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Physics & Astronomy Top Stories

  • Daniel WikSolving a Cosmic Mystery

    Daniel Wik, Assistant Professor of Physics & Astronomy, helped conclude a study using data from NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope to confirm that Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years, is accelerating particles to ultra-high energies. Some of the particles could reach Earth as cosmic rays.

  • Riding the (Quantum Magnetic) WaveRiding the (Quantum Magnetic) Wave

    In 1991, University of Utah chemist Joel Miller developed the first magnet with carbon-based, or organic, components that was stable at room temperature. It was a great advance in magnetics, and he’s been exploring the applications ever since. Twenty-five years later, physicists Christoph Boehme and Valy Vardeny demonstrated a method to convert quantum waves into electrical current. They too, knew they’d discovered something important, but didn’t know its application. Now those technologies have come together and could be the first step towards a new generation of faster, more efficient and more flexible electronics.

  • Gail ZasowskiFaculty Spotlight: Gail Zasowski

    For nearly 20 years, scientists and institutions around the world have been part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which has helped map millions of stars and galaxies and created some of the most detailed three-dimensional images of the universe.

  • Anil SethFaculty Spotlight: Anil Seth

    Anil Seth, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, fell in love with astronomy in high school in Lincoln, Nebraska. Now, when he isn’t teaching classes at the U, or mentoring graduate students, he spends his time searching for black holes at the centers of low-mass galaxies.

  • SDSS-VNext Generation Astronomical Survey To Map The Entire Sky

    The next generation of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-V), will move forward with mapping the entire sky following a $16 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The grant will kickstart a groundbreaking all-sky spectroscopic survey for a next wave of discovery, anticipated to start in 2020. The University of Utah has been a key member of the SDSS collaboration since 2009, and all of the survey data will be processed and stored at the U’s Center for High-Performance Computing. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has been one of the most successful and influential surveys in the history of astronomy, creating the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the universe ever made, with deep multi-color images of one third of the sky, and spectra for more than three million astronomical objects. The survey’s fifth generation will build off the earlier SDSS incarnations, but will break new ground by pioneering all-sky spectroscopic observations, taking the spectra of another 6 million objects, and monitoring many of the objects’ changes over time.

  • Shanti DeemyadFaculty Spotlight: Shanti Deemyad

    Shanti Deemyad, an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, recently helped solve a long-standing mystery about lithium, the first element in the periodic table that is metallic at ambient conditions. Lithium, which is a key element in electronics and battery technology, has played an important role in the development of modern condensed matter theories. The crystal structure of materials at zero pressure and temperature is one of their most basic properties. Until now, it was thought that a complex arrangement of lithium atoms, observed during cooling in the laboratory, was its lowest energy state. But the idea baffled theoretical physicists since lithium has only three electrons and therefore should have a simple atomic structure.

  • Tino NyaweloFinding Refuge In Education

    On a balmy morning in late May, fifteen newly-graduated high schoolers and their families filed into the Art Works for Kids Auditorium on the University of Utah campus, greeting one another with excited chatter. The parents beamed with pride — many of their sons and daughters were the first in the family to attend college. Tino Nyawelo, assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, cleared his throat in a futile attempt for the group’s attention. Failing to get it, he smiled at the crowd, thinking of his own journey to the university against overwhelming odds. He cleared his throat again, and this time won over the room.

  • Sarah Li (left) and Z. Valy Vardeny (right) of the Department of Physics & AstronomyA New Spin On Electronics

    A University of Utah-led team has discovered that a class of “miracle materials” called organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites could be a game changer for future spintronic devices. Spintronics uses the direction of the electron spin — either up or down — to carry information in ones and zeros. A spintronic device can process exponentially more data than traditional electronics that use the ebb and flow of electrical current to generate digital instructions. But physicists have struggled to make spintronic devices a reality. The new study, published online today in Nature Physics, is the first to show that organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites are a promising material class for spintronics. The researchers discovered that the perovskites possess two contradictory properties necessary to make spintronic devices work — the electrons’ spin can be easily controlled, and can also maintain the spin direction long enough to transport information, a property known as spin lifetime.

  • Gemini NorthSupermassive Black Holes

    Three years ago, a University of Utah-led team discovered that an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy contained a supermassive black hole, then the smallest known galaxy to harbor such a giant black hole. The findings suggested that the dwarfs were likely tiny leftovers of larger galaxies that were stripped of their outer layers after colliding into other, larger galaxies. Now, the same group of U astronomers and colleagues have found two more ultra-compact dwarf galaxies with supermassive black holes. Together, the three examples suggest that black holes lurk at the center of most of these objects, potentially doubling the number of supermassive black holes known in the universe. The black holes make up a high percentage of the compact galaxies’ total mass, supporting the theory that the dwarfs are remnants of massive galaxies that were ripped apart by larger galaxies.

  • Tabitha BuehlerFaculty Spotlight: Tabitha Buehler

    Tabitha Buehler, Assistant Professor (Lecturer) in the Physics and Astronomy Department, is developing top-notch astronomy education and outreach programs with a student group called the AstronomUrs. These students, with Buehler’s guidance, give presentations on-campus and off-campus to local schools, Boy Scouts, and other community groups. They also hold free public star parties on-campus each Wednesday evening, weather permitting. “We estimate that about 2,000 people attended our weekly star parties last year, and the AstronomUrs presented to over 75 additional groups, reaching upwards of 10,000 people in the community last year,” says Buehler. “This success is largely due to Paul Ricketts, my associate, who gives most of the presentations and hosts the star parties.”

Last Updated: 12/21/16