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Physics & Astronomy Top Stories

  • 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.”

  • Doon GibbsAlumni Spotlight: Doon Gibbs

    Doon Gibbs is currently the Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Brookhaven is a multi-program U.S. Department of Energy laboratory with nearly 3,000 employees, more than 4,000 facility users each year, and an annual budget of about $600 million.

  • Black holes help U. researchers illuminate origin of tiny galaxiesBlack Holes Help U. Researchers Illuminate Origin Of Tiny Galaxies

    Despite their mysterious nature, two black holes recently discovered by University of Utah scientists are shedding light on how galaxies form. The black holes, located in the Virgo galaxy cluster, are the second and third that U. astrophysicists have discovered at the center of what they call "ultracompact" galaxies, formations that could illuminate how the universe formed and evolved.

  • Adam Beehler breathes firePhysics Is Fun

    The basement of the James Fletcher building has no windows, but the view is anything but boring. Dozens of rows of exhibit cases burst with wires, gadgets and myriad materials fit for a mad scientist’s workshop. The scientist himself stands out from the chaos in a technicolor shirt and a tie-dye lab coat. Adam Beehler, the lecture demonstration specialist for the Department of Physics & Astronomy, is the U’s own Bill Nye; he uses the facility to develop and build demonstrations to help instructors teach complex physical concepts with engaging activities.

  • DeltaBaffling Cosmic Mystery Triggers New Utah Effort To Study Powerful Particle

    One of the most baffling mysteries of the universe has triggered a major new effort in western Utah — a dramatic expansion of a vast scientific instrument spread across the desert. "We're going from 300 square miles to 1,200 square miles," said John Matthews, a research professor at the University of Utah and program manager of the Cosmic Ray Physics Group. Scientists hope the expanded array of cosmic ray detectors will zero in on a possibly violent force in the cosmos and — perhaps — finally explain an astounding observation 25 years ago. That's when scientists in Utah detected a tiny proton that was so incredibly powerful it was dubbed the "God particle."

  • Ethan LakePhysics Student Ethan Lake Becomes 2nd Hertz Fellow For The U

    Ethan Lake, an undergraduate student in physics and math at the University of Utah, has received the prestigious and highly competitive Hertz Fellowship, a $250,000 grant for up to five years of graduate study in the STEM fields. Lake is one of only 12 students nationally to receive this award and the second Hertz Fellow for the U. The first Hertz fellow was in 1989, when Eric Kelson received the award. “Ethan’s receipt of the Hertz Fellowship has opened the door for other U students to follow in his footsteps,” said Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs at the U. “We have no doubt Ethan will continue to make a significant contribution to research and be an excellent representative of our university and state.”

Last Updated: 12/21/16