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Physical Sciences

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  • Researchers demonstrate existence of new form of electronic matter

    Researchers have produced a “human scale” demonstration of a new phase of matter called quadrupole topological insulators that was recently predicted using theoretical physics. These are the first experimental findings to validate this theory.

  • Researchers tap problematic e-waste surplus to recover high-quality polymers

    Mixed-plastic electronics waste could be a valuable source of reusable polymers, a new study led by Illinois Sustainability Technology Center scientists suggests. The team has developed the first energy-efficient and environmentally friendly process that separates mixed polymers so that they can be recycled into new, high-quality plastic products.

  • Virtual predator is self-aware, behaves like living counterpart

    Scientists report in the journal eNeuro that they’ve built an artificially intelligent ocean predator that behaves a lot like the original flesh-and-blood organism on which it was modeled. The virtual creature, “Cyberslug,” reacts to food and responds to members of its own kind much like the actual animal, the sea slug Pleurobranchaea californica, does.

  • Individual quantum dots imaged in 3-D for first time

    Researchers have developed an imaging technique that uses a tiny, super sharp needle to nudge a single nanoparticle into different orientations and capture 2-D images to help reconstruct a 3-D picture. The method demonstrates imaging of individual nanoparticles at different orientations while in a laser-induced excited state.

  • Continental interiors may not be as tectonically stable as geologists think

    Geologic activity within stable portions of Earth’s uppermost layer may have occurred more recently than previously believed.

  • Three Illinois professors named Sloan Research Fellows

    Three Illinois scientists are among 126 recipients of the 2018 Sloan Research Fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. According to the foundation, the awards “honor early career scholars whose achievements mark them as among the very best scientific minds working today.” Winners receive a two-year $65,000 fellowship to further their research.

  • Tiny drug-delivering capsules could sustain transplanted insulin-producing cells for diabetics

    A drug-carrying microsphere within a cell-bearing microcapsule could be the key to transplanting insulin-secreting pig pancreas cells into human patients whose own cells have been destroyed by type I diabetes.

  • Shape-shifting organic crystals use memory to improve plastic electronics

    Researchers have identified a mechanism that triggers shape-memory phenomena in organic crystals used in plastic electronics. Shape-shifting structural materials are made with metal alloys, but the new generation of economical printable plastic electronics is poised to benefit from this phenomenon, too. Shape-memory materials science and plastic electronics technology, when merged, could open the door to advancements in low-power electronics, medical electronics devices and multifunctional shape-memory materials.

  • Researchers use sound waves to advance optical communication

    Illinois researchers have demonstrated that sound waves can be used to produce ultraminiature optical diodes that are tiny enough to fit onto a computer chip. These devices, called optical isolators, may help solve major data capacity and system size challenges for photonic integrated circuits, the light-based equivalent of electronic circuits, which are used for computing and communications.

  • How massive is supermassive? Astronomers measure more black holes, farther away

    Astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey announced new measurements of the masses of a large sample of supermassive black holes far beyond our universe.

  • Are you vulnerable to newly discovered online security risks?

    Nearly everyone is. And the culprits, Meltdown and Spectre, could wreak havoc on personal security if ignored, says computer science professor Chris Fletcher

  • Heat from below Pacific Ocean fuels Yellowstone, study finds

    Recent stories in the national media are magnifying fears of a catastrophic eruption of the Yellowstone volcanic area, but scientists remain uncertain about the likelihood of such an event. To better understand the region’s subsurface geology, University of Illinois geologists have rewound and played back a portion of its geologic history, finding that Yellowstone volcanism is more far more complex and dynamic than previously thought. 

  • High-resolution climate models present alarming new projections for U.S.

    Approaching the second half of the century, the United States is likely to experience increases in the number of days with extreme heat, the frequency and duration of heat waves, and the length of the growing season. In response, it is anticipated that societal, agricultural and ecological needs will increase the demand on already-strained natural resources like water and energy. University of Illinois researchers have developed new, high-resolution climate models that may help policymakers mitigate these effects at a local level.

  • Why are global CO2 emissions on the rise again?

    The annual Carbon Budget report found that fossil fuel emissions are on the rise again in 2017, says atmospheric sciences professor and report contributor Atul Jain

  • Two Illinois faculty members elected AAAS Fellows

    Two faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been elected 2017 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Fellows are chosen for their outstanding contributions to their field of study.

  • Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity

    Specially tailored, ultrafast pulses of light can trigger neurons to fire and could one day help patients with light-sensitive circadian or mood problems, according to a new study in mice at the University of Illinois.

  • Five Illinois researchers rank among world’s most influential

    Five faculty members have been named to the 2017 Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list (previously known as the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list). The list recognizes “leading researchers in the sciences and social sciences from around the world."

  • Researchers put new spin on old technique to engineer better absorptive materials

    A team of University of Illinois bioengineers has taken a new look at an old tool to help characterize a class of materials called metal organic frameworks – MOFs for short. MOFs are used to detect, purify and store gases, and could help solve some of the worlds most challenging energy, environmental and pharmaceutical challenges – they can even pull water molecules straight from the air to provide relief from droughts.

  • Electrostatic force takes charge in bioinspired polymers

    Researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst have taken the first steps toward gaining control over the self-assembly of synthetic materials in the same way that biology forms natural polymers. This advance could prove useful in designing new bioinspired, smart materials for applications ranging from drug delivery to sensing to remediation of environmental contaminants.

  • Researchers look to patterns to envision new engineering field

    The phenomenon that forms interference patterns on television displays when a camera focuses on a pattern like a person wearing stripes has inspired a new way to conceptualize electronic devices. Researchers at the University of Illinois are showing how the atomic-scale version of this phenomenon may hold the secrets to help advance electronics design to the limits of size and speed. 

  • Events explore how technology, creativity interact to imagine the future

    A series of events at the University of Illinois called Speculative Futures will bring artists together with technology innovators with the goal of sparking new creative projects at the intersection of computer science and science fiction.

  • Scientists: Expanding Brazilian sugarcane could dent global CO2 emissions

    Vastly expanding sugarcane production in Brazil for conversion to ethanol could reduce current global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 5.6 percent, researchers report in the journal Nature Climate Change.

  • Mass killings happen randomly, yet rate has remained steady, study finds

    Mass killings may have increasing news coverage, but the events themselves have happened at a steady rate for more than a decade, according to a new study by University of Illinois researchers.

  • Mantis shrimp-inspired camera enables glimpse into hidden world

    By mimicking the eye of the mantis shrimp, Illinois researchers have developed an ultra-sensitive camera capable of sensing both color and polarization. The bioinspired imager can potentially improve early cancer detection and help provide a new understanding of underwater phenomena, the researchers said.

  • Researchers make headway in desalination technology

    Engineers at the University of Illinois have taken a step forward in developing a saltwater desalination process that is potentially cheaper than reverse osmosis and borrows from battery technology. In their study, the researchers are focusing on new materials that could make desalination of brackish waters economically desirable and energy efficient.

  • New methods tackle a perplexing engineering concept

    Researchers at the University of Illinois are working to turn a complex materials design problem into an intuitive concept, understandable to engineers from novice to advanced experience levels. The group developed guidelines to help understand materials engineered to become thicker when stretched. This highly useful property, which is not commonly found in nature, has applications for protective sports equipment, body armor and biomedical devices.

  • How is Illinois contributing to gravitational wave research?

    Illinois research scientist, NCSA Gravity Group leader Eliu Huerta Escudero on what gravitational waves are, how they were discovered, and the huge data processing effort behind the breakthrough

  • Tiny aquariums put nanoparticle self-assembly on display

    Seeing is believing when it comes to nanoparticle self-assembly. A team of University of Illinois engineers is observing the interactions of colloidal gold nanoparticles inside tiny aquariumlike sample containers to gain more control over the self-assembly process of engineered materials.

  • Large, crystalline lipid scaffolds bring new possibilities to protein, drug research

    Proteins and drugs are often attached to lipids to promote crystallization or ensure delivery to targeted tissues within the body, but only the smallest proteins and molecules fit within these fat structures. A new study reveals a lipid structure that can support much larger proteins and molecules than before, potentially increasing the variety of drugs that can be attached to these fat molecules.

  • Click beetles inspire design of self-righting robots

    Robots perform many tasks that humans can’t or don’t want to perform, getting around on intricately designed wheels and limbs. If they tip over, however, they are rendered almost useless. A team of University of Illinois mechanical engineers and entomologists are looking to click beetles, who can right themselves without the use of their legs, to solve this robotics challenge.

  • Is the future of hurricane forecasting in danger?

    Satellites that help forecast hurricanes require constant upkeep and frequent replacement, but budget cuts have left the future of hurricane monitoring satellites in doubt

  • 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.