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Fornari invited to provide expert commentary about materials research in Physics' Viewpoint paper

February 13, 2014, 2013 - Physics professor and Science of Advanced Materials research scientist Marco Fornari was recently published in Physics, the online publication of the American Physical Society that spotlights exceptional research. Fornari was invited to write a Viewpoint commentary on the research article, "Comprehensive Search for New Phases and Compounds in Binary Alloy Systems Based on Platinum-Group Metals, Using a Computational First-Principles Approach," explaining the results of recent research conducted at Brigham Young University to physicists in other subfields.

In his invited paper, Fornari notes that being able to use powerful computers to search for new and improved functional materials - particularly new platinum-group-metal-containing alloys that have proven useful for a wide range of industrial applications - yields significant time-saving by allowing researchers to explore potentially useful chemical combinations of elements and structures in a fraction of the time that real experiments would take. Results are organized in a database that researchers then go through to analyze the relationships between multiple materials. Through their analysis, they create what are called "property descriptors" - quantities that link the calculated microscopic and macroscopic properties - and what research scientists use as a compass to navigate these complex, multidimensional materials databases. They hope that this "high-throughput materials modeling" will expedite the discovery and development of new materials, and their applications to real-world issues.

The researchers at Brigham Young University used a supercomputer and software called AFLOW to process 153 binary combinations of platinum group and transition metals, calculating the energies of 250 different possible crystal structures. They were able to identify crystal structures that had already been found, but also discovered 28 new, unexplored alloys that could have potential use.

Fornari indicates in his review that although years might be needed to examine all of the leads yielded by this particular study, it highlights the need for greater standardization in how materials are catalogued in various databases. This would help achieve a long-term goal of high-throughput materials modeling of allowing searches to automatically generate new descriptors for new functionalities, and in turn, enhancing material scientists' research abilities through data mining to expedite the discovery of new materials and their potential uses.

Click here to read Fornari's full Viewpoint paper, "Computational Materials Discovery Goes Platinum."

​Physics students work to construct mass spectrometer in Dow

September 18, 2013 - Determining the mass of charged particles using a giant superconducting magnet is all happening right here on campus in the Dow Science Complex, where since 2012, graduate and undergraduate students, under the direction of assistant professor of physics Matthew Redshaw, have been working on building a mass spectrometer. Read more about their exciting research:

Undergraduate student conducts world-class nuclear physics research in Canada

September 12, 2013 - Physics Physics undergraduate student Caleb Bancroft at the experimental site in the TRIUMF laboratory.undergraduate student Caleb Bancroft recently spent eight days at TRIUMF laboratory in Vancouver, Canada conducting nuclear physics research. Caleb prepared and performed an experiment that investigated the shape of very exotic atomic nuclei.

TRIUMF is one of the world's leading subatomic physics laboratories. In addition to basic research in nuclear and particle physics, TRIUMF researchers use accelerators to produce medical isotopes which are, for example, used in the diagnostics and treatment of cancer.

The experiment that Caleb participated in involved an international team, led by CMU assistant professor of physics Kathrin Wimmer. Their goal was to explore the phenomenon of shape coexistence in heavy Strontium isotopes. While some nuclei are round like soccer balls, others exhibit a more deformed shape, along the lines of what an American football looks like. In the case of the Strontium isotopes, the transition between spherical and deformed nuclei is very abrupt - only two additional neutrons change the shape of the nucleus completely.

In order to investigate this sudden change, a beam of radioactive 94Sr, consisting of 38 protons and 56 neutrons, was guided to the experiment where it collided with a foil containing Deuterium, a special form of Hydrogen. In some cases, only one neutron was transferred in the collision onto the 94Sr nucleus, making it 95Sr with 57 neutrons. The properties of this newly formed 95Sr were then investigated in great detail to draw conclusions about the rapid shape change in the Strontium nuclei.

The success of the experiment was a major breakthrough for the TRIUMF facility. Before, the heaviest beam that was accelerated and used for experiments at TRIUMF had a mass number of 30. Now, it is possible to do experiments with nuclei that are over three times more massive. This allows researchers to do many more exciting experiments and gives CMU physics majors the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge science.

CMU's 2012 physics hires continue connection to world-class lab

September 11, 2013 - Do the words "mass spectroscopy" excite you? Do you dream of smashing atoms? If so, you might find yourself right at home in the CMU Department of Physics, where three faculty members - Georgios Perdikakis, Matthew Redshaw and Kathrin Wimmer - are part of an exciting new partnership between Central Michigan University and Michigan State University. As part of their appointment, they are supervising MSU doctoral students and involving both undergraduate and graduate students in their research at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams in East Lansing.

"We can offer to students this more intimate atmosphere where they're not lost in the crowd and professors actually do know their names, but at the same time be connected to cutting-edge research and world class facilities," says Chris Tycner, chair of CMU's physics department.

The $680 million FRIB facility is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, MSU and the State of Michigan. "It's going to be the most powerful rare isotope user facility in the world," says Redshaw. "It's a great opportunity to have this facility only 60 miles down the road from CMU."

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Physics professor is one of 15 recipients of Department of Defense MURI research award

June 6, 2013 - A team of six scientists, Marco Fornariincluding physics professor Marco Fornari, is receiving $8.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to develop and apply computational methods that will replace expensive and rare chemical elements from critical technologies.

Their award-winning research proposal, "Rare Element Replacement Strategies," is a combined effort between Fornari and his colleagues at Duke University, Brigham Young University, University of North Texas and University of Maryland - College Park. The team is receiving one of 15 awards given by the DoD to academic institutions to perform multidisciplinary basic research. Totaling $105 million, the awards are presented by the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research under the DoD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program.

The MURI program supports research by teams of investigators across traditional science and engineering disciplines to accelerate research progress. Fornari, along with his research colleagues, will investigate topological decompositions and spectral sampling algorithms for elements substitution in critical technologies. In simpler terms, he will develop and apply methods to design advanced materials with improved functionalities for applications that are crucial for the mission of the DoD.

The Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research solicited proposals in 16 topics important to the DoD and received a total of 193 papers, followed by 43 proposals. The 15 awards handed out are for a five year period, with the research expected to produce significant advances in capabilities for U.S. military forces, and to open up entirely new lines of research. A total of 43 academic institutions are expected to participate in these select 15 research projects.

Pear-shaped atomic nuclei offer clues into nature of matter

May 28, 2013 - An international team of Pear-shaped atomic nuclei offer clues into nature of matternuclear physicists, including CMU assistant professor of physics Kathrin Wimmer, has found that some atomic nuclei can assume asymmetric 'pear' shapes.

The researchers' findings, published in the May 9 issue of the journal Nature, landed the coveted cover story and could be the key to understanding one of the great mysteries of the universe - the reason for the Big Bang's creation of a massive imbalance between matter and antimatter.

The reason behind the imbalance is one of physics' great mysteries. In particle physics, four basic forces dictate how matter behaves - gravity, electromagnetic forces, "strong" interactions and "weak" interactions. Physicists have been searching for signs of a new type of force or interaction to explain the matter-antimatter imbalance.

Most nuclei that exist naturally are not spherical. Wimmer and her colleagues decided to focus on pear-shaped nuclei because their unusually asymmetrical shape would make the effects of the new force much easier and stronger to detect. These nuclei get their shape from positive protons that are nudged out from the center of the nucleus by asymmetrical nuclear forces, yielding more mass at one end of the nucleus than the other.

Until now, it was difficult to observe pear-shaped nuclei experimentally. However, a technique pioneered in the Isotope Separator Facility (ISOLDE) at CERN, the European laboratory for nuclear physics research in Geneva, has been used successfully.

To determine the shape of the nuclei, the research team accelerated radium and radon atoms and smashed them into tin, nickel and cadmium. However, because the positively charged nuclei repelled each other, nuclear reactions were not possible. The result was the excitation of the nuclei to higher energy levels and the production of gamma rays, with the pattern of gamma radiation revealing the pear shape of the nucleus. 

The experimental observation of nuclear pear shapes is important for understanding the theory of nuclear structure and for helping with experimental searches for electric dipole moments (EDM) in atoms.

The study's results will help direct ongoing research for EDM that are currently being conducted in labs across North America and Europe, helping to advance the search for understanding the nature of the building blocks of the universe.

The research team, which included scientists from the UK, Germany, the USA, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Poland and Spain, was led by professor Peter Butler from the University of Liverpool's Department of Physics.

First published in 1869, Nature is the world's most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal. Most scientific journals are now highly specialized, but Nature is among the few that still publish original research articles across a wide range of scientific fields. Published weekly, papers in this international journal feature the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology.

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