Summer 2021 courses have been announced

image says: Department of Physics is offering the following courses for Summer 2021: Physics 103: General Physics (includes lab) 4 credits. Principles of mechanics, heat, and sound (non-calculus, uses algebra & trigonometry). Physics 104: General Physics (includes lab) 4 credits. Principles of electricity and magnetism, light, optics, and modern physics (non-calculus). Physics 202: General Physics (includes lab) 5 credits. Electricity, magnetism, light, and sound for Engineering students (calculus based). View course meeting times here: Enrollment beings the week of April 5th.

The Department of Physics is offering the following courses for Summer 2021:

  • Physics 103: General Physics (includes lab) 4 credits. Principles of mechanics, heat, and sound (non-calculus, uses algebra & trigonometry).
  • Physics 104: General Physics (includes lab) 4 credits. Principles of electricity and magnetism, light, optics, and modern physics (non-calculus).
  • Physics 202: General Physics (includes lab) 5 credits. Electricity, magnetism, light, and sound for Engineering students (calculus based).

View course meeting times at

Enrollment beings the week of April 5th.

Chicago Quantum Summit to foster national center collaborations, build quantum economy

By Emily Ayshford, CQE | Link to original post

Quantum technology experts from around the country will convene virtually on November 11-13 to forge new partnerships amid an exciting year for quantum research.

The third annual Chicago Quantum Summit, hosted by the Chicago Quantum Exchange, will bring together university, government, and industry leaders in the emerging field of quantum information science. The Chicago Quantum Exchange, headquartered at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, is a leading national hub for the science and engineering of quantum information and for training tomorrow’s quantum workforce.

This year, the three-day virtual Summit will include presentations and discussions that focus on building collaborations between large-scale quantum research centers, companies, and innovators; fostering a quantum economic ecosystem and growing the quantum startup community; and developing a quantum-ready workforce. It will also include a public event on Nov. 12, featuring a presentation by Scott Aaronson, the David J. Bruton Centennial Professor of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin; and a fireside chat with Aaronson and David Awschalom, the director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange.

“The Chicago Quantum Summit will assemble  leaders from across the community who are accelerating the development of quantum science and technology,” said Awschalom, who is also the Liew Family Professor in Spintronics and Quantum Information at the UChicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and the director of Q-NEXT, a DOE quantum information science center led by Argonne National Laboratory. “This virtual event provides an opportunity to hear perspectives from the broader quantum community, to foster collaboration across large-scale initiatives, to help nurture tomorrow’s quantum engineers, and to develop the quantum economy.”

Speakers include Penny Pritzker, founder and chairman of PSP Partners and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce; Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel; and Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, among others. The summit will also include presentations from leaders of newly announced Department of Energy and National Science Foundation-funded federal centers.

This year’s summit comes on the heels of the announcement of five new U.S. Department of Energy National Quantum Information Science Research Centers and three new National Science Foundation Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes. During the Summit, Harriet Kung, Deputy Director for Science Programs, Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy; and Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, Director, National Science Foundation; will provide their agencies’ perspectives and aims for building these centers, spanning research through education and workforce development.

Three of these eight national centers are headquartered in Illinois: Q-NEXT, led by Argonne National Laboratory; the Superconducting Quantum Materials and Systems Center, led by Fermilab; and the Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks, which is headquartered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The recent investments in quantum science by the federal government and commitments by leading technology companies support the emerging ​quantum ecosystem and the development and translation of new technologies. The Summit session on Nov. 13 will focus on the economic impact of quantum science and technology, opportunities to hear from the investor community, and insights into cultivating quantum startups. Penny Pritzker, who also co-chairs P33, a private sector-led nonprofit dedicated to developing the Chicago region into a leading global tech and innovation hub, will give that day’s opening keynote. A panel discussion on advancing quantum startups will include speakers Christopher Monroe, co-founder and Chief Scientist, IonQ; Chris Savoie, founder and CEO, Zapata Computing; and Jennifer Elliott, co-founder and Vice President of Business Development, QEYnet.

“Quantum science has made significant progress in recent years and there is little doubt now that quantum computers will yield transformative products,” said Monroe. “We’re seeing more and more investment and companies getting into the quantum field, but to truly support early stage quantum companies, we need greater government leadership, additional investment and a supportive ecosystem in which to grow.”

This event is open to quantum-interested leaders, researchers, and trainees across industry, universities, government, and national laboratories. Learn more about the speakers, view the agenda, and register for the live sessions on the 2020 Chicago Quantum Summit event website.

Image credit: Peter Allen

A somber remembrance marks the 50th anniversary of the Sterling Hall bombing

black and white photo of Sterling Hall after the bombing shows a building with windows blown out and obvious damage.

By Doug Erickson

On an August afternoon 50 years ago, graduate student Bill Evans bumped into Robert Fassnacht, a postdoctoral researcher, in Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin­–Madison.

The two didn’t know each other well, but they had talked before. Both were conducting physics experiments in Sterling Hall.

profile photo of Robert Fassnacht
33-year-old Robert Fassnacht, a postdoctoral researcher in physics and father of three young children, was killed in the bombinb. It injured four others. | UW ARCHIVES

Fassnacht mentioned he’d be working through the night. Evans planned to do the same, so he made a mental note to walk over and chat with Fassnacht at some point.

The conversation never happened. At 3:42 a.m. that morning — August 24, 1970 — a bomb tore through a wing of Sterling Hall, killing Fassnacht. Evans, whose lab was much farther from the blast, felt the building shake but was uninjured.

A short time later, Evans says he and another physics researcher, John Lynch, came upon Fassnacht’s lifeless body.

“That’s the part I’m trying to forget and the reason I haven’t talked about it in all these years,” says Evans, 78, by phone from his home in California. “I still have flashbacks.”

The target of the explosion was the Army Mathematics Research Center, housed on multiple upper floors of Sterling Hall. Four young men orchestrated the bombing as a protest against the center’s research connections with the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

Fassnacht, 33, working in a basement lab in the Physics Department below the Army Mathematics Research Center, was an unintended victim. His research had no connection to the center. Four others — three in Sterling Hall and one across the street at University Hospital — were injured.

black and white photo of Sterling Hall after the bombing shows a building with windows blown out and obvious damage.
The bombing of Sterling Hall on August 24, 1970, was the shocking culmination of years of dissent and despair over the Vietnam War. | UW ARCHIVES

Three of the four bombers — David Fine and brothers Karl and Dwight Armstrong — eventually served prison time. The fourth, Leo Burt, remains at large. Burt and Fine were UW–Madison students at the time.

Evans was pursuing a Ph.D. in atomic physics. He remembers feeling the building shudder, then seeing a wave of dirt and dust blow by a lab door.

He immediately called the university’s overnight phone desk and reported that something terrible had happened at Sterling Hall.

Stepping into the hallway, he tried to head toward the blast’s origin, but thick dust forced him back. He called the UW operator again: “You better get someone over here.”

Evans then went down a basement hallway in the other direction.

“I came upon a night watchman, dazed and covered all over with what looked like pieces of insulation,” he says. “I got him out of the building. There were two policemen nearby, and I yelled, ‘This guy needs help.’”

The night watchman, UW security officer Norbert Sutter, suffered memory impairment, disc problems, and permanent loss of some hearing and vision. The officers who helped Sutter insisted that Evans go with them to University Hospital to be checked for possible injuries. At the time, the hospital was located across Charter Street from Sterling Hall. Evans, certain he was not injured, protested but gave in, then quickly slipped out of the hospital before being evaluated.

Returning to Sterling Hall, Evans says he ran into Lynch. Today, the two differ on the sequence of events that led them to Fassnacht’s body. Both say it’s hard to remember events from so far back — some details remain vivid to them; others have become hazy with time.

The blast had awakened Lynch at his apartment just a few blocks away. He remembers racing to Sterling Hall and entering the building alone. He says he saw Fassnacht’s body, then went looking for others dead or alive inside the building.

“There were no policemen, no firemen yet,” says Lynch, 82, who is retired from the National Science Foundation and lives in Florida. “I’m running around looking for anybody alive. The person I found was Bill Evans.”

Evans thinks he ran into Lynch in the crowd that was forming outside Sterling Hall. He recalls the two of them entering the building together and finding Fassnacht’s body.

“He was face down, with a large piece of concrete on him, and his nose and mouth were under water,” Evans says. “There was no question he was dead. The water (due to broken water pipes) was fairly deep by then.”

The two alerted rescuers to Fassnacht’s body. The pair also helped emergency workers find and shut off a gas leak that had led to a fire, Lynch says.

Later that same day, Lynch recounted the story to a reporter for The Capital Times, the city’s afternoon newspaper. The article’s large headline reads, “I Found Bob Under a Foot of Water.”

Given the era’s anti-war fervor, Lynch says it did not surprise him to look out his bedroom window and see Sterling Hall with a cloud of smoke above it. He had stopped spending evenings at Sterling Hall after a conversation with strangers in a Madison bar a few months earlier.

“One guy said to me, ‘Don’t hang around that place at night. Bad things are going to happen there,’” Lynch says. “I didn’t go to the police because people were saying all sorts of crazy things back then. But I felt I had been forewarned.”

Lynch provided prosecutors with a deposition in the case. Following an esteemed career, he received a Distinguished Alumni Fellow Award in 2003 from UW–Madison’s Physics Department. The department recognized him in large part for his early and sustained support at the federal level of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a project at the South Pole managed and operated by UW–Madison.

Evans told his story to law enforcement officers but says he otherwise has rarely discussed his involvement with anyone.

In the spring of 1972, Evans married fellow UW–Madison student Gertrude “Kim” Miller. A few months later, the couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Evans began a job at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. He returned to Madison in 1975 to defend his doctoral dissertation but otherwise has not been back to campus.

Evans retired in 2012 following a long career as a research physicist and software architect. He says he’s spent five decades avoiding anything that might trigger a memory of Sterling Hall.

“I tried not to think of it for obvious reasons,” he says. “I guess you could say I disappeared for a good while.”

The experience remains upsetting.

“What happens is it pops up in your memory and then takes about a week to disappear,” Evans says. “I guess it would be like what they talk about with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). If so, I can understand why these people have troubles.”

Late last year, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Sterling Hall bombing this August, UW–Madison issued a call to alumni for memories related to the bombing. Hundreds responded. A sample can be found in the summer 2020 issue of On Wisconsin, the university’s alumni magazine.

Evans was not among those who submitted memories. He says he read the magazine article and found it interesting how the bombing impacted other people. For him, though, it is something he prefers not to reflect on.

“It was so long ago,” he says. “Strange things happen.”

black and white photo of a blown-out building due to bomb damage
Damage as seen from inside the building. | UW ARCHIVES

Physics Department featured in UW article on virtual lab course instruction

an image of the number 13 and an apparatus to view the fourier transform

It’s one thing to have to move a lecture course online, but lab courses — where students learn by doing — is an entirely different story. University Communications spoke to instructors in Physics, including Prof. Deniz Yavuz and Dr. Jim Reardon, about the transition to online lab instruction.  

Read the full story

Saffman group part of team awarded $7.4M grant to apply quantum computers to real-world problems

Wisconsin Quantum Institute director and professor of physics Mark Saffman and his research group are part of a team that will attempt to make quantum computing hardware more applicable to real-world problems.

The up to $7.4 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funding is through the ONISQ program — Optimization with Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum devices. ColdQuanta is the primary recipient of the funding, and Saffman’s group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, along with a national lab and other universities, are partners.

“We’re in this era of development of quantum computing hardware that has been termed NISQ, and that’s because we don’t have error correction running on our quantum hardware,” says Saffman, who is also a UW–Madison professor of physics and chief scientist for quantum information at ColdQuanta. “The question is, can we do anything useful with this? Because the outlook for having a real error-corrected quantum computer that you could run very long calculations still seems to be a long way away, but we have these NISQ machines today, and they’re getting better all the time.”

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New research helps explain why the solar wind is hotter than expected

When a fire extinguisher is opened, the compressed carbon dioxide forms ice crystals around the nozzle, providing a visual example of the physics principle that gases and plasmas cool as they expand. When our sun expels plasma in the form of solar wind, the wind also cools as it expands through space — but not nearly as much as the laws of physics would predict.

In a study published April 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison physicists provide an explanation for the discrepancy in solar wind temperature. Their findings suggest ways to study solar wind phenomena in research labs and learn about solar wind properties in other star systems.

“People have been studying the solar wind since its discovery in 1959, but there are many important properties of this plasma which are still not well understood,” says Stas Boldyrev, professor of physics and lead author of the study. “Initially, researchers thought the solar wind has to cool down very rapidly as it expands from the sun, but satellite measurements show that as it reaches the Earth, its temperature is 10 times larger than expected. So, a fundamental question is: Why doesn’t it cool down?”

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Physicists to improve plasma fusion mirror devices with $5 million grant

University of Wisconsin–Madison plasma physicists will harness the power of high-temperature superconducting magnets to design and build a more efficient plasma fusion device, thanks to a two-year, $5 million U.S. Department of Energy grant awarded April 7.

The team, led by physics Professor Cary Forest, has been conducting fusion research for over two decades and expects this new device — the Wisconsin HTS Axisymmetric Mirror (WHAM) — will serve as a prototype for the next generation of fusion reactors.

“Neutrons generated from fusion are useful for many things, from making medical isotopes to potentially being a power source in the future,” Forest says. “Our idea initially — and this was funded by a UW2020 grant — was to build a neutron source which could go several orders of magnitude beyond current medical isotope production efficiencies but also provide a key first step in the direction of advancing fusion energy.”

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Sarah McCarthy earns fellowship through National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Congrats to first-year grad student Sarah McCarthy on being named a 2020 NSF GRFP recipient! 

The Physics Learning Center goes online for remote learning

Like course instruction, The Physics Learning Center and other tutoring and advising groups on campus have gone online to support their students’ learning. PLC was featured in an article about how these Centers are adapting to instructional changes during the pandemic. 

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