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How hundreds of college students are helping solve a centuries-old mystery about the sun

May 17, 2023|Popular Science|

Astronomers-in-training spent thousands of hours peering at tiny solar flares that space telescopes missed. A team of more than 1,000 astronomers and college students just took a step closer to solving one of the long-lasting mysteries of astronomy: Why is the sun’s outer layer, known as the corona, so ridiculously hot? The solar surface is 10,000°F, but a thousand miles up, the sun’s corona flares hundreds of times hotter. It’s like walking across the room to escape an overzealous space heater, but you feel warmer far away from the source instead of cooler, totally contrary to expectations.

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How 1,000 undergraduates helped solve an enduring mystery about the sun

May 9, 2023|CU Boulder Today|

For a new study, a team of physicists recruited roughly 1,000 undergraduate students at CU Boulder to help answer one of the most enduring questions about the sun: How does the star’s outermost atmosphere, or “corona,” get so hot? The research represents a nearly-unprecedented feat of data analysis: From 2020 to 2022, the small army of mostly first- and second-year students examined the physics of more than 600 real solar flares—gigantic eruptions of energy from the sun’s roiling corona…

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Imaging Topological Magnetic Monopoles in 3D

March 23, 2023|Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory|

Researchers created topologically stable magnetic monopoles and imaged them in 3D with unprecedented spatial resolution using a technique developed at the Advanced Light Source (ALS). The work enables the study of magnetic monopole behavior for both fundamental interest and potential use in information storage and transport applications. A bar magnet cut in half will always have a north and south pole, ad infinitum. Thus, magnetic monopoles—particles with a single magnetic “charge”—have never been observed in isolation. Yet the idea continues to intrigue: How would magnetic monopoles behave? What could you do with the magnetic equivalent of electric charge or current? Remarkably, scientists might be able to explore such questions via quasiparticles—particle-like phenomena emerging from collective interactions in condensed matter. However, it has been difficult to directly measure these quasiparticles and probe their behavior at the nanoscale…

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Humans of JILA: Brendan McBennett

January 13, 2023|JILA|

Surrounded by some of the world’s most advanced lasers, computers, and microscopes sits Brendan McBennett, a graduate student at JILA. McBennett has been working in the laboratories of JILA Fellows Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, as part of the KM group since 2019, excited to see his research advance significantly over that time. “We use ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lasers to study heat flow in nanostructured materials,” McBennett states. “EUV photons have a higher photon energy that makes them insensitive to electron dynamics in most materials, combined with nanometer wavelengths. This allows them to very precisely probe surface deformations induced by heat – or thermal phonons – to capture new materials behaviors.”

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Colorado’s quantum revolution

June 28, 2022|CU Boulder Today|

In the 17th Century, a Dutch merchant named Antony van Leeuwenhoek began experimenting with making new microscope lenses and, in the process, plunged humanity into a new world—this one teeming with previously-undiscovered life, from small bacteria to single-celled algae and more.

More than 400 years later, scientists are in the midst of an equally-important revolution. They’re diving into a previously-hidden realm—far wilder than anything van Leeuwenhoek, known as the “father of microbiology,” could have imagined. Some researchers, like physicists Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, are exploring this world of even tinier things with microscopes that are many times more precise than the Dutch scientist’s. Others, like Jun Ye, are using lasers to cool clouds of atoms to just a millionth of a degree above absolute zero with the goal of collecting better measurements of natural phenomena.

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Ripples in Space-Time: Nano-Imaging Functional Materials at their Elementary Scales

April 25, 2022|JILA, CU Boulder|

Functional materials—like molecular electronics, biomaterials, light-emitting diodes, or new photovoltaic materials—gain their electronic or photonic properties from complex and multifaceted interactions occurring at the elementary scales of their atomic or molecular constituents. In addition, the ability to control the functions of these materials through external stimuli , e.g., in the form of strong optical excitations, enables new properties in the materials, making them appealing for new technological applications. However, a major obstacle to overcome is the combination of the very fast time (billionths of a second) scales and the very small spatial (nanometer) scales which define the many-body interactions of the elementary excitations in the material which define its function. The extremely high time and spatial resolutions needed have been extremely difficult to achieve simultaneously. Many physicists have, therefore, struggled to visualize the interactions within these materials. In a paper recently published in Nature Communications, JILA Fellow Markus Raschke and his team report on a new ultrafast imaging technique that could solve this issue.

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The Prime Suspect: Hot Band Absorption

March 7, 2022|JILA, CU Boulder|

In a new paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, Jimenez and his team report a new experimental setup to search for the cause of a mysterious fluorescent signal that appears to be from entangled photon excitation. According to Jimenez: “We built a setup where you could use either a classical laser or entangled photons to look for fluorescence. And the reason we built it is to ask: ‘What is it that other people were seeing when they were claiming to see entangled photon-excited fluorescence?’ We saw no signal in our previous work published a year ago, headed by Kristen Parzuchowski. So now, we’re wondering, people are seeing something, what could it possibly be? That was the detective work here.” The results of their new experiments suggested that hot-band absorption (HBA) by the subject molecules, could be the potential culprit for this mysterious fluorescent signal, making it the prime suspect.

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3D imaging study reveals how atoms are packed in amorphous materials

October 18, 2021|UCLA Newsroom|

Many substances around us, from table salt and sugar to most metals, are arranged into crystals. Because their molecules are laid out in an orderly, repetitive pattern, much is understood about their structure.

However, a far greater number of substances — including rubber, glass and most liquids — lack that fundamental order throughout, making it difficult to determine their molecular structure. To date, understanding of these amorphous substances has been based almost entirely on theoretical models and indirect experiments.

A UCLA-led research team is changing that. Using a method they developed to map atomic structure in three dimensions, the scientists have directly observed how atoms are packed in samples of amorphous materials. The findings, published today in Nature Materials, may force a rewrite of the conventional model and inform the design of future materials and devices using these substances.

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Seeing with the “Nano” Eye

October 4, 2021|JILA|

Understanding the chemical and physical properties of surfaces at the molecular level has become increasingly relevant in the fields of medicine, semiconductors, rechargeable batteries, etc. For example, when developing new medications, determining the chemical properties of a pill’s coating can help to better control how the pill is digested or dissolved. In semiconductors, precise atomic level control of interfaces determines performance of computer chips. And in batteries, capacity and lifetime is often limited by electrode surface degradation.  These are just three examples of the many applications in which the understanding of surface coatings and molecular interactions are important.

The imaging of molecular surfaces has long been a complicated process within the field of physics. The images are often fuzzy, with limited spatial resolution, and researchers may not be able to distinguish different types of molecules, let alone how the molecules interact with each other. But it is precisely this–molecular interactions–which control the function and performance of molecular materials and surfaces.  In a new paper published in Nano Letters, JILA Fellow Markus Raschke and graduate student Thomas Gray describe how they developed a way to image and visualize how surface molecules couple and interact with quantum precision. The team believes that their nanospectroscopy method could be used for molecular engineering to develop better molecular surfaces, with controlled properties for molecular electronic, photonic, or biomedical applications.

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STROBE Nano-imaging center receives five-year, $22 million renewal from NSF

September 28, 2021|STROBE NSF Science & Technology Center|

The National Science Foundation has renewed for five years and more than $22 million the cutting-edge Science and Technology Center on Real-Time Functional Imaging (STROBE). STROBE is developing the Microscopes of Tomorrow, and is a partnership between six institutions –– University of Colorado Boulder, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Florida International University, Fort Lewis College, and UC Irvine.

STROBE is advancing functional electron and light-based microscopies by integrating advanced algorithms, big data analysis and adaptive imaging to address issues that have the potential to transform imaging science and technology.

“The Vision of STROBE is to transform nanoscale imaging science and technology by developing the microscopes of tomorrow,” according to Margaret Murnane and Jianwei “John” Miao, the Director and Deputy Director of STROBE. Miao is a professor of physics at UCLA, and member of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute. Murnane is a Distinguished Professor at CU Boulder, and a Fellow of JILA, a joint institute between CU Boulder and NIST.

Group photo of STROBE center members at a retreat in November 2019.

Group photo of STROBE center members at a retreat in November 2019.

STROBE is pushing electron, X-ray and nano-optical imaging to their limits by integrating state-of-the-art microscopes, with advanced algorithms and big data. Multiscale and multimodal imaging of the same samples are needed to tackle major scientific challenges in quantum, energy, disordered and biological materials. Major scientific challenges include a fundamental understanding of how to design materials at the nanoscale to enable more efficient and robust nano, energy and quantum devices. Other important grand challenges include techniques for imaging disordered materials, or understanding how atoms rearrange themselves in 3-D during the glass transition. “Addressing these major scientific challenges requires the development of new multiscale microscopes and methods, and combining them with common samples, fast detectors, big data, advanced algorithms and machine learning — which could not be accomplished without a center,” Miao said.

STROBE also integrates cutting-edge research with education through the multidisciplinary training of a diverse workforce – with the important goal of preparing a diverse group of trainees for long-term STEM careers through coordinated team projects with academe, national laboratories and industry, new multidisciplinary degree programs, multiple opportunities for professional development and through long-term programs based on best practices for broadening participation in STEM. STROBE’s new techniques, algorithms and instrumentation are in high demand, and STROBE is engaging in multiple routes for knowledge transfer with 77 partners in the academic, national laboratories and industry sectors. Over 92 graduated student and postdoctoral scientists have graduated from STROBE, as well as >125 undergraduate scholars.

Prof. Naomi Ginsberg is the STROBE lead at UC Berkeley, Prof. Jessica Ramella-Roman leads the team at Florida International University, Prof. Kay Phelps is the lead at Fort Lewis College, while Prof. Franklin Dollar is the lead at UC Irvine.

NSF science and technology centers conduct innovative, potentially transformative, complex research and education projects involving world-class research through partnerships among academic universities and industrial organizations in important areas of basic research. STROBE 77 partners span 43 academic, 22 industry and 7 national laboratories, including DOE, NIST, Moderna, 3M, SRC, Intel, AMD and Ball Aerospace.


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