Research, teaching and outreach in Physics at UW–Madison
Awards and Honors
Alex Wang selected for DOE’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research program
Congratulations to physics graduate student Alex Wang, who is one of 65 graduate students selected for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program. He is a student in Prof. Sau Lan Wu’s group.
SCGSR awardees work on research projects of significant importance to the Office of Science mission and that address societal challenges at national and international scale. Wang’s research is part of the priority research area of High Energy Physics. Awardees carry out part of their research at a DOE national lab, and his host lab is the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
“The DOE Office of Science provides the scientific foundation for solutions to some of our nation’s most complex challenges, and now more than ever we need to invest in a diverse, talented pipeline of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who can help us build a brighter future,” said Dr. Harriet Kung, Deputy Director for Science Programs in the Office of Science. “These outstanding students will help us tackle mission-critical research at our labs as this experience helps them begin a successful and rewarding career.”
Awardees were selected from a diverse pool of graduate applicants from institutions around the country. Selection was based on merit peer review by external scientific experts.
Physics has lots of winners in the Cool Science Image contest!
Ten images and two videos created by University of Wisconsin–Madison students, faculty and staff — including two images from Physics and one from IceCube — have been named winners of the 2021 Cool Science Image Contest.
The winners from physics include Joel Siegel, Margaret Fortman, and Gregory Holdman; from IceCube, Yuya Makino.
A panel of nine experienced artists, scientists and science communicators judged the scientific content and aesthetic and creative qualities of scores of images and videos entered in the 11th annual competition. The winning entries showcase animals and plants, the invisibly small structures all around us, and stars and nebulae millions of millions of miles away.
An exhibit featuring the winners is open to the public at the McPherson Eye Research Institute’s Mandelbaum and Albert Family Vision Gallery on the ninth floor of the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, 111 Highland Ave., through December. A reception — open to the public — for the contest entrants will be held at the gallery on Oct. 7 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Winning submissions were created with point-and-shoot digital cameras, cutting-edge microscopes, and telescopes of both the backyard and mountaintop variety.
Because sometimes, there’s no substitute for the visual.
“An image often can convey meaning more effectively than words,” says Ahna Skop, a longtime contest judge, artist and UW–Madison professor of genetics and active ambassador for science. “We know from marketing and education research that adding a picture with words to a slide increases retention of knowledge by 65 percent. The visual communication of science is critical for the transference of knowledge broadly.”
The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, India, have awarded the 2021 Homi Bhabha Medal and Prize to Francis Halzen, the Hilldale and Gregory Breit Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and principal investigator of IceCube, for his “distinguished contributions in the field of high-energy cosmic-ray physics and astroparticle physics over an extended academic career.” Halzen accepted the award at the opening session of the virtual 37th International Cosmic Ray Conference, on July 12, 2021.
The Bhabha Award was established by IUPAP and TIFR in 2010 to honor Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha, a cosmic ray physicist well known for the Bhabha-Heitler cascade theory and relativistic positron-electron scattering, also known as Bhabha scattering. Bhabha founded TIFR in 1945 and initiated the nuclear energy program in India in 1951. He initiated experimental programs for the study of cosmic ray particles and their interactions with instruments either carried aloft to the top of the atmosphere with balloons or placed in laboratories at high altitude or deep underground. The Homi Bhabha Medal and Prize consists of a certificate, a medal, a monetary award, and an invitation to visit the TIFR, Mumbai, and the Cosmic Ray Laboratory, Ooty to give public lectures. It is awarded biennially at the International Cosmic Ray Conference.
Born in Belgium, Halzen received his Master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Louvain, Belgium, and has been on the physics faculty at UW–Madison since 1972. The Bhabha Award is just the latest in Halzen’s long and storied career; previous accolades include a 2014 American Ingenuity Award, the 2015 Balzan Prize, a 2018 Bruno Pontecorvo Prize, the 2019 IUPAP Yodh Prize, and the 2021 Bruno Rossi Prize. Halzen is the third IceCube collaborator to win a Bhabha Award after Tom Gaisser in 2015 and Subir Sarkar in 2017.
During his virtual acceptance remarks, Halzen credited his collaborators, saying, “If I made contributions, it is because I ran into incredible collaborators who were leaders in the field, and still are. My ultimate collaborators, of course, I found within the AMANDA collaboration—and now IceCube—who made high-energy neutrinos part of the high-energy cosmic ray spectrum…
“Thanks to everybody, and thanks to IceCube; this prize is shared with all of you.”
Francis Halzen named Vilas Research Professor
UW–Madison physics professor Francis Halzen has been named a Vilas Research Professor. Created “for the advancement of learning,” Vilas Research Professorships are granted to faculty with proven research ability and unusual qualifications and promise. The recipients of the award have contributed significantly to the research mission of the university and are recognized both nationally and internationally.
Halzen, the Gregory Breit and Hilldale Professor of Physics, joined the UW–Madison faculty in 1972. He has made pioneering contributions to particle physics and neutrino astrophysics, and he continues to be the driving force of the international IceCube Collaboration.
Early in his career, Halzen cofounded the internationally recognized phenomenology research institute in the UW–Madison Department of Physics to promote research at the interface of theory and experiment in particle physics. This institute is recognized for this research and for its leadership in the training of postdocs and graduate students in particle physics phenomenology.
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is the culmination of an idea first conceived in the 1960s, and one in which Halzen has played an integral role in its design, implementation, and data acquisition and analysis for the past three decades. After initial experiments confirmed that the Antarctic ice was ultratransparent and established the observation of atmospheric neutrinos, IceCube was ready to become a reality. From 2004 to 2011, the South Pole observatory was constructed — the largest project ever assigned to a university and one led by Halzen.
After two years of taking data with the full detector, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory opened a new window onto the universe with its discovery of highly energetic neutrinos of extragalactic origin. This discovery heralded the beginning of the exploration of the universe with neutrino telescopes. The IceCube observation of cosmic neutrinos was named the 2013 Physics World Breakthrough of the Year.
Nationally and internationally renowned for this work, Halzen was awarded a 2014 American Ingenuity Award, a 2015 Balzan Prize, a 2018 Bruno Pontecorvo Prize, a 2019 Yodh Prize, and a 2021 Bruno Rossi Prize.
With the Vilas Research Professorship, Halzen is also recognized for his commitment to education and service in the department, university, and international science communities. He has taught everything from physics for nonscience majors to advanced particle physics and special topics courses at UW–Madison. He has actively participated on several departmental and university committees as well as advisory, review, and funding panels. His input is highly sought by committees and agencies that assess future priorities of particle and astroparticle physics research.
“Francis Halzen has had a prolific, internationally recognized research career, has shown excellence as an educator who is able to effectively communicate cutting-edge science on all levels, and has made tireless and valued contributions in service of the department,” says Sridhara Dasu, Physics Department chair. “He is one of the most creative and influential physicists of the last half century and worthy of the prestigious Vilas Research Professorship.”
Vilas awards are supported by the estate of professor, U.S. senator and UW Regent William F. Vilas (1840-1908). The Vilas Research Professorship provides five years of flexible funding — two-thirds of which is provided by the Office of the Provost through the generosity of the Vilas trustees and one-third provided by the school or college whose dean nominated the winner.
Halzen joins department colleagues Profs. Vernon Barger and Sau Lan Wu as recipients of this prestigious UW–Madison professorship.
Ke Fang, professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Shakti P. Duggal Award presented by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP).
The Duggal Award was established after cosmic-ray physicist Shakti Duggal’s untimely death in 1982. In honor of Shakti’s long association with cosmic ray physics and his many contributions to the field during his career, his namesake award is given biennially “to recognize an outstanding young scientist for contributions in any branch of cosmic ray physics.” The first Shakti P. Duggal Award was presented at the 19th International Cosmic Ray Conference at La Jolla in 1985. Previous Duggal Award winners have all achieved recognition and prominence in their careers.
Award winners receive a monetary award and, since 1991, an invitation to visit the Bartol Research Institute of the University of Delaware, where Shakti Duggal worked, to present a colloquium and discuss their work.
Fang’s research focuses on understanding the universe through its energetic messengers, including ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, gamma rays, and high-energy neutrinos. She runs numerical simulations to study theories of astroparticle sources and analyzes data from HAWC, Fermi-LAT, and IceCube. She joined WIPAC and the UW–Madison Physics Department as an assistant professor on January 1, 2021. You can learn more about Fang and her research in this Q&A.
“I am very grateful for this special honor,” said Fang. “As a young researcher, I have received enormous support from my mentors and collaborators, to whom the award truly belongs. I look forward to continuing working on and contributing to cosmic ray physics as a member of the Duggal family.”
Physics projects funded in first round of UW’s Research Forward initiative
In its inaugural round of funding, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education’s (OVCRGE) Research Forward initiative selected 11 projects, including two with physics department faculty involvement.
OVCRGE hosts Research Forward 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.
Several physics majors awarded Hilldale Fellowships
Six UW–Madison undergraduate physics or AMEP majors have been named 2021 Hilldale Fellows, in addition to one computer science major who is conducting their research in the Physics Department.
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.
Three students are conducting research in the Department of Physics, including:
Mathematics and Physics major Gage Siebert, in Prof. Peter Timbie’s group
Physics major Haley Stueber, in Prof. Dan McCammon’s group
Computer Sciences major Nikhilesh Venkatasubramanian, in Prof. Tulika Bose’s group
The physics or AMEP majors who have been named Hilldale Fellows and are conducting research outside the department are:
Mathematics and Physics major Sam Christianson, with Saverio Spagnolie (Mathematics)
Astronomy – Physics, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Mathematics, Molecular & Cell Biology, Neurobiology, Physics, Psychology, and Zoology major Renxi Li, with Catherine Gallagher (Neurology)
AMEP major Shenwei Yin, with Joseph Andrews (Mechanical Engineering)
Computer Sciences and Physics major Heqiao (Wonder) Zhu, with Kevin Eliceiri (LOCI)
San Lan Wu earns Phi Beta Kappa Excellence in Teaching Award
On April 17, the Alpha Chapter of Wisconsin Phi Beta Kappa presented the 2021 Phi Beta Kappa Excellence in Teaching Award to Enrico Fermi distinguished Professor of Physics Sau Lan Wu. She was nominated by senior Yan Qian.
Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic society honoring the liberal arts and sciences. Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, ΦΒΚ stands for freedom of inquiry and expression, disciplinary rigor, breadth of intellectual perspective, the cultivation of skills of deliberation and ethical reflection, the pursuit of wisdom, and the application of the fruits of scholarship and research in practical life.
Ellen Zweibel elected to the National Academy of Sciences
Astronomy and physics Professor Ellen Zweibel has been honored with membership in the National Academy of Sciences.
Zweibel is among 120 new members — and one of 59 women, the largest group ever — elected to the academy, one of the highest honors that can be conferred on an American scientist. Members are chosen “in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”
Zweibel, the W.L. Kraushaar Professor of Astronomy and Physics, came to UW–Madison in 2003. She studies the way magnetic fields shape the universe, including the physics of plasmas in stars and galaxies and the cosmic rays they throw out into the universe.
A founding member of the Center for Magnetic Self-Organization, a Physics Frontier Center funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, Zweibel won the American Physical Society’s Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics in 2016.
The National Academy of Sciences — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations. It is a private, nonprofit institution established in 1863 under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
Congratulations to the following Physics Department members who recently earned teaching awards:
Dr. Daniel Thurs won a 2021 Alliant Energy James R. Underkofler Excellence in Teaching Award. These awards are funded by an endowment from the Alliant Energy Foundation and are intended to recognize and reward extraordinary teachers at UW System universities within Alliant Energy’s service area. The award pays tribute to Thurs’s dedication as a teacher, and his ability to communicate subject matter effectively and inspire an enthusiasm for learning in his students.
Daniela Girotti-Hernandez and John Podczerwinski were both named 2021 L&S Teaching Fellows. The Teaching Fellow Award is granted to TAs from the College of Letters and Science who have achieved outstanding success as students and teachers. Winners of this award serve as instructors at the L&S Fall TA Training, which takes place at the start of the fall semester and welcomes 300-400 new and experienced TAs from across campus.