Physics Department featured in UW article on virtual lab course instruction

an image of the number 13 and an apparatus to view the fourier transform

It’s one thing to have to move a lecture course online, but lab courses — where students learn by doing — is an entirely different story. University Communications spoke to instructors in Physics, including Prof. Deniz Yavuz and Dr. Jim Reardon, about the transition to online lab instruction.  

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Saffman group part of team awarded $7.4M grant to apply quantum computers to real-world problems

Wisconsin Quantum Institute director and professor of physics Mark Saffman and his research group are part of a team that will attempt to make quantum computing hardware more applicable to real-world problems.

The up to $7.4 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funding is through the ONISQ program — Optimization with Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum devices. ColdQuanta is the primary recipient of the funding, and Saffman’s group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, along with a national lab and other universities, are partners.

“We’re in this era of development of quantum computing hardware that has been termed NISQ, and that’s because we don’t have error correction running on our quantum hardware,” says Saffman, who is also a UW–Madison professor of physics and chief scientist for quantum information at ColdQuanta. “The question is, can we do anything useful with this? Because the outlook for having a real error-corrected quantum computer that you could run very long calculations still seems to be a long way away, but we have these NISQ machines today, and they’re getting better all the time.”

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New research helps explain why the solar wind is hotter than expected

When a fire extinguisher is opened, the compressed carbon dioxide forms ice crystals around the nozzle, providing a visual example of the physics principle that gases and plasmas cool as they expand. When our sun expels plasma in the form of solar wind, the wind also cools as it expands through space — but not nearly as much as the laws of physics would predict.

In a study published April 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison physicists provide an explanation for the discrepancy in solar wind temperature. Their findings suggest ways to study solar wind phenomena in research labs and learn about solar wind properties in other star systems.

“People have been studying the solar wind since its discovery in 1959, but there are many important properties of this plasma which are still not well understood,” says Stas Boldyrev, professor of physics and lead author of the study. “Initially, researchers thought the solar wind has to cool down very rapidly as it expands from the sun, but satellite measurements show that as it reaches the Earth, its temperature is 10 times larger than expected. So, a fundamental question is: Why doesn’t it cool down?”

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Physicists to improve plasma fusion mirror devices with $5 million grant

University of Wisconsin–Madison plasma physicists will harness the power of high-temperature superconducting magnets to design and build a more efficient plasma fusion device, thanks to a two-year, $5 million U.S. Department of Energy grant awarded April 7.

The team, led by physics Professor Cary Forest, has been conducting fusion research for over two decades and expects this new device — the Wisconsin HTS Axisymmetric Mirror (WHAM) — will serve as a prototype for the next generation of fusion reactors.

“Neutrons generated from fusion are useful for many things, from making medical isotopes to potentially being a power source in the future,” Forest says. “Our idea initially — and this was funded by a UW2020 grant — was to build a neutron source which could go several orders of magnitude beyond current medical isotope production efficiencies but also provide a key first step in the direction of advancing fusion energy.”

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Sarah McCarthy earns fellowship through National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Congrats to first-year grad student Sarah McCarthy on being named a 2020 NSF GRFP recipient! 

The Physics Learning Center goes online for remote learning

Like course instruction, The Physics Learning Center and other tutoring and advising groups on campus have gone online to support their students’ learning. PLC was featured in an article about how these Centers are adapting to instructional changes during the pandemic. 

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Two students earn Quantum Information Science and Engineering Network (QISE-NET) honors

Congrats to grad students Xiaoyu Jiang and Abigail Shearrow on earning QISE-NET awards! Jiang will work with Argonne National Labs and Shearrow will work with Google for their respective projects. 

Read more about their projects here

Stanislav Boldyrev, DOE look back at his 10 years of Early Career award research

Prof. Stanislav Boldyrev earned a DOE Early Career Award in 2010. Ten years later, the DOE checked in to see what his research accomplishments in plasma turburlence have been during that time. 

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Jim Lawler named to first class of American Astronomical Society Fellows

Professor Jim Lawler was named as one of 200 Legacy Fellows to the first class of Fellows of the American Astronomical Society. Congrats, Prof Lawler!

Read about the AAS Fellows