In the news

Predicting Unpredictable Reactions

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 12 June 2020

Computational catalysis, a field that simulates and accelerates the discovery of catalysts for chemical production, has largely been limited to simulations of idealized catalyst structures that do not necessarily represent structures under realistic reaction conditions. 

New research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with the Laboratory of Catalysis and Catalytic Processes (Department of Energy) at Politecnico di Milano in Milan, Italy, advances the field of computational catalysis by paving the way for the simulation of realistic catalysts under reaction conditions. The work, Modeling Morphology and Catalytic Activity of Nanoparticle Ensembles Under Reaction Conditions, was published in ACS Catalysis and authored by Raffaele Cheula, PhD student in the Maestri group; Matteo Maestri, full professor of chemical engineering at Politecnico di Milano; and Giannis “Yanni” Mpourmpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and associate professor of chemical engineering at Pitt.

Youngblood and Xiong Win NSF Grant to Explore Phase Change Materials

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 8 June 2020

In the information age, where we ditch paper files and cabinets for digital files and hard drives, there is an imminent need for affordable and efficient ways to store our information.

At the beginning of 2020, the digital universe was estimated to consist of 44 zettabytes of data -- that’s 44 trillion gigabytes (GB) of information. Every time someone “googles” a question, uploads a photo to social media, or performs a variety of daily activities, that number increases.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Nathan Youngblood and Feng Xiong secured a $501,953 award from the National Science Foundation to better understand how to store data more efficiently using optical and electrical techniques on two-dimensional (2D) materials. 

Optical storage, commonly used in rewritable CDs and DVDs, uses a laser to store and retrieve data in what is called a “phase-change material.” Heating these materials causes them to switch between two stable states, where the atoms are either randomly positioned like in glass or ordered like in a crystal. However, the amount of energy required to heat these materials is fundamentally limited by their volume.

Machine learning used to up-cycle waste carbon

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 22 May 2020

Researchers at University of Toronto Engineering and Carnegie Mellon University are using artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate progress in transforming waste carbon into a commercially valuable product with record efficiency.

They leveraged AI to speed up the search for the key material in a new catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into ethylene -- a chemical precursor to a wide range of products, from plastics to dish detergent.

The resulting electrocatalyst is the most efficient in its class. If run using wind or solar power, the system also provides an efficient way to store electricity from these renewable but intermittent sources.

"Using clean electricity to convert CO2 into ethylene, which has a $60 billion global market, can improve the economics of both carbon capture and clean energy storage," says Professor Ted Sargent, one of the senior authors on a new paper published today in Nature.

Chandralekha Singh Becomes President of AAPT

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 15 May 2020

​​​​​​​During the 2020 Winter Meeting in Orlando, Florida, the presidential gavel was presented to Dr. Chandralekha Singh. She will serve as President of the American Association of Physics Teachers for the coming year. Singh, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Founding Director of the Discipline-based Science Education Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, has previously served on the AAPT Board of Directors as President-elect and Vice President.

Regarding her service to AAPT, Singh said, "This position comes with the opportunity to lead an organization that I revere and work with dedicated and enthusiastic colleagues who share my passion for enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching."

Batteries for Flying Cars

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 8 May 2020

Venkat Viswanathan, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CMU, describes their latest paper in Nature Materials and the 5-year effort to understand electrodeposition instabilities at solid-solid interfaces, leading to high-performing lithium metal based batteries:

In the fall of 2015, we began exploring the role of mechanical properties in stabilizing lithium electrodeposition at solid-solid interfaces in solid state batteries. Previous results from an elegant linear stability analysis performed by Monroe and Newman suggested that solids with sufficiently large moduli could block dendrite growth due to the stabilizing role of the hydrostatic part of the stress.

How to Dress a Metal

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 6 May 2020

Research describing how an optical field can modify the electronic properties of a solid was recently published in Nature Communications titled "Coherent multidimensional photoelectron spectroscopy of ultrafast quasiparticle dressing by light", coauthored by Dr. Marcel Reutzel, Hrvoje Petek, and Petek's students Andi Li and Zehua Wang.

Applying intense ultrafast light pulses, which provide a time-periodic electronic potential acting together with the lattice ions, defines the forces experienced by electrons in solids, such as metals and semiconductors, Petek and his coworkers demonstrated that an optical field can transiently, on the 10-14 second time scale, modify (dress) the electronic bands in a metal, potentially changing them from an electron to a hole condition. 

Stay-at-home Physics Labs

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 28 April 2020

In the scramble to bring lab instruction to students hunkered down indoors across the globe, professors with hands-on courses adopted strategies ranging from shipping equipment and tools directly to students to stretching remote learning technologies farther than ever before.

In the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Physics and Astronomy, graduate student instructor Daniel Doucette and associate professor Gurudev Dutt have been taking advantage of virtual lab tools and even shipped devices to students to work on at home.  

 

PQI2020 Poster Session Winners

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 24 April 2020

The PQI2020 poster session was held remotely over a Zoom call with poster presenters and judges and streamed live to Youtube for the PQI community to attend and discuss in the live chat. A huge thank you to all who contributed and took time out of their chaotic lives to be PQ-engaged with us. We had the help of 29 judges for the recorded presentation round, and 6 judges sit in for the 15 finalists. A special thank you to our live judges, Prof. David Waldeck, Prof. Rongchao Jin, Prof. Nathan Youngblood, Prof. Andrew Daley, Prof. Kaushik Dayal, and previous poster award winners, Dacen Waters and Jierui Liang. 

You can watch the full video here, with helpful shortcuts to each poster in the description.

Superconducting Material Holds Promise for Quantum Computing

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 14 April 2020

New research from Carnegie Mellon physicists details the creation of a special kind of superconducting material that could allow for the creation of new and more robust quantum computers.

"The main result is that we created a new state of matter," said Assistant Professor of Physics Ben Hunt, who led the research in collaboration with Professor of Physics Randall Feenstra, Ph.D. candidate Dacen Waters and Felix Lüpke, currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

This state of matter, a one-dimensional topological superconductor, has actually been made before, Hunt clarified, but their new study published in the journal Nature Physics proved its first creation in a particular material — tungsten telluride.

Pittsburgh-wide committee hosts Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at CMU

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 31 March 2020

In January, Carnegie Mellon University hosted 173 young physicists for a regional American Physical Society (APS) Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). 

“Science thrives when it is inclusive. For generations, physics has been male-dominated. This must change,” said Physics Department Head Scott Dodelson. “Hosting CUWiP was one of the most important steps that MCS is taking to drive that change.”

Over 67 people were involved in the planning, organization and running of the event, including undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff and faculty at CMU, Pitt, Duquesne, and Washington and Jefferson.

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