Past Events

To join the listhost with information about workshops, movie nights, and biweekly talks, email Chloe at Everyone from undergraduates to faculty is welcome.

A selection of our past events:

June 25, 2020
Linda Young
Adventures in AMO Physics with X-ray Lasers
In this presentation for WaGMiP, I’ll walk you through my experiences surrounding the inception of the x-ray free electron laser – a journey that has lasted for the past 20 years and that has spanned multiple continents. With the x-ray free electron laser's ultrafast and ultraintense pulses two seminal experimental concepts are, in principle, enabled: “diffraction-before-destruction” to allow 3D imaging of non-periodic systems with atomic-scale resolution and “molecular movies” where one can watch electronic and nuclear motion on their natural timescales. Our role in AMO science has been to establish the fundamental interactions underlying these applications. These x-ray free electron lasers have just breached the attosecond threshold foreshadowing a new era.

June 11, 2020
Cara Vennari
Exploring the Earth' s Mantle with High Pressure Experiments

May 26, 2020
Aparna Baskaran
Active Matter: Using the soft materials paradigm to understand biology
In this talk I will introduce and discuss a new class of microscopically driven materials that have been termed active materials. Drawing lessons from both biology and in vitro experimental systems, I will discuss theoretical challenges and different approaches that have proved fruitful so far. In particular, I will discuss the physics of active nematics.

May 7, 2020
Bulbul Chakraborty
Physics of Sand: Emergent Behavior in the Macro World
Diversity in the natural world emerges from the collective behavior of large numbers of interacting objects. The origin of collectively organized structures over the vast range of length scales from the subatomic to colloidal is the competition between energy and entropy. Thermal motion provides the mechanism for organization by allowing particles to explore the space of configurations. This well-established paradigm of emergent behavior breaks down for collections of macroscopic objects ranging from grains of sand to asteroids. In this macro-world of particulate systems, thermal motion is absent, and mechanical forces are all important. We lack understanding of the basic, unifying principles that underlie the emergence of order in this world. In this talk, I will explore the origin of rigidity of granular solids, and present a new paradigm for emergence of order in these athermal systems.

August 13, 2018
Laimei Nie, Kadanoff Center for Theoretical Physics Postdoc Fellow
A glimpse at chaos in the quantum realm
From three-body problem to butterfly effect, chaos is one of the most mathematically fascinating yet tangible phenomena in the nature. Chaos in the classical world has been (more or less) well understood formulated in the language of dynamical system, but its quantum counterpart remains elusive — even its definition is not clear despite decades of efforts. We will discuss a new way to look at the old problem: instead of focusing on quantum states, we aim to uncover the chaotic behavior of a quantum system by studying the entanglement of operators. We will test this idea in the context of conformal field theories (CFTs), a special type of quantum field theory where the existence of abundant symmetries allow concrete analytic calculations to be done. Among other results, this ”theoretical experiment” reveals a striking property of a peculiar type of CFT, dubbed holographic CFT, that it is perhaps the most chaotic quantum field theory to date, mirroring its dual relation with black holes via the AdS/CFT correspondence.

July 30, 2019
Dani Scheff, Gardel Group
Graduate student Dani Scheff (Gardel Lab) will present about her research on how dynamics of individual proteins impacts bulk flows in active actin networks.

July 16, 2019
Liza Mulder, Esser-Kahn Group
Graduate student Liza Mulder (Esser-Kahn group) will be giving a talk about her research on the innate immune activation of single cells using a Fluidic Force Microscope (FluidFM).

June 27, 2019
Yvonne Beckham, Gardel Lab Manager
Yvonne Beckham, the Gardel lab manager, will give a talk on her PhD work in zoology as well as her career path from a small Canadian town to the University of Chicago.

June 13, 2019
Tracy Chmiel, Gardel Group
The Physics of Microscopy

May 13, 2019
Lunch and Chat with Sara Massey
Informal chat with Sara Massey, a chemistry graduate student in the Engel group who just defended a few weeks ago. She has a tenure-track faculty position lined up for next year (straight out of grad school)! This is an opportunity to talk to her about her trajectory and her plans for this future position.

October 9, 2018
Varda Faghir Hagh, Arizona State University
Jamming in Perspective
Jamming occurs when objects like grains are packed tightly together (for example in grain silos). It is a highly cooperative phenomena and it can lead to earthquakes, traffic jams, etc. For every jammed pack, there is an underlying network that can be built by replacing each particle by a vertex and adding an edge between two vertices if their equivalent particles are in contact. The jammed networks built this way have some interesting and unique properties. For example, they resist compression (even at very low densities) and would fully collapse if only two random edges are removed. The classic way of building jammed networks involves packing particles compressively and then mapping the physically packed system into a network. Here we introduce a new method to construct networks with the exact same set of mechanical and elastic properties as jammed systems but without necessarily packing particles together either in the lab or computationally. The construction involves setting up a triangulation for a set of points in the space and then removing edges to maximize the compression resistance of the resulting network. This construction works in any dimensions and here we present results in 2D where we also show how such networks can be transformed into a disk packing.

Michelle Driscoll, Northwestern University
Mind the Gap: A New Kind of Fingering Instability in Colloidal Rollers
When colloidal particles are rotated adjacent to nearby floor, strong advective flows are generated around them, even quite far away. When a group of these microrollers is driven, the strong hydrodynamic coupling between particles leads to formation of new structures: an initially uniform front of microrollers evolves first into a shock-like structure, which then quickly becomes unstable, emitting fingers of a well-defined wavelength. Our experiments and simulations confirm that this instability is quite different than typical fingering instabilities, where size scale selection is a consequence of competing stresses. Here, this instability arises only due to hydrodynamic interactions, and it is controlled by a single geometric parameter, the particle-floor height. Our measurements of the growth rate in both experiments and simulations agree with results from our continuum model. This instability is a direct consequence of the inward flows created by the interactions between the particles and the nearby solid surface.

November 9, 2017
Pragallva Barpanda, Shaw Group
Meridional Shift of Extratropical Storm Tracks in Earth's Atmosphere
The midlatitude region of Earth's atmosphere (~ 45 deg latitude) is dominated by transient cyclones and anticyclones. These propagating weather systems follow preferred geographical paths known as extratropical storm track. In response to external forcings like seasonal cycle, El Nino and climate change, the storm tracks deflect poleward or equatorward. What causes the storm tracks to shift their position? Is there a common dominant factor underlying these shifts? My research aims at answering these questions. I will give a brief background about extratropical cyclones and discuss why they exist in the position as they do now. I will then describe an energetic framework we have developed to draw testable hypothesis that possibly explain the storm-track-shifts and is currently being tested using idealized numerical experiments.

October 26, 2017
Danielle Scheff, Gardel Lab
The Many Phases of Actin

October 12, 2017
Chloe Lindeman, Nagel Group
Spooky Action at a Distance in Spring Networks
In traditional solid state physics, materials are thought of as perfect atomic lattices. But what about the opposite end of the spectrum: total disorder? Rather than viewing disorder as a setback, we take advantage of the unique properties of disordered spring networks to create unusual global and local responses to applied stress.

August 30, 2017
Aziza Suleymanzade, Simon and Schuster Labs
Progress towards engineering strong interactions between optical and microwave photons
I will give an overview of my experimental project on engineering quantum interactions of lights particles. And I will describe in more detail the progress we have made in building a hybrid cryogenic system that brings cold atoms, photonics and circuit Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) together.

August 8, 2017
Sabrina Berger, Leslie Rogers
Quantifying Thermal Effects on Rocky Exoplanets
Rocky planets can be very diverse in structure and composition compared to the Earth. Their temperature profiles could also differ greatly from Earth’s depending on their mass and distance from their host stars. Interior structure models of rocky exoplanets have not yet studied the full range of possible temperature profiles. We develop a simulation, PyPlanet, for a rocky planet with an arbitrary number of layers and equations of state. We apply this model to explore many possible temperature profiles and quantify the thermal effects on the mass-radius relations of rocky planets. This detailed modeling will be crucial for making robust inferences about rocky planet structure and composition from transit and radial velocity observations.

Enid M. Cruz-Colón, Dan Fabrycky
Dynamics of multi-planet system TRAPPIST-1
After formation, planetary systems might evolve and get locked in resonances between the orbital periods of adjacent planets in the system. These 2-body resonances can potentially lead to 3-body resonances in the system, in which we relate the coordinates of three adjacent planets. This projects aims to apply an analytical model for resonant chains and 3-body resonances to the planetary system TRAPPIST-1 by means of a numerical model.

Isabelle Bunge, Dinner Group
Modeling a Liquid Crystal Phase of Cross-Linked Actin Bundles
The study of actin is essential to our understanding of diverse bio-logical processes, such as muscular contraction and cellular division. However, in order to study this protein effectively in vitro we need detailed simulations that can help us predict results of certain experimental setups. Recently, in the Gardel Group here at UChicago, a new phase of cross-linked actin bundles was observed experimentally. The current simulation package for actin filament environments designed by the Dinner Group, titled AFINES, fails to include this liquid-crystal like phase. For the summer, I have been tasked to develop this simulation package to include this newly discovered phase. In this talk, I will discuss the methods used to implement tactoid formations (liquid crystal phase) into this simulation package as well as the results I have seen thus far in my analysis of completed simulations.

Elyssa Ferguson, Jaeger Lab
Platy Particles’ Influence on the Behavior of Granular Packings.
Particle shape of granular materials plays an important role in affecting an aggregate’s response to its environment. Out of myriads of shapes, platy particles possess the surprising ability to vigorously adapt while supporting great loads; however, the micro particle interactions generating the macro response are not well understood. By analyzing tomographic reconstructions and stress-strain data of compressed packings, we will better understand how flat shape influences granular mixtures’ response to stress.This provides new clues to understanding how aggregates essentially adapt and can lead to controlling granular materials’ shape and response in soft robotics, self-healing materials, and architecture applications.

July 27, 2017
Kate Cavanaugh, Gardel Lab
Mechanics of Cell Shape Change
In development, cells must coordinately alter their cell-cell junction lengths, surface area, and overall cell shape to sculpt tissues and organs. Thousands of molecular changes, coordinated both in space and time, determine a cell’s material properties that translate into these drastic cell- and tissue-scale deformations. And yet, how does the cell determine where and how hard to pull? When does the cell resist deformation or undergo shape changes? To answer these questions, we use optogenetics to target contractility with focused light. We hypothesize that the molecular mechanisms controlling actin cytoskeletal reorganization determine the local material properties of cell junctions, effectively driving irreversible cell shape change. Surprisingly, we found that constant junction contraction was not sufficient for irreversible shape changes. Rather, junction contraction stalled before elastically returning to its original shape. Multiple contractions showed an adjustable junction length indicative of contractile behavior. These emergent mechanical behaviors point to regulation of actin turnover as an exciting mechanism for effective shape change. These data will directly test our current models of cell mechanics in a model tissue, allowing us to construct dynamic 3D models of multicellular force transmission that underlie shape changes.

July 13, 2017
Melody Lim, Jaeger Lab
Collisional charging of acoustically levitated grains: contactless manipulation and self-assembly
Repeated frictional contacts between grains can result in the spontaneous formation of large electrostatic charges on individual grains, even if these grains are identical neutral dielectrics. These large electrostatic charges affect other properties of the granular material through long-range interactions, such as its tendency to cluster. However, the process by which individual dielectric grains  tribocharge is not well understood. We develop a method to contactlessly manipulate individual grains using acoustic levitation. We characterize the motion of particles with a range of materials and sizes in an acoustic pressure field, and produce controlled collisions between insulating grains. We also observe the charge-mediated assembly of particle rafts in systems of acoustically levitated grains.

April 18, 2017
Jiayi Wu, Irvine lab
Nonlinearities in Gyroscopic Materials
We study the nonlinear dynamics of a one dimensional chain of weakly interacting magnetic gyroscopes. It has been found that gyroscopic lattices with hexagonal and kagome geometries are mechanical analogue to a Chern topological insulator. Thus, the dynamics of the 1D gyroscopic chain may help us understand the nonlinear behavior of chiral edge modes in 2D lattices. We demonstrate that gyroscopic lattices with on-site nonlinearities supports propagating breather solutions.

April 4, 2017
Sam Stam, Gardel Lab
Biological polymer-based materials remodel under active, molecular motor-driven forces to perform diverse physiological roles, such as force transmission and spatial self-organization. Critical to understanding these biomaterials is elucidating the role of microscopic polymer deformations, such as stretching, bending, buckling, and relative sliding, on material remodeling. Here, we report that the shape of motor-driven deformations can be used to identify microscopic deformation modes and determine how they propagate to longer length scales. In cross-linked actin networks with sufficiently low densities of the motor protein myosin II, microscopic network deformations are predominantly uniaxial, or dominated by sliding. However, longer-wavelength modes are mostly biaxial, or dominated by bending and buckling, indicating that deformations with uniaxial shapes do not propagate across length scales significantly larger than that of individual polymers. As the density of myosin II is increased, biaxial modes dominate on all length scales we examine due to buildup of sufficient stress to produce smaller-wavelength buckling. In contrast, when we construct networks from unipolar, rigid actin bundles, we observe uniaxial, sliding-based contractions on 1 to 100 μm length scales. Our results demonstrate the biopolymer mechanics can be used to tune deformation modes which, in turn, control shape changes in active materials.

February 21, 2017
Anita Gaj, Chin lab
In Rydberg atoms the valence electron is excited to a barely bound orbit in which it is far away from the nucleus. The interaction between a slow Rydberg electron and a separate ground state atom can lead to a bound state and the formation of ultralong-range Rydberg molecules. In my talk I will discuss how to create these molecules and why they are so much different than the conventional molecules. Finally, I will talk about recent experiments involving Rydberg molecules and the future of this new direction of research.

January 31, 2017
Prof. Abigail Vieregg
Radio Detection of the Highest Energy Neutrinos
Ultra-high energy neutrino astronomy crosses boundaries between particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.  I’ll discuss the search for these highest energy observable particles in the universe, how we do it, what we know now, and what we hope to learn in the coming years.  I’ll talk about a balloon-borne experiment called ANITA that just completed a successful flight in Antarctica, as well as a ground-based experiment at the South Pole called ARA, and a new idea we’re working on here at Chicago to improve the efficiency of such detectors.

January 10, 2017
Polina Navotnaya, Engel Group
Electronic dynamics in bulk GaAs induced by light with orbital angular momentum
Light with orbital angular momentum, known as twisted light, is a topic of growing interest due to the new opportunities it opens for exploring the interaction of light with matter. Twisted light has been explored in communications, where it was transmitted efficiently over the distance over 100km. In addition to that, entangled states created with twisted light may be important in quantum computing and communications. However, detecting information encoded in twisted light can be a challenge because it requires complicated laser setup and stable conditions. Taking this technology from lab bench to commercial applications requires new detection materials. This inspired me to study interactions of twisted light with matter. Introducing orbital angular momentum to light generates corkscrew-shaped helical wavefront that stirs the sample’s charge density in a way different from planar light-matter interaction. The current density induced in the sample induces terms beyond dipolar in the multipolar expansion. In the interaction Hamiltonian, the presence of the multipolar terms creates new selection rules that are governed by the transition probabilities and the overlap between the light mode and charge density of the sample. The states achieved by these excitations are poorly coupled with the environment. Thus, the lifetime of these states is expected to grow as OAM grows. I have performed pump-probe spectroscopy experiment with twisted light and bulk gallium arsenide at liquid helium temperatures. The results have indeed shown the prolonged lifetime of the excited states, opening up the opportunity to study dynamics of the states beyond dipole moment approximation. 

November 28, 2016
Nicole James, Jaeger Lab
What causes shear jamming of suspensions?
Fluids like water or honey have an intrinsic, constant viscosity at a given temperature. However, concentrated suspensions of solid particles in a liquid can display a surprising, counterintuitive behavior: the harder they are sheared to flow, the higher the viscosity becomes. In rare cases, the fluid even solidifies, then ‘melts’ when the force is removed! This phenomena is called shear jamming, and is commonly seen in cornstarch/water suspension demonstrations. Previous understanding of granular flows suggests that shear jamming of suspensions ultimately arises from particles being sheared into direct contact, at which point particle-particle friction prevents the flow of particles past each other, and the suspension jams. However, that raises the question: Why do some systems (most notably cornstarch) display prominent shear jamming, while practically no other systems do?

In this talk I will present a new synthetic particle system that displays shear jamming and allows us to pinpoint and characterize the chemical contributions to particle-particle friction that we believe are necessary for shear jamming. This understanding opens the door to designing and optimizing these materials for applications such as stab-resistant liquid armor.

November 14, 2016
Margaret Gardel

October 31, 2016
Menglu Chen, Guyot-Sionnest Lab
Electronic states in mercury chalcogneide colloidal quantum dots
In the past few years, colloidal quantum dots based on the zinc-blend mercury chalcogenides, Hg(S, Se, Te), have become leaders in efforts to transform mid-IR technologies with solutions based materials.   Understanding the electronic states, the doping, and the relative band positions of the three materials and the colloidal dots is essential for current and future investigations.
I use spectroscopy and electrochemistry to monitor the electronic states, the mobility of electrons in films, the origin of the spontaneous doping in several of the systems, and the effects of the surface.
I will describe how a single cyclic voltammetry curve on one particular sample of quantum dots already reveals much novel information, such as predicting if the system is spontaneously doped, the Fermi level, the electron injection energies, the degree of reversibility, the presence of surface states, and the mobility of electrons hopping from different states.
I will then present our complete set of electrochemical and spectroscopic data collected on the three different chalcogenides, with a systematic range of sizes and surface chemistry, and these unveil an unprecedented view on the materials and of their properties as quantum dots.

October 3, 2016
Chen He Heinrich, Hu Lab
Complete Reionization Constraints from Planck 2015 Polarization
I will present a recent analysis of the 2015 cosmic microwave background data from the Planck satellite that is complete in the reionization observables using principal components (PCs). By allowing for an arbitrary ionization history, the PC technique probes a larger space of physical models than in the standard analysis (which assume stantaneous reionization) and tests the robustness of the inferred optical depth. A reliable measurement of the total optical depth is important for the interpretation of many other cosmological parameters such as the dark energy and neutrino mass. We found that Planck 2015 data not only allow a high redshift z>15 component to the optical depth but prefer it at the 2σ level, contributing to a higher total optical depth than in the standard analysis. I will further demonstrate the power of the PC method to efficiently constrain models given predictions of ionization history by applying our effective likelihood code.

October 17, 2016
Nora Shipp
Exploring the Effect of Dark Matter Self-Interactions on the Subhalo Distribution of Galaxy Clusters
Observations of galaxy clusters indicate that the splashback radius, a density caustic corresponding to the first orbital apocenter of satellite galaxies after accretion, is smaller than predicted by simulations. This decrease in radius could be due to an effective drag force on the dark matter subhalos resulting from scattering between dark matter particles. In order to explore this possibility and place preliminary constraints on the self-interaction cross section, I integrated dark matter subhalo orbits though evolving galaxy cluster potentials and examined the effect of self-interactions on the subhalo distribution.

August 7, 2016
Lipi Gupta, Innovations in Bright Beam Science group
Synchotrons and Free Electron Lasers
Light sources such as synchrotrons and FELs generate bright, high-energy radiation. These sources can be used to probe extremely small structures due to the ultra-short (order Angstrom) wavelength light they produce. Currntly operating machines include APS at Argonne National Lab and LCLS at SLAC National Lab, as well as many international facilities sucha as SACLA in Japan. Protein imaging, material surface studies, and more are driving the demand for higher energy photons and higher luminosity. By creating high-energy radiation at increased fluxes, scientists hope to be able to construct "movies" of chemical reactions taking place; which could become possible at future light sources. This talk will discuss the basic physics of these machines, as well as some of the challenges faced by current accelerator physicists designing 4th generation light sources. 

August 10, 2016
Rebecca Cheng, Jaegar Group
Shear thicknening flow curves and viscosity fluctuations in synthetic pMMA suspensions
Under impact or shear, cornstarch and water suspensions have shown to thicken and solidify, allowing a ball to bounce or a person to run across its surface. However, most observations of shear jamming have been on starch suspensions, which are prone to rotting, making practical application of this phenomenon difficult. Here, we study viscosity fluctuations at regions of shear thickening and jamming of synthetic pMMA suspensions. By learning more about the limits of shear thickening and jamming in synthetic suspensions, we can begin to harness this behavior for further application in engineering and industry. 

August 10, 2016
Analis Lawrence, Gandi Group
Gain calibration of the Hamamatsu R11410 PMT
Hamamatsu R11410 3" photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) are aligned in liquid xenon detectors designed for dark matter searches. The detectors are two-phase xenon time projection chambers to determine detection of a WIMP particle or a dark matter candidate. The role of the PMTs is to amplify photon signals from xenon scintillation light. In this study, a 470 nm blue laser light pulse signal was sent to the Hamamatsu R11410 through a dark box. A single photoelectron peak gain curve was analyzed at varying voltages. Calibration of the PMT helps ensure accurate detection of interaction events as well as rejection of background.