Fall 2018

Hrvoje Petek won the 2019 Ahmed Zewail Award in American Chemical Society

  • By Ke Xu
  • 18 September 2018

Hrvoje Petek has won the 2019 Ahmed Zewail Award in Ultrafast Science and Technology of the American Chemical Society.

The award, which has been given yearly since 2005, recognizes outstanding and creative contributions to fundamental discoveries or inventions in ultrafast science  and technology in areas of physics, chemistry, biology, or related fields.

Room-temperature quantum fluids of light

Dr. Stéphane Kéna-Cohen
Monday, October 22, 2018 - 4:00pm

Light-matter interaction is at the heart of most optical processes we are familiar with such as absorption, emission and scattering. These are normally treated by assuming that the incident light does not significantly modify the underlying electronic states of the material it interacts with. The strong coupling regime consists of the extreme case where light-matter interaction is so strong that it must be treated non-pertubatively. Polaritons, the resulting mixed light-matter particles, can be the source of many unique phenomena. We will describe how these quasiparticles can be exploited...

NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI)

  • By Ke Xu
  • 4 September 2018

The Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program serves to increase access to multi-user scientific and engineering instrumentation for research and research training in our Nation's institutions of higher education and not-for-profit scientific/engineering research organizations. An MRI award supports the acquisition or development of a multi-user research instrument that is, in general, too costly and/or not appropriate for support through other NSF programs.

Giannis Mpourmpakis Part of $800K DOE Study Targeting Safer Storage for Nuclear Waste

  • By Ke Xu
  • 4 September 2018

Giannis Mpourmpakis is part of a collaborative research team studying the corrosion behavior of glass containers often used to store nuclear waste. Its goal is to find solutions to reduce or avoid the degeneration of the containers. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $800,000 to the project, titled “Formation of Zeolites Responsible for Waste Glass Rate Acceleration: An Experimental and Computational Study for Understanding Thermodynamic and Kinetic Processes.” 

Karl Johnson and John Keith unlocked the secrets of Polyisobutylene’s reaction mechanism

  • By Ke Xu
  • 28 August 2018

Karl Johnson and John Keith lead a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and Wickliffe, Ohio-based Lubrizol Corporation to unlock the secrets of Polyisobutylene (PIB)’s reaction mechanism.

PIB is a workhorse polymer that is found in a multitude of products, ranging from chewing gum, to tires, to engine oil and gasoline additives. Although commercially produced in large quantities since the 1940s, PIB chemistry was a mystery – scientists weren’t sure how the reaction mechanism that creates the polymer happens at the molecular level, which limited further potential. 

Utilizing the University’s Center for Research Computing to analyze the molecular processes, the Pitt/Lubrizol group found that the assumed reaction mechanism was not correct and that initiation of the reaction requires a “superacid” catalyst. 

The group’s findings were published this month in the journal ACS Catalysis.

Statistical mechanics of the transition to turbulence

Dr. Nigel Goldenfeld
Wednesday, September 26, 2018 - 10:00am

How do fluids become turbulent as their flow velocity is increased? In recent years, careful experiments in pipes and Taylor-Couette systems have revealed that the lifetime of transient turbulent regions in a fluid appears to diverge with flow velocity just before the onset of turbulence, faster than any power law or exponential function. I show how this superexponential scaling of the turbulent lifetime in pipe flow is related to extreme value statistics, which I show is a manifestation of a mapping between transitional turbulence and the statistical mechanics model of directed percolation.  This mapping itself arises from a further surprising and remarkable connection: laminar and turbulent regions in a fluid behave as a predator-prey ecosystem. Such ecosystems are governed by individual fluctuations in the population and being naturally quantized, are solvable by path integral techniques from field theory. I explain the evidence for this mapping, and propose how a unified picture of the transition to turbulence emerges in systems ranging from turbulent convection to magnetohydrodynamics. 

The Physics of Brain Science: Quasicriticality, An Organizing Principle?

Dr. Rashid Williams-Garcia
Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 4:00pm

Empirical evidence suggests that living neural networks operate near a continuous phase transition, conjectured to be an optimal point for information storage and processing. Applying theoretical approaches, however, is challenging since vital features of neural networks present numerous obstacles to the applicability of traditional statistical physics tools, many of which have not yet been adapted to neuroscience. I will describe a simple cellular automaton model which allows for the characterization of the out-of-equilibrium transition and demonstrates an explicit symmetry breaking due...