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2014 News


Congratulations to our Undergraduate Award Winners!

June 24, 2018

Congratulations to our many undergraduate award winners! This year's departmental award winners were:

Outstanding Senior Thesis: Jonathan Matthew Kernes (advisor: Frank Petriello) for "Calculation of Feynman Diagram Topologies via Differential Equations of Pure integrals."  Jonathan also received departmental honors for his thesis.

Outstanding Junior: Xiaowen Chen

Outstanding Sophomore: Rui Chen

In addition,  many of our sophomores and juniors received Undergraduate Research Grants from Weinberg College:

James Bueghly (advisor: Mayda Velasco), for "Measuring Higgs Boson Hccbar Coupling.”

Erik Johnson (advisor: Adilson Motter), for "Negative Compressibility & Fibrin.”

Find out more about undergraduate research grants, including how to apply, from the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Prof. Yoram Lithwick and student Sam Hadden Find Many Small Exoplanets are Covered in Gas

June 11, 2018

Yoram Lithwick presented results at a January 6 session of the American Astronomical Society demonstrating that 60 exoplanets under investigation are covered in gas.  This work greatly expanded our knowledge of sub-Neptune exoplanets, and has been written about by The Economist, New Scientist, National Geographic, and Sky & Telescope.

For more information see here.

Panagiotis Spentzouris Named Head of Scientific Computing at Fermilab

June 11, 2018

NU PhD. Panagiotis Spentzouris has been named head of the  Scientific Computing Division at Fermilab. Panagiotis got his doctorate working with Heidi Schellman in 1994 and, after a postdoc at Columbia University, became a Research Associate at Fermilab.  At Fermilab he has led a group of scientists and programmers who  have developed  computer modeling tools that  enable large-scale virtual prototyping of particle accelerators for physics and many other applications.

Read more here.

Xiaowen Chen Wins Krieghbaum Award

June 23, 2014

Undergraduate physics student Xiaowen Chen has received the Katherine L. Krieghbaum Scholarship Award as well as a Weinberg Summer Grant to work on a project on doubly transient chaos with Prof. Motter. Xiaowen, who is also a major in Mathematics and ISP, has in addition been elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, received the prize "Outstanding Achievement in Mathematics by a Junior" from the Math department, and was selected Best Junior in Physics and Astronomy.

Vicky Kalogera Elected Trustee of Aspen Center for Physics

June 21, 2014

Prof. Vicky Kalogera was elected as the astrophysics trustee, among only nine trustees, of the NSF-funded Aspen Center for Physics on July 9. The ACP is a center for physicists that offers long-term workshops, conferences, and research opportunities for those invited to attend. ACP Trustees provide overall scientific, financial, and administrative guidance; typically, only one or at most two astrophysics positions open up every decade.

Congratulations from the Department of Physics and Astronomy!

June 20, 2014

The department celebrated yesterday at our annual graduation ice cream social. We offer congratulations to all our graduates for their hard work and many achievements here at Northwestern.

Symmetry Profiles Former Northwestern Postdoc Lucy de Barbaro

June 19, 2014

Symmetry magazine caught up recently with Lucy de Barbaro, a former postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern and Fermilab. Since then, de Barbaro has applied her physics background to computing at the telecom company Alcatel-Lucent, as well as passive house design. 

Read the full article here.

Art Schmidt Talks Roller Coaster Physics with the Chicago Tribune

June 18, 2014

Art Schmidt spoke to the Tribune recently about the physics behind roller coaster design. Read the full story at the Chicago Tribune.


Profs. Rivers and Meyer make ASG Honor Roll

December 30, 2014

Physics and Astronomy Professors Andy Rivers and Dave Meyer have been named to the Associated Student Government's 2013-2014 Faculty Honor Roll.

See the full honor roll here.

Prof. Sara Solla Named APS Fellow

December 17, 2014

Prof. Sara Solla was recently named a 2014 fellow of the American Physical Society.  Her citation is for "applications of statistical physics to problems concerning learning, adaptation, and information coding in neural systems."

Read about all the 2014 APS fellows here.

Department Bids Fond Farewell to Prof. Heidi Schellman

December 16, 2014

After 24 years in the Department Prof. Heidi Schellman has accepted a position as Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics at Oregon State University. Prof. Schellman chaired the Department from 2010-2014. The move to Oregon brought her to live nearby family members, but she will be missed at Northwestern.

Welcome to Our First Class of Master's Students!

December 14, 2014

Three students joined us in September as our first class of Master's students.  The department welcomes our new group and looks forward to their work here at Northwestern.

Prof. Nathaniel Stern Profiled in Centerpiece

December 14, 2014

Prof. Nathaniel Stern spoke to Centerpiece recently about his research with two-dimensional molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), and the role physicists play in developing innovative materials.


Inauguration of the Institute of Cosmology and Physics

December 10, 2014

Congratulations to Prof. Mayda Velasco, Director of the new Institute of Cosmology and Physics (COFI), on the institute's successful inauguration!  The event began on November second with a dinner and address by Nobel Laureate, Adam Riess.  About 100 people attended the dinner, with 40% of the attendees traveling from abroad.  The inauguration continued the next day with a public lecture by Riess at the University of Puerto Rico, attended by over 1000 people. 

Prof. David Schwab's Work Featured in Quanta Magazine

December 8, 2014

Prof. David Schwab's work on computer learning was recently featured in Quanta Magazine.

Read the full article here.

Prof. Ketterson Publishes New Book on Superfluids

December 7, 2014

The second volume of Prof. Ketterson's edited book, "Novel Superfluids," will be published on November 27th. 

Read more about the book here.


Dave Meyer Delivers New Video Course on Space Astronomy

October 27, 2014

The Teaching Company has just released an 18-lecture video course by Physics and Astronomy Prof. Dave Meyer entitled "A Visual Guide to the Universe".  In this course, produced in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, Meyer discusses the scientific stories behind some of the most spectacular cosmic images obtained by NASA space probes and observatories over the past 20 years. The lecture topics range from Cassini's close-up view of Saturn's rings to Spitzer's infrared panorama of star formation in the Swan Nebula to Hubble's detailed view of the most peculiar galaxies.  

Read more here.

Nathaniel Stern wins 2014 Early Career Investigator Award for Energy Research

October 14, 2014

Nathaniel Stern, assistant professor of physics and astronomy in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University, received the 2014 Northwestern-Argonne Early Career Investigator Award for Energy Research for his proposal to investigate the use of monolayer semiconductor quantum dots to improve solar efficiency.

Read the full article from the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern.


Andy Li Wins WorldQuant Scholarship

September 9, 2014

Andy Li has been awarded a World Quantitative and Science Scholarship from the WorldQuant Foundation. Andy is a graduate student currently working with Prof. Jens Koch on quantum simulation of interacting many-body systems out of equilibrium.


Trapped Molecular Rotors Laser Cooled to the Ground Quantum State

September 2, 2014

Trapped molecules are widely recognized as holding promise for applications ranging from quantum information processing to searches for new physics beyond the Standard Model. However, the requisite internal state control and non-destructive state readout have proven challenging.  Now, Brian Odom’s group has developed a technique to use a single broadband laser to pump trapped molecules to their ground rotational-vibrational state, achieving cooling from room temperature to 4 Kelvins in a fraction of a second.  The results were in published in Nature Communications 5, 4783 (2014).


Spring 2014 Dimensions is Available

July 16, 2014

Read the latest edition of the Physics & Astronomy Department Newsletter here.


Eric Dahl Awarded Department of Energy Early Career Grant

May 29, 2014

Prof. Eric Dahl has been awarded an Early Career Grant from the DOE to develop a new dark matter detector. 

Read more at Fermilab Today.

Thomas Wytock and Sean Cornelius Win SIAM Awards

May 29, 2014

Thomas Wytock has received the 2014 SIAM Student Chapter Certificate of Recognition for his leadership as founding president of the Northwestern SIAM Student Chapter. Dr. Sean Cornelius has received the 2014 Student Paper Prize from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) for his innovative approach to control nonlinear complex networks, published jointly with his former advisor in Nature Communications. Wytock is currently a graduate student in Prof. Adilson E. Motter's group, and Cornelius is a recent graduate of the group.

Art Schmidt Brings Physics Demonstrations to Local Middle School

May 29, 2014

Art Schmidt visited Eugene Field School in Andersonville, Chicago where he entertained some forty 5th grade students for an hour presentation of Physics demonstrations. Pictured above: Art shows the students what the world looks like in infra red with an IR camera.

Undergrad James Bueghly Awarded Summer Research Grant

May 12, 2014

Undergrad James Bueghly has been awarded a grant by Northwestern's Undergraduate Research Grant Program to work with Prof. Mayda Velasco this summer. His project is titled Measuring Higgs Boson H c c Coupling.

Niharika Sravan and Scotty Coughlin Win Poster Awards

May 7, 2014

Niharika Sravan and Scotty Coughlin were awarded poster prizes at a computational research poster session on April 22. Niharika won first place among graduate student presenters and Scott won first place among undergraduates. Niharika works with Prof. Claude-André Faucher-Giguère and Scott works with Prof. Vicky Kalogera.

Nate Stern and Eric Dahl Win Early Career Grants from the Department of Energy

May 7, 2014

Two Physics and Astronomy assistant professors, Eric Dahl and Nate Stern, have been selected for the prestigious Early Career Research Program by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  Eric Dahl will use the award to build novel instruments for the detection of particle dark matter, and Nate Stern will use the award to investigate quantum phenomena in two-dimensional materials.  P&A faculty represent two of the 35 total awards selected by DOE this year to support and stimulate the research programs of outstanding scientists early in their career. 

Adilson Motter featured in the 30 most promising Latin American Scientists under 40

May 7, 2014

Prof. Adilson Motter has been featured among the 30 most promising scientists under the age of 40 born in Latin America. He is among the 9 featured scientists currently working in the US. The compilation covers all fields of science, engineering, and mathematics, and is published by a joint collaboration between the Chilean magazine Qué Pasa and the international organization

Read more at Qué Pasa [Spanish].

Undergraduate Student Scotty Coughlin Awarded Fulbright Scholarship

May 6, 2014

Scotty Coughlin, an undergraduate student who has been working in Vicky Kalogera’s LIGO group, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship. He plans to continue his work at Cardiff University in Wales.

Read more at CIERA.

Congratulations to Dr. Jae Yong Suh

May 6, 2014

Dr. Jae Yong Suh will join Michigan Technological University as an assistant professor starting in the fall.  Jae Suh is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Stern Group. His research interests are in plasmonics and quantum optics, including nano-fabrication and laser spectroscopy of materials.


James Sauls Guest Lecturer at University of St. Andrews, University of Edinburgh, and The Royal Society

April 30, 2014

Prof. James Sauls was the guest of the University of St. Andrews and Universtiy of Edingugh during the month of March 2014 as "Distinguished Lecturer of the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance" and the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics, where he spoke on spontaneous symmetry breaking and the detection of Anderson-Higgs modes in superfluid Helium.  He was an invited speaker at the Royal Society meeting on "Emergence of new exotic states at interfaces with superconductors" at Chicheley Hall, where he lectured on Majorana fermions in topological superfluids.  He also delivered the invited talk on the discovery of broken time-reversal symmetry in the chiral phase of liquid Helium at the workshop on "Topological Protection and Non-Equilibrium States in Strongly Correlated Electron Systems" at St. Andrews University.

Congratulations to Sonny Mantry on his new faculty position

April 22, 2014

Dr. Sonny Mantry will begin a faculty appointment at the University of North Georgia starting this fall.  Sonny Mantry was a LHC Theory Initiative fellow based at Northwestern University from 2011 to 2013, and was a postdoctoral researcher in Prof. Frank Petriello's group during the previous year.  Sonny is a theorist working on topics ranging across particle, nuclear and cosmological physics.


Mark Kokish Receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

March 25, 2014

Mark Kokish, student of Brian Odom and Tamar Seideman, received a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for his proposal to demonstrate experimentally the use of near-resonant light to monitor the orientation of trapped molecules, down to the single-molecule level.  The fellowship provides full support for three years.

Shane Larson to Present at NU TEDx

March 14, 2014

Shane Larson will present "Pluto's Day of Reckoning" at Northwestern's first TEDx event, held Saturday April 12, 2014.  Prof. Larson holds a joint appointment between the NU Department of Physics & Astronomy and the Department of Astronomy at Adler Planetarium.  See here for more information.

Mike Smutko Presents Study on the Effect of Technology in the Classroom

March 14, 2014

Mike Smutko spoke with Northwestern Magazine about the results of the study he and Psychology professor Sara Broaders have conducted on the effects of different note-taking technologies on students' performance. Smutko and Broaders have shown that students who take notes with only a pencil and paper significantly outperformed students taking notes on a laptop or attempting to multitask.

Read the full story here.

Assistant Professor Yoram Lithwick Awarded NSF CAREER Award

March 14, 2014

Yoram Lithwick's proposal "Planet Formation in the Age of Kepler" has been awarded an NSF CAREER award, the Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of young faculty.


Physics Outreach at the AAAS Family Science Days

February 14, 2014

Members of our department showcased a variety of Physics demonstrations over the weekend at the Family Science Days hosted in downtown Chicago by the AAAS. These demonstrations were, in part, sponsored by Prof. Jens Koch's NSF CAREER grant.

Read more about the Family Science Days here, or see more photos here.


Physics Review B Features Research from the Sauls Lab

January 28, 2014

Research from Prof. Jim Sauls's lab was featured via Kaleidoscope for the front page of the website of Physical Review B. The image above is a computer simulation of the atomic structure of ultra-low density silica aerogel (shown in green) based on a diffusion limited cluster aggregation simulation created by former graduate student Sarosh Ali. Local anisotropy is observable on length scales of order 30 nm, while the smallest scale structures - SiO2 strands - are of order 2 nm. Liquid helium fills the space (shown in black) confined within this gossamer solid, and remarkably superfluidity is stabilized in within this random environment. This work was presented as an invited talk at the International Conference on Statistical Physics of Disordered Systems, held at the The Courant Institute, New York University, August 22-23, 2013.

Read more about it here.

Motter Accepts Position in APS' Statistical and Nonlinear Physics

January 22, 2014

Professor Motter has been elected to the governance of the Statistical and Nonlinear Physics (GSNP) APS Unit. Over each of the next four years he will be Vice-Chair, Chair-Elect, Chair, and Past Chair of the GSNP, respectively.

Prof. Bill Halperin to Become Chair of the Division of Condensed Matter Physics (DCMP) of the American Physical Society

January 17, 2014

Bill Halperin was elected Vice-Chair of DCMP and will serve four years at Vice-Chair (2014), Chair-Elect (2015), Chair (2016) and Past Chair (2017). The DCMP is the largest division of the American Physical Society, representing research areas ranging from solid-state physics, quantum liquids and solids, to soft-matter. Research in Condensed Matter Physics concentrates on such topics as superconductivity, semi-conductors, magnetism, complex fluids, and thin films. This discipline covers a broad range of research in both basic and applied physics. The Chair of DCMP oversees the March Meeting of the APS, which attracts approximately 10,000 physicists from all over the world from industry, universities, and major laboratories, and is the largest physics meeting in the world.

Roberto Vega-Morales Awarded American Physical Society Dissertation Award

January 15, 2014

Dr. Roberto Vega-Morales, Northwestern Ph.D. in Physics, 2013, has received the 2014 J.J. and Noriko Sakurai Dissertation Award in Theoretical Particle Physics from the American Physical Society. The Award recognizes exceptional young scientists who have performed original doctoral thesis work of outstanding scientific quality and achievement in the area of theoretical particle physics.

Dr. Vega-Morales did his Ph.D. under the supervision of Professor Ian Low and was a Fermilab Fellow in Theoretical Physics working under Dr. Joseph Lykken. He is now a postdoctoral fellow at Laboratoire de Physique Theorique d’Orsay, Université Paris-Sud in Paris, France.