Vernon Barger earns 2020 APS Sakurai Prize

profile photo of Vernon Barger
profile photo of Vernon Barger
Vernon Barger

University of Wisconsin­–Madison Physics professor Vernon Barger has won the J.J. Sakurai Prize for Theoretical Particle Physics, the American Physical Society announced October 7.

The J.J. Sakurai Prize is considered ­­one of the most prestigious annual prizes in the field of theoretical high energy physics. Barger, who joined the UW­–Madison faculty in 1965, is a world leader in theoretical particle physics where theory meets experiment. He is one of the founders of collider phenomenology as it is practiced today.

“This prize belongs to the hundreds of students, postdocs, faculty and visiting colleagues who entered the portal of UW–Madison to discover the quarks, leptons and bosons of particle physics,” Barger says. “Only at UW–Madison could this research at the interface of theory and experiment so thrive.”

The techniques that Barger helped develop have been crucial in establishing the experimental foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics and in guiding the search for signals of new physics. His contributions have played a key role in many important milestones in particle physics, including the discovery of the W boson in 1985, the top quark in 1995, and the Higgs boson discovery in 2012.

UW–Madison physics professor Lisa Everett and University of Hawaii professor Xerxes Tata, both phenomenologists, co-nominated Barger for the prize.

“We are thrilled that Vernon Barger has been awarded the 2021 J.J. Sakurai Prize, for which we nominated him for his seminal accomplishments and leadership record in collider physics phenomenology over five decades in the field,” Everett says. “The techniques he has pioneered have and continue to be of pivotal importance for elucidating physics signals at particle colliders, and these contributions are only part of a very long and distinguished research career in theoretical particle physics. He is highly deserving of this honor.”

UW–Madison chemistry professor Martin Zanni also won an APS award, the Earle K. Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy & Dynamics.

Robert McDermott elected Fellow of the American Physical Society

profile photo of Robert McDermott
profile photo of Robert McDermott
Robert McDermott

Congratulations to Prof. Robert McDermott, who was elected a 2020 Fellow of the American Physical Society! He was elected for seminal contributions to quantum computing with superconducting qubits, including elucidating the origins of decoherence mechanisms, and development of new qubit control and readout methods. He was nominated by the Division of Quantum Information.

APS Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one’s professional peers for outstanding contributions to physics. Each year, no more than one half of one percent of the Society’s membership is recognized by this honor.

See the full list of 2020 honorees at the APS Fellows archive.

WQI team named winners in international quantum research competition

a blue-laser-hued image of a trapped ball of strontium ions in an optical lattice clock

A WQI faculty team was one of 18 winners in the Innovare Advancement Center’s “Million Dollar International Quantum U Tech Accelerator” competition, which awarded a total of $1.35 million last week. The winning teams, including UW­–Madison physics professors Shimon Kolkowitz and Mark Saffman, each earned $75,000 toward their proposed research.

The competition attracted nearly 250 proposals from teams across the world in the areas of quantum timing, sensing, computing and communications, and 36 teams were invited to present at the live virtual event.

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Prof. Brian Rebel promoted to Senior Scientist at Fermilab

Brian Rebel

Yesterday, Fermilab promoted Prof. Brian Rebel to Senior Scientist. He has a joint appointment there, and his new title at Fermilab is the closest equivalent to full professor for which scientific staff are eligible. Congrats, Brian!

NSF Physics Frontier Center for neutron star modeling to include UW–Madison

A green, egg-shaped density in the middle has two cones of dark blue representing the gravitational waves projecting perpendicularly out either side of the green density

A group of universities, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been named the newest Physics Frontier Center, the National Science Foundation announced Aug. 17. The center expands the reach and depth of existing capabilities in modeling some of the most violent events known in the universe: the mergers of neutron stars and their explosive aftermath.

The Network for Neutrinos, Nuclear Astrophysics, and Symmetries (N3AS) is already an established hub of eight institutions, including UW–Madison, that uses the most extreme environments found in astrophysics — the Big Bang, supernovae, and neutron star and black hole mergers — as laboratories for testing fundamental physics under conditions beyond the reach of Earth-based labs. The upgrade to a Physics Frontier Center adds five institutions, provides $10.9 million in funding for postdoctoral fellowships and allows members to cover an expanded scope of research.

“For 20 years, we’ve expected that the growing precision of astrophysical and cosmological measurements would make this field an increasingly important part of fundamental physics. Indeed, four monumental discoveries — neutrino masses, dark matter, the accelerating universe, and gravitational waves — have confirmed this prediction,” says A. Baha Balantekin, a professor of physics at UW–Madison and one of the principal investigators for N3AS.

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Kevin Black named co-coordinator of LHC Physics Center at Fermilab

Professor Kevin Black has been named one of the next co-coordinators of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) Physics Center at Fermilab (LPC at FNAL), LPC announced recently. His initial appointment starts on September 1st, 2020 and lasts for two years.

Prof. Kevin Black

As co-coordinator, Black’s roles will include leading the several hundred physicists who are residents or visit the LPC for research on CMS, managing the distinguished research program, and leading the training of students and young physicists at FNAL.

According to their website, LPC at FNAL is a regional center of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Collaboration. It serves as a resource and physics analysis hub primarily for the seven hundred US physicists in the CMS collaboration. The LPC offers a vibrant community of CMS scientists from the US and overseas who play leading roles in analysis of data, in the definition and refinement of physics objects, in detector commissioning, and in the design and development of the detector upgrade.

Black joined the CMS experiment in 2018 when he joined the UW–Madison physics faculty after 13 years on CMS’s companion experiment, ATLAS. Since that time, he has been involved in the forward muon upgrade project — which will install GEM (Gas Electron Multiplier) detectors — as manager of the U.S. component of the electronic readout project. He has also served as deputy run coordinator of the GEM system, and his group is focusing on the data-acquisition development for that system. Additionally, his students and post-docs are working on a variety of physics analysis ranging from searches for new physics with the top quark, flavor anomalies in bottom quark decays, and searches for pair-production of Higgs bosons.

“I am excited for this important leadership opportunity to play a crucial role in facilitating U.S. participation in cutting edge particle physics research at a unique facility,” Black says. It will allow me to continue the excellent tradition of the LPC and bring my own ideas and initiatives to the center.”

As LPC at FNAL co-coodinator, Black will also serve as co-Chair of the LPC Management Board. He will be working with Dr. Sergo Jindariani, a senior scientist at FNAL, and succeed Prof. Cecilia Gerber from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Three undergraduate students awarded Hilldale Fellowships

Congratulations to the three physics undergraduate research students who earned Hilldale fellowships for 2020-21! They are:

  • Owen Rafferty, in Robert McDermott’s group
  • Yanlin Wu, in Peter Timbie’s group
  • Yan Qian, in Sau Lan Wu’s group

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.

Mark Eriksson earns WARF named professorship

Mark Eriksson gives a tour of his research lab

Mark Eriksson has been named the John Bardeen Professor of Physics, through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) named professorship program.

The WARF named professorship program provides recognition for distinguished research contributions of the UW–Madison faculty. The awards are intended to honor those faculty who have made major contributions to the advancement of knowledge, primarily through their research endeavors, but also as a result of their teaching and service activities.

profile photo of Mark Eriksson
Mark Eriksson

Eriksson joined the UW–Madison physics faculty in 1999. His research has focused on quantum computing, semiconductor quantum dots, and nanoscience. He currently leads a multi-university team focused on the development of spin qubits in gate-defined silicon quantum dots. A goal of this work is to enable quantum computers, which manipulate information coherently, to be built using many of the materials and fabrication methods that are the foundation of modern, classical integrated circuits.

“If you look back at my work here over the last, it’ll be 21 years in August, it’s almost all been collaborative, and I’ve really enjoyed the people I’ve worked with,” Eriksson says. “Going into the future, those collaborations are going to continue, of course. We have a real opportunity to see what semiconductor fabrication technology can do for qubits and quantum computing — how can we make really high-quality, silicon qubits in a way that leverages and makes use of the same technology that people use to make classical computer chips?”

a group of 7 people
Members of the Eriksson Group at a conference in Spain in Fall 2019.

Eriksson’s past and present UW–Madison collaborators include, in addition to many students and postdocs, physics professors Victor Brar, Sue Coppersmith, Bob Joynt, Shimon Kolkowitz, and Robert McDermott; physics senior scientist Mark Friesen; and materials science and engineering professor Max Lagally and scientist Don Savage.

The WARF program asks recipients to choose the name of their professorship. Eriksson, who graduated with a B.S. in physics and mathematics from UW–Madison in 1992, chose fellow alum John Bardeen — a scientist who has the unique honor of being the only person to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics twice.

“Bardeen was one of the inventors of the transistor, and I work with semiconductor qubits which are very similar to transistors in many ways,” Eriksson explains. “It seemed appropriate to choose him, because he was an alum of the university, he’s a Madison native, and he was co-inventor of the transistor.”

Eriksson was one of 11 UW­–Madison faculty awarded WARF named professorships this year. The honor comes with $100,000 in research funding over five years.

“Prof. Mark Eriksson is a world-leading expert in the development of quantum information systems using solid-state quantum dot qubits,” says Sridhara Dasu, physics department chair. “Recognition of his successes in research and his contribution to the training of researchers in this increasingly promising area of quantum information, through the awarding of WARF professorship, is much deserved.”

Baha Balantekin elected APS Speaker of the Council

Profile photo of Baha Balantekin

Profile photo of Baha BalantekinBaha Balantekin, the Eugene P. Wigner Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been elected Speaker of the Council for the American Physics Society (APS). He will serve as Speaker-elect in 2020, Speaker in 2021, and Speaker Emeritus in 2022.

The APS Speaker of the Council presides over the Council, a body of elected leadership within the professional society. The Speaker also serves on the APS Board of Directors as well as presiding over the Council’s Steering Committee.

“It is an honor to be elected, for me and for the UW,” Balantekin says. “Speaker of the Council is another public face of APS besides the Presidential line.”

APS is the professional society of not only physicists in the United States, but also has a worldwide membership. According to the mission statement, APS exists to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics for the benefit of humanity, to promote physics, and to serve the broader physics community. APS relies on volunteers to serve in leadership positions, such as Speaker of the Council, to advance its mission.

“Having Prof. Balantekin in the leadership role in the American Physics Society is a matter of pride for our department, and we are happy to share his leadership skills with the wider physics community,” says Sridhara Dasu, chair of the UW–Madison department of physics.

Balantekin was elected to the role at the annual election meeting of the APS Board and Council, held in early November 2019. He has been a Fellow of APS since 1994. He is currently completing his second year on the Council of Representatives and his first year on the Board of Directors, to which he was elected last year.