blog navigation

Physical Sciences

blog posts

  • A new study from engineers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign uses simple experiments to explain how a better understanding of flowing motion of soft materials will help design new materials and could help predict some natural disasters.

    New approach to explaining soft material flow may yield way to new materials, disaster prediction

    How does toothpaste stay in its tube and not ooze out when we remove the cap? What causes seemingly solid ground to suddenly break free into a landslide? Defining exactly how soft materials flow and seize has eluded researchers for years, but a new study explains this complex motion using relatively simple experiments. The ability to define – and eventually predict – soft material flow will benefit people dealing with everything from spreadable cheese to avalanches.

  • Illinois researchers have linked electron microscope imaging and machine learning, making it much easier to study nanoparticles in action. The schematic shows how a neural network, middle, works as a bridge between liquid-phase electron microscope imaging, left, and streamlined data output, right. For more information visit, pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acscentsci.0c00430.

    Machine learning peeks into nano-aquariums

    In the nanoworld, tiny particles such as proteins appear to dance as they transform and assemble to perform various tasks while suspended in a liquid. Recently developed methods have made it possible to watch and record these otherwise-elusive tiny motions, and researchers now take a step forward by developing a machine learning workflow to streamline the process. 

  • A team of researchers led by professor Brian Fields hypothesizes that a supernova about 65 light-years away may have contributed to the ozone depletion and subsequent mass extinction of the late Devonian Period, 359 million years ago. Pictured is a simulation of a nearby supernova colliding with and compressing the solar wind. Earth’s orbit, the blue dashed circle, and the Sun, red dot, are shown for scale.

    Exploding stars may have caused mass extinction on Earth, study shows

    Imagine reading by the light of an exploded star, brighter than a full moon – it might be fun to think about, but this scene is the prelude to a disaster when the radiation devastates life as we know it. Killer cosmic rays from nearby supernovae could be the culprit behind at least one mass extinction event, researchers said, and finding certain radioactive isotopes in Earth’s rock record could confirm this scenario.

  • Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Bill Hammack, aka “the engineering guy,” has won the prestigious Hoover Medal for his civic and humanitarian contributions to engineering.

    Illinois 'engineer guy' Hammack awarded Hoover Medal

    Bill Hammack, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has been awarded the Hoover Medal.

  • Electron microscope image of an array of new chip components that integrate the inductors, blue, and capacitors, yellow, needed to make the electronic signal filters in phones and other wireless devices.

    Electronic components join forces to take up 10 times less space on computer chips

    Electronic filters are part of the inner workings of our phones and other wireless devices. They eliminate or enhance specific input signals to achieve the desired output signals. They are essential, but take up space on the chips that researchers are on a constant quest to make smaller. A new study demonstrates the successful integration of the individual elements that make up electronic filters onto a single component, significantly reducing the amount of space taken up by the device.

  • The latest COVID-19 Briefing Series featured professors Nigel Goldenfeld, Sergei Maslov and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District epidemiologist Awais Vaid and discussed how U. of I. modeling and testing methods are shaping the campus response to the pandemic.

    COVID-19 briefing: Homegrown models inform university's safety measures

    When classes resume Aug. 24, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign will enlist a program that includes COVID-19 target, test and tell protocols and employs a saliva-based testing method. The program’s design relied heavily on a team of researchers’ predictions of how different variables might help mitigate the spread of the virus. Two of those researchers discussed their work in a recent online briefing.

  • Dean of the Grainger College of Engineering Rashid Bashir.

    Training neural circuits early in development improves response, study finds

    When it comes to training neural circuits for tissue engineering or biomedical applications, a new study suggests a key parameter: Train them young.

     

  • An N95 mask in a multicooker with a towel.

    Electric cooker an easy, efficient way to sanitize N95 masks, study finds

    Owners of electric multicookers may be able to add another use to its list of functions, a new study suggests: sanitization of N95 respirator masks.

    The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign study found that 50 minutes of dry heat in an electric cooker, such as a rice cooker or Instant Pot, decontaminated N95 respirators inside and out while maintaining their filtration and fit. This could enable wearers to safely reuse limited supplies of the respirators, originally intended to be one-time-use items. 

  • Chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Diwakar Shukla leads one of eight Illinois projects awarded funding from the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute to help mitigate COVID-19.

    Eight projects awarded funding for AI research to mitigate COVID-19

    Eight University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign projects are among 26 to receive the first C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute awards for artificial intelligence techniques to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The institute will provide a total of $5.4 million over the next year to projects that examine the medical, social and economic impacts of the novel coronavirus and inspire researcher collaboration in advanced machine learning and other AI disciplines. 

  • University of Illinois information sciences professor Victoria Stodden

    Illinois professor proposes guide for developing common data science approaches

    University of Illinois information sciences professor Victoria Stodden proposes a way to develop recognized data science processes for research.

  • Professor Lavanya Marla stands at the rail of a sunlit atrium overlook in a campus building.

    Recovery from airline delays works best with future disruptions in mind

    Instead of responding to each flight delay as if it were an isolated event, airlines should consider the likelihood of potential disruptions ahead, researchers report in the journal Transportation Science. They developed a new approach that allows airlines to respond to flight delays and cancellations while also incorporating information about likely disruptions later the same day.

  • Professor Jim Best led a review of the health and resiliency of the world’s largest river systems and calls for multinational governance and scientific collaboration to confront the mounting effects of human activity and climate change faced by rivers.

    Human activity on rivers outpaces, compounds effects of climate change

    The livelihoods of millions of people living along the world’s biggest river systems are under threat by a range of stressors caused by the daily economic, societal and political activity of humans – in addition to the long-term effects of climate change, researchers report.

  • Rhanor Gillette sits in front of equipment he uses to stimulate and monitor the brains of real sea slugs.

    Simulated sea slug gets addicted to drug

    Scientists built a computer model of a simple brain network based on that of a sea slug, taught it how to get food, gave it an appetite and the ability to experience reward, added a dash of something called homeostatic plasticity and then exposed it to a very intoxicating drug. To no one’s surprise, the creature became addicted.

    The research is part of a long-term project to create a working model of the brain, starting with the simplest of circuits and gradually adding complexity, said Rhanor Gillette, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor emeritus of molecular and integrative physiology who led the research.

  • Inspired by nature, Illinois researchers developed synthetic structure-based color materials – like those found in chameleon skin – for polymer inks used in 3D printing.

    Researchers mimic nature for fast, colorful 3D printing

    Brilliantly colored chameleons, butterflies, opals – and now some 3D-printed materials – reflect color by using nanoscale structures called photonic crystals. A new study that demonstrates how a modified 3D-printing process provides a versatile approach to producing multiple colors from a single ink is published in the journal Science Advances.

  • Atul Jain led a study that used a combination of satellite and census data to identify deforestation and expanding saltwater farming as the key physical and socioeconomic drivers of climate change in Bangladesh.

    Study: Integrating satellite and socioeconomic data to improve climate change policy

    Bangladesh is on track to lose all of its forestland in the next 35-40 years, leading to a rise in CO2 emissions and subsequent climate change, researchers said. However, that is just one of the significant land-use changes that the country is experiencing. A new study uses satellite and census data to quantify and unravel how physical and economic factors drive land-use changes. Understanding this relationship can inform climate policy at the national scale in Bangladesh and beyond.

  • Researchers Bin Peng, left, and Kaiyu Guan led a large, multi-institutional study that calls for a better representation of plant genetics data in the models used to understand crop adaptation and food security during climate change.

    Study: Multiscale crop modeling effort required to assess climate change adaptation

    Crop modeling is essential for understanding how to secure the food supply as the planet adapts to climate change. Many current crop models focus on simulating crop growth and yield at the field scale, but lack genetic and physiological data, which may hamper accurate production and environmental impact assessment at larger scales.

  • A new study of Earth’s inner core used seismic data from repeating earthquakes, called doublets, to find that refracted waves, blue, rather than reflected waves, purple, change over time – providing the best evidence yet that Earth’s inner core is rotating

    Growing mountains or shifting ground: What is going on in Earth’s inner core?

    Exhaustive seismic data from repeating earthquakes and new data-processing methods have yielded the best evidence yet that the Earth’s inner core is rotating – revealing a better understanding of the hotly debated processes that control the planet’s magnetic field.

  • Mechanical science and engineering professor Taher Saif, right, and students Onur Aydin, left, and Bashar Emon test common household fabrics used to make face masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    Making a homemade COVID mask? Study explains best fabric choices

    Health authorities believe COVID-19 spreads by the transmission of respiratory droplets, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends homemade cloth face coverings for use in public spaces. Starting today, Illinois joins many other states in requiring people to wear masks while out. However, initial uncertainty regarding the masks’ effectiveness in reducing exhaled droplets leaves some people unsure or skeptical of their usefulness during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Mechanical science and engineering professor Taher Saif spoke with News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian about a study that he and his graduate students, Onur Aydin and Bashar Emon, performed on the effectiveness of common household fabrics for use in homemade masks.

  • An artist's rendering of a nanostimulator attached to a fat-derived stem cell in damaged muscle tissue.

    Nanostimulators boost stem cells for muscle repair

    In regenerative medicine, an ideal treatment for patients whose muscles are damaged from lack of oxygen would be to invigorate them with an injection of their own stem cells.

    In a new study published in the journal ACS Nano, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign demonstrated that “nanostimulators” – nanoparticles seeded with a molecule the body naturally produces to prompt stem cells to heal wounds – can amp up stem cells’ regenerative powers in a targeted limb in mice.

  • Electrical and computer engineering professor Thomas Huang, 83, died Saturday, April 25.

    Thomas Huang, pioneer in image compression, has died

    Thomas Huang, a pioneering researcher in the field of image compression and an influential educator at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, died Saturday. In his long career as a professor of electrical and computer engineering, Huang was ranked among the world’s most influential researchers and mentored more than 100 students. He was 83.

  • A microscope image of a bio-bot.

    Spinal cord gives bio-bots walking rhythm

    Miniature biological robots are making greater strides than ever, thanks to the spinal cord directing their steps.

  • Physics professor Philip W. Phillips is one of two University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty members to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year.

    Illinois computer scientist, physicist elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign computer science professor Sarita V. Adve and physics professor Philip W. Phillips have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest honor societies in the nation.

  • Electrical and computer engineering professor Brian Cunningham co-led a multi-institutional team to demonstrate an inexpensive and rapid smartphone-based pathogen testing device designed to ease pressure on testing laboratories during pandemics such as COVID-19.

    Inexpensive, portable detector identifies pathogens in minutes

    Most viral test kits rely on labor- and time-intensive laboratory preparation and analysis techniques; for example, tests for the novel coronavirus can take days to detect the virus from nasal swabs. Now, researchers have demonstrated an inexpensive yet sensitive smartphone-based testing device for viral and bacterial pathogens that takes about 30 minutes to complete. The roughly $50 smartphone accessory could reduce the pressure on testing laboratories during a pandemic such as COVID-19.

  • Scientists are exploring the structural and chemical characteristics of cicada wings.

    Study reveals unique physical, chemical properties of cicada wings

    Biological structures sometimes have unique features that engineers would like to copy. For example, many types of insect wings shed water, kill microbes, reflect light in unusual ways and are self-cleaning. While researchers have dissected the physical characteristics that likely contribute to such traits, a new study reveals that the chemical compounds that coat cicada wings also contribute to their ability to repel water and kill microbes.

  • New research from engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows how oxygen transfer is altered in diseased lung tissue.

    New study shows how oxygen transfer is altered in diseased lung tissue

    A multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed tiny sensors that measure oxygen transport in bovine lung tissue. The study – which establishes a new framework for observing the elusive connection between lung membranes, oxygen flow and related disease – is published in the journal Nature Communications.

  • Chemistry professors Zaida Luthey-Schulten, left, Martin Gruebele and research scientist Zhaleh Ghaemi have developed the most complete computation model of a human cell to date.

    Computational human cell reveals new insight on genetic information processing

    Researchers have developed the first computational model of a human cell and simulated its behavior for 15 minutes – the longest time achieved for a biological system of this complexity. In a new study, simulations reveal the effects of spatial organization within cells on some of the genetic processes that control the regulation and development of human traits and some human diseases.

  • In this computer simulation, DNA in a serum sample interacts with a crumpled graphene surface.

    Crumpled graphene makes ultra-sensitive cancer DNA detector

    Graphene-based biosensors could usher in an era of liquid biopsy, detecting DNA cancer markers circulating in a patient’s blood or serum. But current designs need a lot of DNA. In a new study, crumpling graphene makes it more than ten thousand times more sensitive to DNA by creating electrical “hot spots,” researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found.

  • Physics professor and Nobel laureate Anthony Leggett

    Physics professor, Nobel laureate Anthony Leggett donates papers to University Archives

    Anthony Leggett’s papers from more than 50 years of research and teaching will provide a window on his groundbreaking research in theoretical condensed matter physics.

  • Former General Electric Co. CEO and chairman Jack Welch went to work as a chemical engineer at GE immediately after completing a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1960.

    Alumnus Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO and chairman, dies at 84

    John Francis “Jack” Welch Jr., 84, the former CEO and chairman of General Electric Co., has died. He was a chemical engineer who earned a Ph.D. in 1960 in chemical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Materials science and engineering professor Shen Dillion uses electron microscopy and targeted laser heating for ultra-high temperature testing of aeronautical materials.

    Breaking the temperature barrier in small-scale materials testing

    Researchers have demonstrated a new method for testing microscopic aeronautical materials at ultra-high temperatures. By combining electron microscopy and laser heating, scientists can evaluate these materials much more quickly and inexpensively than with traditional testing.

  • Photo by: Joshua Aikins

    Let it snow: Researchers put cloud seeding to the test

    Cloud seeding has become an increasingly popular practice in the western United States, where states grapple with growing demands for water. Measuring how much precipitation cloud seeding produces has been a longstanding challenge. Researchers have developed a way to use radar and other tools to more accurately measure the volume of snow produced through cloud seeding.

  • Illinois researchers demonstrated a CRISPR gene-editing technique that slowed the progression of ALS in mice. Pictured, from left: graduate student Colin Lim, professor Thomas Gaj, graduate student Michael Gapinske, professor Pablo Perez-Pinera.

    New CRISPR base-editing technology slows ALS progression in mice

    A new CRISPR gene-editing method can inactivate one of the genes responsible for an inherited form of ALS, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report in a new study. The novel treatment slowed disease progression, improved muscle function and extended lifespan in mice with an aggressive form of ALS.

  • Two Illinois professors are recipients of Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowships this year: from left, physics professor Barry Bradlyn and electrical and computer engineering professor Zhizhen Zhao.

    Two Illinois professors named Sloan Research Fellows

    Two University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign scientists are among 126 recipients of the 2020 Sloan Research Fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. This honor is one of the most competitive and prestigious awards available to early career researchers. 

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Nancy Sottos has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

    Sottos elected to National Academy of Engineering

    Nancy Sottos, an engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. She is one of 87 new members and 18 international members announced by the Academy on Feb. 6.

  • U. of I. anthropology professor Laura Shackelford; educational policy, organization and leadership professor David Huang; and computer science graduate student Cameron Merrill have created Virtual Archaeology, a virtual reality laboratory that brings an in-depth archaeological field school experience to campus.

    Team creates game-based virtual archaeology field school

    Before they can get started at their field site – a giant cave studded with stalactites, stalagmites and human artifacts – 15 undergraduate students must figure out how to use their virtual hands and tools. They also must learn to teleport. This is ANTH 399, a course designed to bring the archaeological field school experience to undergraduate students who never leave campus.

  • A scanning electron microscope micrograph of a rolled microinductor architecture, viewed from one end looking inward. Reprinted with permission from X. Li et al., Science Advances (2020).

    Researchers expand microchip capability with new 3D inductor technology

    Smaller is better when it comes to microchips, researchers said, and by using 3D components on a standardized 2D microchip manufacturing platform, developers can use up to 100 times less chip space. A team of engineers has boosted the performance of its previously developed 3D inductor technology by adding as much as three orders of magnitudes more induction to meet the performance demands of modern electronic devices.

  • Graduate student Hyeongyun Cha, postdoctoral researcher Soumyadip Sett, professor Nenad Miljkovic and undergraduate student Stephen Bosch.

    New understanding of condensation could lead to better power plant condenser, de-icing materials

    For decades, it’s been understood that water repellency is needed for surfaces to shed condensation buildup – like the droplets of water that form in power plant condensers to reduce pressure. New research shows that the necessity of water repellency is unclear and that the slipperiness between the droplets and solid surface appears to be more critical to the clearing of condensation. This development has implications for the costs associated with power generation and technologies like de-icing surfaces for power lines and aircraft.

  • Professor Xiao Su, left, graduate student Stephen Cotty, center, and postdoctoral researcher Kwiyong Kim have developed an energy-efficient device that selectively absorbs a highly toxic form of arsenic in water and converts it into a far less toxic form.

    Advanced polymers help streamline water purification, environmental remediation

    It takes a lot of energy to collect, clean and dispose of contaminated water. Some contaminants, like arsenic, occur in low concentrations, calling for even more energy-intensive selective removal processes.

  • Professor Paul Braun led a team that developed a new templating system to help control the quality and unique properties of a special class of inorganic composite materials.

    Researchers gain control over internal structure of self-assembled composite materials

    Composites made from self-assembling inorganic materials are valued for their unique strength and thermal, optical and magnetic properties. However, because self-assembly can be difficult to control, the structures formed can be highly disordered, leading to defects during large-scale production. Researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan have developed a templating technique that instills greater order and gives rise to new 3D structures in a special class of materials, called eutectics, to form new, high-performance materials.

  • Adam Aaronson with some of his crossword puzzles

    Illinois student's puzzle to appear in The New York Times

    Computer science student Adam Aaronson loves puzzles, and a crossword puzzle he created will be published in The New York Times.

  • University of Illinois researchers have honed a technique called the Stokes trap, which can handle and test the physical limits of tiny, soft particles using only fluid flow. From left, undergraduate student Channing Richter, professor Charles Schroeder and graduate student Dinesh Kumar.

    Scientists develop gentle, microscopic hands to study tiny, soft materials

    Handling very soft, delicate items without damaging them is hard enough with human hands, let alone doing it at the microscopic scale with laboratory instruments. Three new studies show how scientists have honed a technique for handling tiny, soft particles using precisely controlled fluid flows that act as gentle microscopic hands. The technique allows researchers to test the physical limits of these soft particles and the things made from them – ranging from biological tissues to fabric softeners.

  • Materials science and engineering professor Christopher Evans, right, and graduate student Brian Jing have developed a solid battery electrolyte that is both self-healing and recyclable.

    New polymer material may help batteries become self-healing, recyclable

    Lithium-ion batteries are notorious for developing internal electrical shorts that can ignite a battery’s liquid electrolytes, leading to explosions and fires. Engineers at the University of Illinois have developed a solid polymer-based electrolyte that can self-heal after damage – and the material can also be recycled without the use of harsh chemicals or high temperatures.

  • Landscape architecture professor Mary Pat McGuire

    Book looks at how landscape design helps solve water issues

    Landscape design research can help solve environmental problems related to water systems.

  • Illinois researchers developed a method to detect cancer markers called microRNA with single-molecule resolution, a technique that could be used for liquid biopsies. From left: postdoctoral researcher Taylor Canady, professor Andrew Smith, graduate student Nantao Li, postdoctoral researcher Lucas Smith and professor Brian Cunningham.

    Single-molecule detection of cancer markers brings liquid biopsy closer to clinic

    A fast, inexpensive yet sensitive technique to detect cancer markers is bringing researchers closer to a “liquid biopsy” – a test using a small sample of blood or serum to detect cancer, rather than the invasive tissue sampling routinely used for diagnosis.

    Researchers at the University of Illinois developed a method to capture and count cancer-associated microRNAs, or tiny bits of messenger molecules that are exuded from cells and can be detected in blood or serum, with single-molecule resolution.

  • In this computer simulation, a portion of a protein moves through an aerolysin nanopore.

    Nanopores can identify the amino acids in proteins, the first step to sequencing

    A new study demonstrates that nanopores can be used to identify all 20 amino acids in proteins, a major step toward protein sequencing.

  • Electrical and computer engineering professor Can Bayram, left, and graduate student Kihoon Park led a study that redefines the thermal properties of gallium nitride semiconductors.

    New heat model may help electronic devices last longer

    A University of Illinois-based team of engineers has found that the model currently used to predict heat loss in a common semiconductor material does not apply in all situations. By testing the thermal properties of gallium nitride semiconductors fabricated using four popular methods, the team discovered that some techniques produce materials that perform better than others. This new understanding can help chip manufacturers find ways to better diffuse the heat that leads to device damage and decreased device lifespans.

  • The annual Carbon Budget report found that CO2 are projected to rise again for 2019, but at slower rate than in previous years, says atmospheric sciences professor Atul Jain.

    What’s in the global carbon budget?

    The Global Carbon Project recently released its 2019 annual report, giving decision-makers access to data on atmospheric carbon concentrations, emissions and trends. Illinois atmospheric scientist Atul Jain is among the many scientists worldwide who contributed data to the report. News Bureau physical sciences editor Lois Yoksoulian spoke with Jain about this year’s findings.

  • Mechanical science and engineering professor Andrew Alleyne is one of eight recipients from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be elected as AAAS Fellows this year.

    Eight Illinois faculty members elected AAAS Fellows

    CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Eight professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been elected 2019 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  • Chemistry professor Thomas Rauchfuss and collaborators are looking to biological processes to find an efficient source of hydrogen gas as an environmentally friendly fuel.

    New study looks to biological enzymes as source of hydrogen fuel

    Research from the University of Illinois and the University of California, Davis has chemists one step closer to recreating nature’s most efficient machinery for generating hydrogen gas. This new development may help clear the path for the hydrogen fuel industry to move into a larger role in the global push toward more environmentally friendly energy sources.

  • Researchers used supercomputers to construct a 136 million-atom model of the chromatophore, a primitive light-harvesting structure in purple bacteria.

    Simulation reveals how bacterial organelle converts sunlight to chemical energy

    Scientists have simulated every atom of a light-harvesting structure in a photosynthetic bacterium that generates energy for the organism. The simulated organelle behaves just like its counterpart in nature, the researchers report. The work is a major step toward understanding how some biological structures convert sunlight into chemical energy, a biological innovation that is essential to life.