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Physical Sciences

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  • Changes in nonextreme precipitation may have not-so-subtle consequences

    Major floods and droughts receive a lot of attention in the context of climate change, but University of Illinois researchers analyzed over five decades of precipitation data from North America to find that changes in nonextreme precipitation are more significant than previously realized and larger than those in extreme precipitation. These changes can have a strong effect on ecosystems, agriculture, infrastructure design and resource management, and point to a need to examine precipitation in a more nuanced, multifaceted way.

  • Farewell, Cassini: What have we learned about Saturn?

    Astronomy professor Leslie Looney talks about NASA’s Cassini satellite, which will descend into Saturn’s atmosphere tomorrow, twenty years after it's launch 

  • Congressional redistricting less contentious when resolved using computer algorithm

    Concerns that the process of U.S. congressional redistricting may be politically biased have fueled many debates, but a team of University of Illinois computer scientists and engineers has developed a new computer algorithm that may make the task easier for state legislatures and fairer for their constituents.

  • Researchers identify cheaper, greener biofuels processing catalyst

    Fuels that are produced from nonpetroleum-based biological sources may become greener and more affordable, thanks to research performed at the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute that examines the use of a processing catalyst made from palladium metal and bacteria.

  • New microscope technique reveals internal structure of live embryos

    University of Illinois researchers have developed a way to produce 3-D images of live embryos in cattle that could help determine embryo viability before in vitro fertilization in humans.

  • Cicada wings may inspire new surface technologies

    Researchers are looking to insects – specifically cicadas – for insight into the design of artificial surfaces with de-icing, self-cleaning and anti-fogging abilities. 

  • Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of Tibetan Plateau, study finds

    Geoscientists have long puzzled over the mechanism that created the Tibetan Plateau, but a new study finds that the landform’s history may be controlled primarily by the strength of the tectonic plates whose collision prompted its uplift. Given that the region is one of the most seismically active areas in the world, understanding the plateau’s geologic history could give scientists insight to modern day earthquake activity.

     

  • Researchers develop dynamic templates critical to printable electronics technology

    When it comes to efficiency, sometimes it helps to look to Mother Nature for advice – even in technology as advanced as printable, flexible electronics.

    Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed bio-inspired dynamic templates used to manufacture organic semiconductor materials that produce printable electronics. It uses a process similar to biomineralization – the way that bones and teeth form. This technique is also eco-friendly compared with how conventional electronics are made, which gives the researchers the chance to return the favor to nature.  

  • Survey reveals widespread bias in astronomy and planetary science

    In an online survey about their workplace experiences, 88 percent of academics, students, postdoctoral researchers and administrators in astronomy and planetary science reported hearing, experiencing or witnessing negative language or harassment relating to race, gender or other physical characteristics at work within the last five years. Of the 423 respondents, 39 percent reported having been verbally harassed and 9 percent said they had suffered physical harassment at work.

  • Engineers find way to evaluate green roofs

    Green infrastructure is an attractive concept, but there is concern surrounding its effectiveness. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are using a mathematical technique traditionally used in earthquake engineering to determine how well green infrastructure works and to communicate with urban planners, policymakers and developers.

  • Corn better used as food than biofuel, study finds

    Corn is grown not only for food, it is also an important renewable energy source. Renewable biofuels can come with hidden economic and environmental issues, and the question of whether corn is better utilized as food or as a biofuel has persisted since ethanol came into use. For the first time, researchers at the University of Illinois have quantified and compared these issues in terms of economics of the entire production system to determine if the benefits of biofuel corn outweigh the costs.

  • Increased number of female engineers in managerial roles brings unintended consequences

    Increased female representation in the managerial ranks of engineering organizations may add another layer of sex segregation on top of the one it’s intended to mitigate, says a new paper from U. of I. labor professor M. Teresa Cardador.

  • Metal-ion catalysts and hydrogen peroxide could green up plastics production

    Researchers at the University of Illinois are contributing to the development of more environmentally friendly catalysts for the production of plastic and resin precursors that are often derived from fossil fuels. The key to their technique comes from recognizing the unique physical and chemical properties of certain metals and how they react with hydrogen peroxide.

  • Sensors detect disease markers in breath

    A small, thin square of an organic plastic that can detect disease markers in breath or toxins in a building’s air could soon be the basis of portable, disposable sensor devices. By riddling the thin plastic films with pores, University of Illinois researchers made the devices sensitive enough to detect at levels that are far too low to smell, yet are important to human health.

  • Would a laptop and tablet ban enhance air travel security?

    Computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson discusses the proposed Department of Homeland Security ban of laptop and tablet computers in the passenger cabins of certain flights.

  • Study: Higher mass transit use associated with lower obesity rates

    Healthy mass transit systems could contribute to healthier communities, according to a new study by University of Illinois researchers that determined higher mass transit use was correlated with lower obesity rates in counties across the United States.

  • Self-healing tech charges up performance for silicon-containing battery anodes

    Researchers at the University of Illinois have found a way to apply self-healing technology to lithium-ion batteries to make them more reliable and last longer.

  • Electroplating delivers high-energy, high-power batteries

    The process that makes gold-plated jewelry or chrome car accents is now making powerful lithium-ion batteries.

  • ‘Molecular prosthetics’ can replace missing proteins to treat disease

    Researchers have demonstrated that a small molecule can transport iron in human cells and live animals when proteins that normally do the same job are missing, a condition that often causes severe anemia in patients. Such “molecular prosthetics” might treat a host of incurable diseases caused by protein deficiencies, such as anemias, cystic fibrosis or certain types of heart disease.

  • Researchers develop transistors that can switch between two stable energy states

    Engineers are unveiling an upgrade to the transistor laser that could be used to boost computer processor speeds – the formation of two stable energy states and the ability to switch between them quickly. 

  • Engineers shine light on deadly landslide

    A new report by University of Illinois civil and environmental engineering professor Tim Stark and colleagues details the factors that led to the deadliest landslide on record in the continental United States, along with steps that can be taken to mitigate landslide consequences and risk in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Science at Illinois feeds the world, furthers health, protects the planet

    Illinois scientists are helping power plants run more efficiently, designing better, longer-lasting batteries, finding new ways to target cancerous tumors, and developing robots that can aid in construction, in agricultural fields and even inside the human body.

  • Can data analytics help you fill out a March Madness bracket?

    Fill in your March Madness bracket from the center out, says bracketologist Sheldon H. Jacobson.

  • Study: Changing the environment within bone marrow alters blood cell development

    Researchers at the University of Illinois report they can alter blood cell development through the use of biomaterials designed to mimic characteristics of the bone marrow.

  • Four Illinois professors named Sloan Research Fellows

    Four Illinois researchers are recipients of 2017 Sloan Research Fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. According to the foundation, the awards “honor early career scholars whose achievements mark them as the next generation of scientific leaders.” Awardees receive $60,000 to be used as they wish to further their research.

  • Tiny nanoclusters could solve big problems for lithium-ion batteries

    As devices become smaller and more powerful, they require faster, smaller, more stable batteries. University of Illinois chemists have developed a superionic solid that could be the basis of next-generation lithium-ion batteries.

  • Tumor-targeting system uses cancer’s own mechanisms to betray its location

    By hijacking a cancer cell’s own metabolism, researchers have found a way to tag and target elusive cancers with small-molecule sugars. This opens treatment pathways for cancers that are not responsive to conventional targeted antibodies, such as triple-negative breast cancer.

  • Dual-function nanorod LEDs could make multifunctional displays

    Cellphones and other devices could soon be controlled with touchless gestures and charge themselves using ambient light, thanks to new LED arrays that can both emit and detect light.

  • Illinois researcher generates random ‘reactions’ to consider how Facebook uses our information

    University of Illinois researcher Ben Grosser has created a web browser extension he calls Go Rando that randomly chooses one of Facebook’s six reactions whenever you click “like.” His intention is to obfuscate your recorded feelings to Facebook.

  • New brush polymers catalyze their own formation

    Researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Connecticut have developed new brush polymers – synthetic proteinlike molecules that catalyze their own formation – that could provide insight into enzyme behavior and self-replicating systems. The polymers have potential applications in catalyst development, nanomaterials and medicine.

  • Tiny exports signal big shifts in cancer tissue, researchers find

    Microscopic shifts in metabolism and increases in tiny transport vesicles out of tumor cells preface larger changes to the tumor environment and could prepare the way for cancerous cells to spread and metastasize, University of Illinois researchers report.

  • Tool to map gene's ‘social network’ sheds light on function, interactions and drug efficacy

    Although the human genome has been mapped, many questions remain about how genes are regulated, how they interact with one another, and what function some genes serve. A new tool developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology distills the huge amount of genomic data into gene networks that can point to the function of genes, highlighting relationships between genes and offering insights into disease, treatment and gene analogs across species.

  • Report proposes standards for sharing data and code used in computational studies

    A new report by prominent leaders in computational methods and reproducibility lays out recommendations for ways researchers, institutions, agencies and journal publishers can work together to standardize sharing of data sets and software code.

  • TSA could save money by waiving PreCheck fees for frequent travelers, study finds

    There could be an easy way to reduce lines at the airport, increase security, and save the Transportation Security Administration money, according to a new study by University of Illinois researchers: waive the $85 fee for frequent fliers to enroll in the TSA PreCheck program, which allows pre-screened, verified travelers to go through expedited security at airports.

  • Are global carbon emissions increasing or decreasing?

    Illinois atmospheric scientist Atul Jain was among the many scientists worldwide who contributed data to the Global Carbon Budget 2016, providing new data on atmospheric carbon concentrations, emissions and trends.

     

  • Six Illinois faculty members elected AAAS Fellows

    Six University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty members have been elected 2016 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Jianjun Cheng, Brian T. Cunningham, Kevin T. Pitts, Bruce L. Rhoads, Chad M. Rienstra and Josep Torrellas.

  • Eight Illinois researchers rank among world’s most influential

    Eight University of Illinois researchers have been named to the Thomson Reuters / Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list for 2016. The list identifies scientists “whose research has had significant global impact within their respective fields of study."

  • Klaus Schulten, pioneer in biophysics and computational biology, has died

    University of Illinois physics professor Klaus Schulten, an innovator in the use of computational methods to study the chemical and biological processes driving living cells, died Monday, Oct. 31, at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana. He was 69.

  • Time-lapse cell imaging reveals dynamic activity

    Living cells are miniature worlds bustling with activity. A new advanced imaging method can track cells over long periods of time using only light – no dye or chemicals required – to reveal dynamics and provide insight into how cells function, develop and interact.

  • Geologic imaging technique measures strength of Earth’s outer shell

    An advanced imaging technique used to map Earth’s outer shell also can provide a measure of strength, finding weak spots and magma upwellings that could point to volcanic or earthquake activity, according to a new study by geologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Adelaide in Australia.

  • Is Academia Waking Up to the Problem of Sexual Harassment?

    U. of I. anthropology professor Kathryn Clancy supports a federal legislative effort that would require universities to report – and federal funding agencies to consider – findings that any university professor engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex. 

  • Carbon-coated iron catalyst structure could lead to more-active fuel cells

    Researchers at the University of Illinois and collaborators have identified the active form of an iron-containing catalyst for the trickiest part of the process: reducing oxygen gas. The finding could help researchers refine better catalysts, making fuel cells a more energy- and cost-efficient option for powering vehicles and other applications.

  • Illinois researcher looks at how software design controls our interactions with technology

    University of Illinois professor Ben Grosser says software design is directing the way all of us move as we use our technology, yet we pay little attention to these human-tech interactions. Grosser recently made a video supercut of scenes from the Netflix series “House of Cards” showing characters in the show using technology – the first in a series of three videos for his “Touching Software” project.

  • Why does atmospheric chemistry research matter?

    On Aug. 26, the National Academy of Sciences released a report on the future of atmospheric chemistry research in the U.S. Illinois civil and environmental engineering professor Tami Bond was among the contributors

  • Structural, regulatory and human error were factors in Washington highway bridge collapse

    When an important bridge collapsed on Interstate 5 near Mount Vernon, Washington, in 2013, questions were raised about how such a catastrophic failure could occur. A new analysis by a team of civil engineering faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign outlines the many factors that led to the collapse, as well as steps that transportation departments can take to prevent such accidents on other bridges of similar design.

  • Force triggers gene expression by stretching chromatin

    A new study by University of Illinois researchers and collaborators in China has demonstrated that external mechanical force can directly regulate gene expression.

  • Genome-editing proteins ride a DNA zip line

    For gene-editing proteins to be useful in clinical applications, they need to be able to find the specific site they’re supposed to edit among billions of DNA sequences. Using advanced imaging techniques, University of Illinois researchers have found that one class of genome-editing proteins rapidly travels along a strand of DNA like a rider on a zip line – a unique behavior among documented DNA-binding proteins.

  • Method opens a window on how stress and strain affect battery performance

    Batteries that charge faster and have greater capacity could boost portable electronic devices and electric cars. A new method to simultaneously test stress and strain in battery electrodes gives researchers a window into the mechanical, electrical and chemical forces within lithium-ion batteries. The method revealed an unexpected point of stress in the charging cycle, which could guide development of better batteries.

  • Iron catalysts can modify amino acids, peptides to create new drug candidates

    For medicinal chemists, making tweaks to peptide structures is key to developing new drug candidates. Now, researchers have demonstrated that two iron-containing small-molecule catalysts can help turn certain types of amino acids – the building blocks of peptides and proteins – into an array of potential new forms, even when part of a larger peptide, while preserving a crucial aspect of their chemistry: chirality, or “handedness.”

  • Chemical etching method helps transistors stand tall

    University of Illinois researchers have developed a way to etch very tall, narrow finFETs, a type of transistor that forms a tall semiconductor “fin” for the current to travel over.