News: Research

2021

Groundbreaking research from the Vitelli and Littlewood groups featured in WIRED

November 21, 2021

Vitelli and Littlewood Groups research image

A general theory of non-reciprocal matter.

The Vitelli and Littlewood groups recently published a groundbreaking general theory of non-reciprocal matter using exceptional points and illustrated with examples found in simple systems such as groups of interacting toy robots. The work was original published in Nature in April and is now receiving wider attention via WIRED. Please see the links on the right and the UChicago News story as well.

Wired Story
Publication


Center for Bright Beams awarded $22M to boost accelerator science

September 24, 2021

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Continuing to transform electron beam technology
A collaboration of researchers led by Cornell University and including the University of Chicago has been awarded $22.5 million from the National Science Foundation to continue gaining the fundamental understanding needed to transform the brightness of electron beams available to science, medicine and industry.

­The Center for Bright Beams (CBB), an NSF Science and Technology Center, was created in 2016 with an initial $23 million award to Cornell and partner institutions, including the University of Chicago and affiliated Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The center integrates accelerator science with condensed matter physics, materials science and surface science in order to advance particle accelerator technologies, which play a key role in creating new breakthroughs in everything from medicine to electronics to particle physics.

The center’s goals are to improve the performance and reduce the cost of accelerator technologies around the world and develop new research instruments that transform the frontiers of biology, materials science, condensed matter physics, particle physics and nuclear physics, as well as new manufacturing tools that enable chip makers to continue shrinking the features of integrated circuits.

“CBB has brought together a remarkably broad palette of researchers encompassing scientists from physics, physical chemistry, materials research, and accelerator science—an unusually diverse team that has the necessary skills and long-range vision to take on the challenge of helping the next-generation of accelerators come to fruition, with impact on many fields,” said Steven J. Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and the James Franck Institute at the University of Chicago, and a co-leader of CBB’s next-generation superconducting radio frequency materials research. “My role has been profoundly rewarding for my research group and for me personally, introducing us to new research directions in advanced superconducting materials design that will ultimately lead to the innovation of lower-cost accelerators with greatly improved brightness and performance.”


Chin group realizes molecular Bose–Einstein condensate

May 5, 2021

Chin Group research image

Opening up new fields in quantum chemistry and technology.

Researchers have big ideas for the potential of quantum technology, from unhackable networks to earthquake sensors. But all these things depend on a major technological feat: being able to build and control systems of quantum particles, which are among the smallest objects in the universe.

That goal is now a step closer with the publication of a new method by University of Chicago scientists. Published April 28 in Nature, the paper shows how to bring multiple molecules at once into a single quantum state—one of the most important goals in quantum physics.

"People have been trying to do this for decades, so we’re very excited,” said senior author Cheng Chin, a Professor of Physics and the James Franck Instiute who said he has wanted to achieve this goal since he was a graduate student in the 1990s. “I hope this can open new fields in many-body quantum chemistry. There’s evidence that there are a lot of discoveries waiting out there.”

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2020

Mazziotti group predicts new state of matter

March 10, 2020

Mazziotti Group research image

Discovery addresses problem of generating and moving energy efficiently.

Three scientists from the Maziotti group in the JFI have run the numbers, and they believe there may be a way to make a material that could conduct both electricity and energy with 100% efficiency—never losing any to heat or friction.

The breakthrough, published Feb. 18 in Physical Review B, suggests a framework for an entirely new type of matter, which could have very useful technological applications in the real world. Though the prediction is based on theory, efforts are underway to test it experimentally.

“We started out trying to answer a really basic question, to see if it was even possible—we thought these two properties might be incompatible in one material,” said co-author and research adviser David Mazziotti, a professor of chemistry and the James Franck Institute and an expert in molecular electronic structure. “But to our surprise, we found the two states actually become entangled at a quantum level, and so reinforce each other.”

Graduate student LeeAnn Sager began to wonder how the two states could be generated in the same material. Mazziotti’s group specializes in exploring the properties and structures of materials and chemicals using computation, so she began plugging different combinations into a computer model. “We scanned through many possibilities, and then to our surprise, found a region where both states could exist together,” she said.

“Being able to combine superconductivity and exciton condensates would be amazing for lots of applications—electronics, spintronics, quantum computing,” said Shiva Safaei, a postdoctoral researcher and the third author on the paper. “Though this is a first step, it looks extremely promising.”

Publication
Physics World


Takeout noodles inspire Tian, Jaeger, and Tokmakoff groups to invent remarkable synthetic tissue

February 18, 2020

JFI research image

Breakthrough creates tough material able to stretch, heal and defend itself.

While eating takeout one day, James Franck Institute scientists Bozhi Tian and Yin Fang started thinking about the noodles—specifically, their elasticity. A specialty of Xi’an, Tian’s hometown in China, is wheat noodles stretched by hand until they become chewy—strong and elastic. Why, the two materials scientists wondered, didn’t they get thin and weak instead?

They started experimenting, ordering pounds and pounds of noodles from the restaurant. “They got very suspicious,” Fang said. “I think they thought we wanted to steal their secrets to open a rival restaurant.”

But what they were preparing was a recipe for synthetic tissue—that could much more closely mimic biological skin and tissue than existing technology.

“It turns out that granules of common starch can be the missing ingredient for a composite that mimics many of the properties of tissue,” said Fang, a UChicago postdoctoral researcher and lead author of a new paper published Jan. 29 in the journal Matter. “We think this could fundamentally change the way we can make tissue-like materials.”

The breakthrough allows the synthetic tissue to stretch in multiple directions but to heal and defend itself by reorganizing its internal structures —which is how human skin protects itself. The discovery could one day lead to applications from soft robotics and medical implants to sustainable food packaging and biofiltration.

Publication


2018

Mazziotti group develops method to calculate molecular conductivity

June 1, 2018

Mazziotti Group research image

Current-constrained approach significantly improves upon prior methods.

The smaller and smarter that phones and devices become, the greater the need to build smaller circuits. Forward-thinking scientists in the 1970s suggested that circuits could be built using molecules instead of wires, and over the past decades that technology has become reality.

“Current models tend to overpredict conductance, but our theory outperforms traditional models by as much as one to two orders of magnitude,” said Prof. David Mazziotti, Professor of Chemistry and the James Franck Institute, who coauthored the paper, published May 31 in Nature’s Communications Chemistry.

“Almost all of the big problems that people are trying to solve involve working with materials that are difficult to explore with traditional methods,” he said. “If we can better predict the conductivity, we can more effectively design better molecules and materials.”

Publication


Dupont, Nagel, and Witten collaborative publication selected as milestone for Physical Review E 25th anniversary celebration

April 17, 2018

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Contact line deposits in an evaporating drop.

The year 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of Physical Review E. To celebrate the journal’s rich legacy, during the upcoming year we highlight a series of papers that made important contributions to their field. These milestone articles were nominated by members of the Editorial Board of Physical Review E, in collaboration with the journal’s editors. The 25 milestone articles, including an article for each calendar year from 1993 through 2017 and spanning all major subject areas of the journal, will be unveiled in chronological order and will be featured on the journal website.

For the year 2000, the following collaborative work from three groups in the James Franck Institute is featured:

Contact line deposits in an evaporating drop
Robert D. Deegan, Olgica Bakajin, Todd F. Dupont, Greg Huber, Sidney R. Nagel, and Thomas A. Witten
Phys. Rev. E 62, 756 (2000)

Publication


Simon group builds photon collider

March 27, 2018

Simon Group research image

Study examines how to manipulate photons for quantum engineering.

Quantum systems behave according to the strange laws that govern the smallest particles in the universe, like electrons. Scientists are increasingly interested in exploring new ways to harness the particles’ odd behaviors, like being in two states at once, and then choosing one only when measured.

Jonathan Simon, the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Physics and the James Franck Institute, is interested in how walls dividing matter and light begin to break down at this scale. Most electronic systems use electrons as the moving parts, but photons can display quantum properties just as easily as electrons—and photons’ quirks could both offer advantages as technologies and serve as models to understand the more slippery electrons. So his team wants to manipulate and stack photons to build matter out of light.

“Essentially we want to make photon systems into a kind of quantum Legos—blown-up materials that you can more easily study and tease out basic quantum design principles,” said Simon, who is also a fellow of the Institute for Molecular Engineering.

Publication


Irvine group uses gyroscopes to find unusual state of matter

January 16, 2018

Irvine Group research image

Amorphous topological insulators constructed from random point sets.

Using a set of gyroscopes linked together, physicists explored the behavior of a material whose structure is arranged randomly, instead of an orderly lattice. They found they could set off one-way ripples around the edges, much like spectators in a sports arena—a “topological wave,” characteristic of a particularly unusual state of matter.

Published Jan. 15 in Nature Physics, the discovery offers new insight into the physics of collective motion and could one day have implications for electronics, optics or other technologies.

The team, led by Assoc. Prof. William Irvine, used gyroscopes—the top-like toys you played with as a kid—as a model system to explore physics. Because gyroscopes move in three dimensions, if you connect them with springs and spin them with motors, you can observe all kinds of things about the rules that govern how objects move together.

“Everything up to this point was engineered. We thought you had to build a particular lattice, and that determines where the wave goes,” said Irvine. “But when we asked what happened if you took away the spatial order, no crystal plane, no clear structure…the answer’s yes. It just works.”

Publication


Chin group finds quantum systems work together for change

January 12, 2018

Chin Group research image

Observe particles acting coherently as they undergo phase transitions.

A study published Dec. 18 in Nature Physics by University of Chicago scientists observed how particles behave as the change takes place in minute detail. In addition to shedding light on the fundamental rules that govern the universe, understanding such transitions could help design more useful technologies.

One of the questions was whether, as particles prepare to transition between quantum states, they can act as one coherent group that “knows” the states of the others, or whether different particles only act independently of one another, or incoherently.

Cheng Chin, Professor in the James Franck Institute and Department of Physics, and his team looked at an experimental setup of tens of thousands of atoms cooled down to near absolute zero. As the system crossed a quantum phase transition, they measured its behavior with an extremely sensitive imaging system.

The conventional wisdom was that the atoms should evolve incoherently after the transition--a hallmark of older “classic” rather than quantum models of physics. “In contrast, we found strong evidence for coherent dynamics,” said graduate student Lei Feng, the first author on the study. “In no moment do they become classical particles; they always behave as waves that evolve in synchrony with each other, which should give theorists a new ingredient to include in how they model such systems that are out of equilibrium.”

Publication


2017

Voth group and collaborators find missing clue to how HIV hacks cells to propagate itself

November 8, 2017

Voth Group research image

Demonstrates the power of modern computing for simulating viruses.

Computer modeling has helped a team of scientists, including several scholars from the the Voth group in the JFI, to decode previously unknown details about the process by which HIV forces cells to spread the virus to other cells. The findings, published Nov. 7 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may offer a new avenue for drugs to combat the virus.

A key part of HIV’s success is a nasty little trick to propagate itself inside the body. Once HIV has infected a cell, it forces the cell to make a little capsule out of its own membrane, filled with the virus. The capsule pinches off—a process called “budding”—and floats away to infect more cells. Once inside another unsuspecting cell, the capsule coating falls apart, and the HIV RNA gets to work.

Scientists knew that budding involves an HIV protein complex called Gag protein, but the details of the molecular process were murky. “For a while now we have had an idea of what the final assembled structure looks like, but all the details in between remained largely unknown,” said Gregory Voth, the Haig P. Papazian Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and corresponding author on the paper.

Since it’s been difficult to get a good molecular-level snapshot of the protein complex with imaging techniques, Voth and his team built a computer model to simulate Gag in action. Simulations allowed them to tweak the model until they arrived at the most likely configurations for the molecular process, which was then validated by experiments in the laboratory of Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus.

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Chin group see fireworks from atoms at ultra-low temperatures

November 7, 2017

Chin Group research image

Reveals new form of spontaneous quantum scattering in a driven many-body system.

“This is a very fundamental behavior that we have never seen before; it was a great surprise to us,” said study author Cheng Chin, Professor of Physics and in the JFI. Published Nov. 6 in Nature, the research details a curious phenomenon — seen in what was thought to be a well-understood system — that may someday be useful in quantum technology applications.

Chin’s lab studies what happens to particles called bosons in a special state called a Bose-Einstein condensate. When cooled down to temperatures near absolute zero, bosons will all condense into the same quantum state. Researchers applied a magnetic field, jostling the atoms, and they began to collide—sending some flying out of the condensate. But rather than a uniform field of random ejections, they saw bright jets of atoms shooting together from the rim of the disk, like miniature fireworks.

The tiny jets may show up in other systems, researchers said and understanding them may help shed light on the underlying physics of other quantum systems.

Publication


Sibener group introduces novel method to separate isotopes

October 24, 2017

Sibener Group research image

Utilizing gas-surface collisions on patterned silicon.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, a team led by Prof. Steven J. Sibener describes a way to separate isotopes of neon using a beam of gas aimed at a precisely patterned silicon wafer, which reflects the different isotopes at slightly different angles. The method could one day be a less costly and more energy-efficient way to separate isotopes for medicine, electronics and other applications.

“One can think about it like separating the various colors of light into a rainbow using a prism,” said Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and the James Franck Institute. “This is a wonderful and very precise demonstration study, and we are very pleased with the results,” Sibener said. “It has been a delight to run down to the lab every day to see what’s happened. We’re very much looking forward to planning the next steps in this project to explore other atoms and molecules.”

Viewpoint
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William Irvine elected 2017 APS Fellow and work featured on Physics Today cover

October 18, 2017

William Irvine Physics Today magazine cover

For experiments and theory on the topological aspects of fluid dynamics and mechanical metamaterials.

William Irvine was recently elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society, nominated by the Topical Group on Soft Matter. The criterion for APS Fellow election is exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise; e.g., outstanding physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education. Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one's professional peers.

Research for the Irvine group was recently featured on the cover of Physics Today. The Irvine Group at the University of Chicago has put a new twist on the smoke ring. Instead of blowing smoke into the air to create and visualize swirling flows known as vortex rings, they drove 3D-printed hydrofoils, lined with fluorescent dye, through water. Here, the wispy outer ring of white dye reveals a vortex ring; the orange and green trails are a tomographic reconstruction of the ring’s evolution over time. To learn how the group’s technique helped unveil hidden structure in fluid vortices, see the story.

Publication


Park group makes atoms-thick Post-It notes for solar cells and circuits

September 20, 2017

Park group research image

Layer-by-layer assembly of two-dimensional materials into wafer-scale heterostructures.

In a study published Sept. 20 in Nature, UChicago and Cornell University researchers describe an innovative method to make stacks of semiconductors just a few atoms thick. The technique offers scientists and engineers a simple, cost-effective method to make thin, uniform layers of these materials, which could expand capabilities for devices from solar cells to cell phones.

“The scale of the problem we’re looking at is, imagine trying to lay down a flat sheet of plastic wrap the size of Chicago without getting any air bubbles in it,” said Jiwoong Park, a UChicago professor in the Department of Chemistry, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and the James Franck Institute, who led the study. “When the material itself is just atoms thick, every little stray atom is a problem. We expect this new method to accelerate the discovery of novel materials, as well as enabling large-scale manufacturing,” Park said.