PSD's Research and Innovation Milestones of 2018

This past year brought us the launch of NASA's Parker Solar Probe, named after Prof. Emeritus Eugene Parker, the next generation South Pole Telescope, metal-organic nanoflowers to treat cancer, and more. Here is a look back at ten highlights in research and innovation in the PSD.

NASA Parker Solar Probe, named after UChicago scientist, launches

On Aug. 12, UChicago Prof. Emeritus Eugene Parker became the first person to witness the launch of a namesake spacecraft, NASA's Parker Solar Probe. The probe will fly closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft and help scientists understand the nature of the mechanism that flings solar wind off the sun, the magnetic underpinnings of stars, and why the sun's corona is hotter than its surface.

UChicago scientists lead new expedition into future of quantum computing

A multi-university research group led by Fred Chong, the Seymour Goodman Professor in the Department of Computer Science, was given $10 million by the National Science Foundation to form the Enabling Practical-Scale Quantum Computing (EPiQC) project, which will create software and algorithms that bring the full potential of quantum computers closer to reality.

Two UChicago mathematicians awarded one of field’s top prizes

Vladimir Drinfeld and Alexander Beilinson won the prestigious Wolf Prize for their groundbreaking work in algebraic geometry, representation theory and mathematical physics.

Next-gen camera for South Pole Telescope takes data on early universe

The South Pole Telescope is now using its third-generation camera to make images of the oldest light in the universe, the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The upgrade improves its sensitivity by nearly an order of magnitude-- making it among the most sensitive CMB instruments ever built. This next-gen camera helps researchers understand what the universe is made of, how the universe looked when it was young and how it evolved.

Scientists build army of metal-organic nanoflowers to treat cancer

Doctors have been using radiation to treat cancer for more than a hundred years, but it’s always been a delicate art to direct treatment while avoiding healthy tissue. Now, scientists with the University of Chicago have designed an army of tiny flower-shaped metal-and-organic nanoparticles that first boost the effects of radiation at the tumor site and then jumpstart the immune system to search out any remaining tumors.

Water worlds could support life

Researchers have largely assumed that planets covered in a deep ocean would not support the cycling of minerals and gases that keeps the climate stable on Earth, and thus wouldn’t be friendly to life. But UChicago and Penn State scientists found that these planets could remain habitable much longer than previously assumed, opening the door to new research into how life could survive on planets different from Earth.

Astrophysicists settle century-old cosmic debate on magnetism of planets and stars

 Using one of the world’s most powerful laser facilities, a team led by University of Chicago scientists experimentally settled a century-old debate over how stars, planets, and galaxies form their incredibly strong magnetic fields. Researchers from the Flash Center for Computational Science used a combination of computational simulation and experimentation to create turbulent dynamo conditions in a laboratory setting for the first time.

New theory finds ‘traffic jams’ in jet stream cause abnormal weather patterns

Sometimes the jet stream, the global air currents that circle the Earth, stalls out over a region, which can sometimes have deadly weather consequences—and we don’t understand why. UChicago scientists studied the phenomenon and found that much like highways, the jet stream has a capacity, and when it’s exceeded, blockages form that are remarkably similar to traffic jams. They’re so similar, in fact, that climate forecasters can use the same math to model them both.

Researchers sew atomic lattices seamlessly together

UChicago scientists invented a technique to “sew” two patches of crystals seamlessly together at the atomic level to create atomically-thin fabrics. The breakthrough could open up new possibilities for flexible electronics or materials with cool new properties, like fabric that changes color when stretched.

Gravitational waves could soon provide measure of universe’s expansion

University of Chicago scientists think that measuring ripples in space-time could tell us how fast the universe is expanding—and that in as soon as five years, it could be the most accurate way to make that calculation.

Research highlights were written and compiled by Rob Mitchum, Louise Lerner, and Natalie Lund.