020275 (Network for Neutrinos, Nuclear Astrophysics and Symmetries). Balantekin is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of High Energy Physics, under Award No. DE-SC0019465 and in part by the National Science Foundation Grant PHY-2108339 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

The paper’s co-authors include Michael Cervia, Amol Patwardhan, Rebecca Surman, and Xilu Wang, all current or former members of N3AS.

Four students named Hilldale Fellows

Four physics majors have earned 2024 Hilldale Fellowships. They are:

  • Erica Magee, Mathematics and Physics major, working with Martin Zanni (Chemistry)
  • Quinn Meece, Astronomy – Physics and Physics major, working with Mark Saffman (Physics)
  • Elias Mettner, Physics major, working with Abdollah Mohammadi (Physics)
  • Leah Napiwocki, Astronomy – Physics and Physics major, working with Marsha Wolf (Astronomy)

The Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship provides research training and support to undergraduates at UW–Madison. Students have the opportunity to undertake their own research project in collaboration with UW–Madison faculty or research/instructional academic staff. Approximately 97 – 100 Hilldale awards are available each year.

The student researcher receives a $3,000 stipend (purpose unrestricted) and faculty/staff research advisor receives a $1,000 stipend to help offset research costs (e.g., supplies, books for the research, student travel related to the project).

MSPQC’s Preetham Tikkireddi wins second place at QED-C student poster presentation

MSPQC student Preetham Tikkireddi won second place for his poster, “Understanding security side channel attacks on multi-tenancy quantum computers,” at the plenary meeting of the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), held March 20-21 in Evanston, IL.

Students who attended the plenary first learned best practices for presenting their research to a non-science audience, a useful skill for a cutting-edge field where investors, hiring managers, and policy makers do not necessarily have a quantum background. Then, the students implemented those skills at the judged poster session.

“[The poster session attendees] are really smart people, but they’re not quantum people, so you set them up for asking questions, and based on the questions that they’re asking, you determine how deep you want to go into your research.” Tikkireddi says. “It was a very different kind of experience, rather than just a plain research presentation to a professor or people who already know the field.”

a group of people in business attire stand and pose in a line, they all have nametag lanyards around their necks
A total of 17 students presented posters at the first-ever QED-C student program and poster competition. UW–Madison MSPQC student Preetham Tikkireddi (right) was one of three graduate students to win the top honor at the competition. | Photo credit: QED-C

Tikkireddi’s research, conducted with computer sciences professor Swamit Tannu, looked at the potential for exploiting crosstalk when two users access the same quantum computer at the same time.

“Right now, quantum computers are really expensive, and the way we access them is by sending jobs to these quantum providers like IBM or IonQ,” Tikkireddi explains. “But the queues are really long. If you’re lucky, you can get the results back the next day.”

Quantum computing capacity is growing rapidly in the form of more and more qubits, and most jobs submitted to these long queues do not need to use all the qubits. Tikkireddi and Tannu thought that one way to increase throughput would be to allow users to share the same quantum computer, each using a subset of the qubits. But quantum computations rely on qubit entanglement, where physically separate qubits interact and share information. It was unclear if sharing a quantum computer opens users to security risks.

In his work, Tikkireddi asked if he could count C-NOTs — the gate that is used to create this entanglement — of another user. He entangled two qubits, then asked if two other qubits could “hear” what the first two were doing.

“We were able to use that to figure out how many C-NOTs the other guy is doing. That’s step one of an attack,” Tikkireddi says. “Your algorithm is your intellectual property, so you don’t want people to steal it. It’s a security problem.”

With this initial analysis identifying potential security risks amongst shared quantum computer use, Tikkireddi says providers should currently not let users share computing time, and that future research should focus on ways to mitigate these crosstalk attacks in an effort to balance efficiency with safeguarding intellectual property.

Tikkireddi credits Tannu for helping to guide his poster away from a traditional research poster and toward one more accessible to a non-science audience. He also appreciates the support from MSQPC associate director Katerina Moloni for encouraging and preparing students to take advantage of these training opportunities.

“It was a really good networking opportunity, especially for me, who is looking for a job right now,” Tikkireddi says. “I would highly recommend students to go to these kinds of events because we get a chance to interact with people in the industry.”