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Physics And Astronomy Research News

See also DEPARTMENTAL NEWS for general news items related to Departmental activities, and the RESEARCH NEWS ARCHIVE for older articles.


Halas, Nordlander win American Physical Society's Isakson Prize  (Halas/Nordlander; 10/14/13)
Rice University researchers recognized for pioneering photonics research. 

Rice U. physicists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs discovery  (Bonner Lab; 10/8/13)
Rice Physics and Astronomy Department contributes to this year's Nobel Prize in Physics. This year the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter W. Higgs "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider

NEETs are prime suspects in breast cancer proliferation  (Onuchic; 8/19/13)
Proteins blocked in diabetes treatments connected to lower incidence of cancer in patients. 

Rice U. biophysicists zoom in on pore-forming toxin  (Huang; 8/14/13)
A new study by Rice University biophysicists offers the most comprehensive picture yet of the molecular-level action of melittin, the major toxin in bee venom. The research could aid in the development of new drugs that use a similar mechanism as melittin's to attack cancer and bacteria. The study appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Off-grid sterilization with Rice U.’s ‘solar steam’  (Halas/Nordlander; 7/23/13)
Rice University nanotechnology researchers have unveiled a solar-powered sterilization system that could be a boon for more than 2.5 billion people who lack adequate sanitation.

Rice researchers part of new Large Hadron discovery  (Padley/Redjimi; 7/19/13)
Contributions key to measurement of predicted particle decay with implications for dark matter search.

Broadband photodetector for polarized light  (Kono; 7/16/13)
Rice, Sandia team uses carbon nanotubes for polarized-light detection.

Rice receives $1.6 million in MURI awards from DOD  (Hulet; 7/2/13)
Two Rice University research teams have won multiyear grants for basic research through the Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) Program, including Randy Hulet of the Physics and Astronomy Department who will use lasers to snare and study ultracold lithium atoms in one- and two-dimensional optical traps in an effort to better understand nonequilibrium dynamics.

Physicists probe stress-induced changes in clot-forming protein  (Kiang; 3/5/13)
New research from Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the Puget Sound Blood Center (PSBC) has revealed how stresses of flow in the small blood vessels of the heart and brain could cause a common protein to change shape and form dangerous blood clots. The scientists were surprised to find that the proteins could remain in the dangerous, clot-initiating shape for up to five hours before returning to their normal, healthy shape.

Rice receives $1 million INSPIRE award from NSF  (Onuchic; 7/19/12)
A $1 million INSPIRE award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to Rice University will fund research on how bacterial decision-making occurs at the molecular level. A better quantitative analysis of integrated biological systems could impact medical applications and the removal of pollution and other contaminants from the environment.

Just the Beginning of Higgs Physics  (Ecklund; 7/5/12)
The discovery of a new particle at CERN is the just the beginning, not the end, of the scientific work at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Two LHC experiments announced observation of a new particle that is consistent with the long-sought Higgs Boson, the famous last missing ingredient of the Standard Model of particle physics. This is the particle that the LHC and the experiments were built to discover.

Unknown particle ‘near match’ for Higgs  (Bonner Lab; 7/5/12)
In a recent announcement, LHC officials in Geneva, Switzerland, stopped short of declaring a victory in the Higgs search, saying instead that they have found a new particle with properties that make it a likely match for the supermassive Higgs particle. Rice physicists played an important role in the discovery.

Rice physicists help discover new particle that may be Higgs  (Bonner Lab; 7/4/12)
Rice University physicists participating in the search for the elusive Higgs particle joined their colleagues at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) today in announcing the observation of a never-before-seen particle. The particle may turn out to be the Higgs boson or something new and equally important.

Rice has long history with CERN  (Bonner Lab; 7/4/12)
The discovery of a new elementary particle – which may well turn out to be the legendary Higgs boson — is both the culmination of years of work by Rice University scientists and the beginning of a new chapter for the university’s Physics and Astronomy Department.

Rising plasma offers clues to sun storms  (Bradshaw; 7/3/12)
A Rice University astrophysicist is part of an international team that combined Doppler techniques with images and data from a space-based telescope to observe, for the first time, loops of 1,800,000-degree Fahrenheit plasma flowing up from the sun’s surface at more than 12 miles per second.

Asymmetry may provide clue to superconductivity  (Nevidomskyy; 6/20/12)
Japanese and U.S. physicists are offering new details this week in the journal Nature regarding intriguing similarities between the quirky electronic properties of a new iron-based high-temperature superconductor (HTS) and its copper-based cousins.

Cassini reveals details about charged ‘nanograins’ near Enceladus  (Hill; 5/22/12)
It was a call that Rice University physicist Tom Hill ’67 had waited more than 20 years to receive. It traveled almost a billion miles to reach him. And the message — once it arrived from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft near Saturn — was so enigmatic that it would take another three years to decipher. In a new study, Hill and colleagues describe what they found in the data from Cassini: a new class of space particles — submicroscopic “nanograins” of electrically charged dust.

Reversible doping: Hydrogen flips switch on vanadium oxide  (Natelson; 5/21/12)
If vanadium oxide (VO2) had its own TV infomercial, you’d already know: “It’s a metal. It’s an insulator. It’s a window coating and an optical switch.” And thanks to a new study by Rice University physicists — there’s more! The study shows how to reversibly alter VO2′s quirky electronic properties by treating it with the simplest of substances — hydrogen.

Electron politics: Physicists probe organization at the quantum level  (Si; 4/25/12)
A new study this week finds that “quantum critical points” in exotic electronic materials can act much like polarizing “hot button issues” in an election. Reporting in Nature, researchers from Rice University, two Max Planck Institutes in Dresden, Germany, and UCLA find that on either side of a quantum critical point, electrons fall into line and behave as traditionally expected, but at the critical point itself, traditional physical laws break down.

Three physics faculty are winners of 2012 Rice Faculty Initiative Fund awards  (Corcoran/Liang/Yepes; 3/22/12)
Three members of the Physics and Astronomy Department are investigators whose ideas have won additional support from the University. A total of eight projects led by Rice University faculty members have been awarded grants by the Provost and President’s Office Faculty Initiative Fund, which supports proposals that address the goals of the university’s Vision for the Second Century through their quality, significance and potential impact.

Rice lab mimics Jupiter's Trojan asteroids inside a single atom  (Dunning; 1/24/12)
Rice University physicists have gone to extremes to prove that Isaac Newton's classical laws of motion can apply in the atomic world: They've built an accurate model of part of the solar system inside a single atom of potassium.

Rice’s ‘quantum critical’ theory gets experimental boost  (Si; 1/10/12)
New evidence this week supports a theory developed five years ago at Rice University to explain the electrical properties of several classes of materials — including unconventional superconductors — that have long vexed physicists.

Motions in stellar jets revealed from Hubble Space Telescope Movies  (Hartigan; 5/3/11)
Astronomers have combined two decades of Hubble observations to make unprecedented movies revealing never-before-seen details of the birth pangs of new stars. This sheds new light on how stars like the Sun form.

Measurement of 'hot' electrons could have solar energy payoff  (Halas/Nordlander; 5/6/11)
Basic scientific curiosity paid off in unexpected ways when Rice University researchers investigating the fundamental physics of nanomaterials discovered a new technology that could dramatically improve solar energy panels. See related article at CoolerPlanet

Study helps explain behavior of latest high-temp superconductors  (Si; 5/3/11)
Rice University, Los Alamos physicists explain similar behavior by dissimilar compounds. See related article at US News and World Report

Rice-born detector finds heaviest antimatter  (Geurts; 4/25/11)
Time-of-flight detector designed at Rice’s Bonner Lab critical to antihelium observation. See related article at PBS.org 

'Unconventional Superconductivity'  (Si; 4/14/11)
"Unconventional Superconductivity and Electron Correlations" was the theme of the 2011 Hangzhou Workshop on Quantum Matter, which took place April 10-13 in Hangzhou, China.

New data may force re-think of atom's interior  (Padley; 4/8/11)
Physicists are buzzing about a new experimental result that could rewrite human understanding of nature's tiniest particles and the forces that control their behavior. Paul Padley, professor of physics and astronomy, is quoted.

Exploring the possibilities for zeolites  (Deem; 4/5/11)
Rice University team creates database of 2.6 million varieties of molecular sieves.

Rice physicist Andriy Nevidomskyy help unveil unexpected properties in superconducting material  (Nevidomskyy; 3/18/11)
An international team of scientists studying an exotic new superconductor help explain its unusual properties that could change how scientists understand and create materials for superconductors and the electronics used in computing and data storage.

Rice scientist, Jason Hafner, recognized for stellar work on nanoparticles, cell membranes  (Hafner; 1/27/11)
The Welch Foundation today awarded its prestigious Hackerman Award to Rice University scientist Jason Hafner '96, who was named this year's "rising star" for his innovative chemical research. Hafner's discoveries include a new type of nanostructure called gold nanostars, which are proving useful for sensing, imaging and medicine, and the first method for measuring large electrical fields inside cell membranes.

Randall Hulet wins 2011 Willis E. Lamb award  (Hulet; 1/5/11)
Rice physicist Randy Hulet is a winner of the 2011 Willis E. Lamb Award for Laser Science and Quantum Optics for pioneering studies of ultra cold Bose and Fermi systems and their application to the understanding of fundamental processes.

Scientists discover new way to predict flu strains  (Deem; 1/3/11)
Rice scientists have found a way to predict rapidly whether a new strain of the influenza virus should be included in the annual seasonal flu vaccine. Michael Deem, the John W. Cox Professor in Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy, is quoted. Jiankui He, a graduate student in physics, is mentioned.

'Quantum simulators' road to new energy system?  (Hulet; 1/3/11)
Rice research involving a quantum simulator that emulates a one-dimensional superconductor was highlighted by the journal Science as one of 2010's top breakthroughs. Randy Hulet, the Fayez Sarofim Professor of Physics and Astronomy, discusses the research.

How to take a molecule's temperature  (Natelson; 12/20/10)
Rice researchers have found a way to determine the temperature of a molecule or flowing electrons by using Raman spectroscopy combined with an optical antenna. Douglas Natelson, professor of physics and astronomy, is quoted.

Scientists closer to solving the mystery of superconductivity  (Hulet; 12/20/10)
Randy Hulet, the Fayez Sarofim Professor of Physics and Astronomy, is interviewed by the Houston Chronicle about Rice superconductivity research.

Rice lauded for one of year's top breakthroughs   (Hulet; 12/17/10)
Randy Hulet, the Fayez Sarofim Professor of Physics and Astronomy, is interviewed by the Houston Chronicle about Rice superconductivity research.

Rice reels in squid research  (Halas; 12/17/10)
Nanotechnologists, marine biologists and signal-processing experts from Rice University, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and other U.S. universities have won a $6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to unlock the secrets of nature's best camouflage artists. Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, director of Rice's Laboratory for Nanophotonics and professor of physics and astronomy, chemistry and biomedical engineering, is quoted.

Study probes link between magnetism, superconductivity  (Si; 12/13/10)
US-European team revisits 30-year-old breakthrough with new methods, understanding.

Rice physicists discover ultrasensitive microwave detector  (Du; 12/9/10)
Researchers use magnets to tune supercooled gallium arsenide semiconductors.

Nano squid skin: DOD awards $6M for metamaterials research  (Halas/Nordlander; 12/9/10)
Engineers, marine biologists will study, emulate nature's camouflage masters.

Rice physicists help unravel mystery of repetitive DNA segments  (Kiang; 12/7/10)
Scientists gather clues by measuring forces needed to stretch single strands of DNA

New way of predicting dominant seasonal flu strain  (Deem; 11/15/10)
Mathematical method requires no animal tests, better predicts flu-vaccine targets.

Astronomers Study the Atmosphere of an Alien World  (Johns-Krull; 10/21/10)
Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers at Rice and around the US study the atmospheric structure of the most massive Hot Jupiter.

Using Evolutionary Theory to Predict Economic Recovery  (Deem; 10/19/10)
There are a lot of economic models that show the global recovery will be slow, but two scientists have come up with a novel explanation: evolution.

Rice, TMC team take aim at pancreatic cancer  (Halas; 10/19/10)
Rice University researchers are teaming up with the Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to test a new treatment for pancreatic cancer that uses specially engineered nanoparticles capable of both diagnosing and destroying cancer cells.

The Destruction of Superfluidity by Disorder   (Hulet; 10/08/10)
The phenomenon of superconductivity portends exciting future technologies, such as magnetically levitated trains for efficient transportation and resistance-free electrical transmission lines. One complication in creating new technologies with superconductors is the presence of random defects in the material. Possibly the most important and interesting consequence of these defects is the destruction of superconductivity in the system.

Bose-Einstein condensates provide a window on defects in superconductors  (Hulet; 10/08/10)
The ideal conditions of a Bose-Einstein Condensation are used to study the role of defects in destroying superconductivity.

Nanoscale antenna concentrates light  (Natelson; 10/08/10)
When radio waves interact with a conventional antenna, the electric field from the radio waves drives the electrons in the antenna back and forth, producing an oscillating voltage on the antenna. That voltage is what is amplified in your stereo and converted into sound by your speakers. Researchers led by Rice graduate student Dan Ward and Rice professor Douglas Natelson have used metal nanostructures in an analogous way to act as antennas for light.

Grant advances quark-gluon plasma studies   (Geurts; 10/7/10)
Rice University's Bonner Nuclear Lab wins DOE backing for ultrarelativistic heavy-ion research.

One-dimensional window on superconductivity, magnetism  (Hulet; 9/30/10)
Atoms are proxies for electrons in ultracold optical emulator. New paper published in Nature, also see Nature News and View article.

‘Gold’ fish thrive as cancers die  (Lapotko; 9/28/10)
Gold nanoparticles and a laser pulse can detect and destroy diseased cells in living tissue by creating tiny, shiny vapor bubbles that reveal and then explode them.

Nano antenna concentrates light  (Natelson; 9/21/10)
Intensity increases thousandfold in Rice lab's experiment

Nanobubbles get a boost  (Lapotko; 9/21/10)
Lapotko lab wins NIH grant to advance theranostic cancer treatment

Rice study examines how bacteria acquire immunity  (Deem; 9/15/10)
First theoretical description of bacterial system to silence viral genes

Magnetism's subatomic roots   (Si; 9/3/10)
Rice study of high-tech materials helps explain everyday phenomenon

Silicon oxide circuits break barrier  (Natelson; 9/1/10)
Nanocrystal conductors could lead to massive, robust 3-D storage

Building with optical Legos  (Nordlander/Halas; 8/4/10)
In a collaborative effort, scientists from Rice and three other U.S. universities have created a way to use Rice's light-activated nanoshells as building blocks for 2-D and 3-D structures that could find use in chemical sensors, nanolasers and bizarre light-absorbing metamaterials. Peter Nordlander, professor of physics and astronomy and in electrical and computer engineering; Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and professor of physics, chemistry and biomedical engineering; and Jennifer West, the Isabel C. Cameron Professor and department chair of Bioengineering and a professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering, are quoted.

Quantum fractals at the border of magnetism  (Si; 7/28/10)
Study of quantum phase changes reveals surprising relationship between magnetism and electricity

Zeroing in on quantum effects  (Si; 5/28/10)
A team of U.S. and Chinese physicists are zeroing in on critical effects at the heart of the latest high-temperature superconductors -- but they're using other materials to do it.

Optical Legos: building nanoshell structures  (Nordlander/Halas; 5/27/10)
Scientists from four U.S. universities have created a way to use Rice University's light-activated nanoshells as building blocks for 2-D and 3-D structures that could find use in chemical sensors, nanolasers and bizarre light-absorbing metamaterials. Much as a child might use Lego blocks to build 3-D models of complex buildings or vehicles, the scientists are using the new chemical self-assembly method to build complex structures that can trap, store and bend light.

Ultra-cold physics will be a hot topic  (Hulet; 5/24/10)
Randy Hulet, the Fayez Sarofim Professor of Physics and Astronomy, is featured in a Q-and-A discussing the importance of atomic physics.

XENON100 zeroes in on dark matter  (Oberlack; 5/07/10)
A team of Rice physicists is celebrating the release of the first experimental resultsfrom the new dark-matter detector -- the most powerful ever fielded --that it helped design, build and deploy in Italy early this year.

Rice researchers spin pure batches of nanotubes species (Kono; 5/10/10)
In two new papers, Rice University researchers report using ultracentrifugation (UCF) to create highly purified samples of carbon nanotube species. One team, led by Rice Professor Junichiro Kono and graduate students Erik Haroz and William Rice, has made a small but significant steptoward the dream of an efficient nationwide electrical grid that depends on highly conductive quantum nanowire.

New laboratory-based technique for growing cell structures in 3-D (Killian; 4/21/10)
Researchers at Rice and the Texas Medical Center have revealed a new laboratory-based technique for growing cell structures in 3-D, which could mark the beginning of a revolution in the fields of chemistry, biology and other related areas. Tom Killian, associate professor of physics and astronomy, is quoted.

Bizarre matter could find use in quantum computers  (Du; 4/21/10)
New results from Rice and Princeton University indicate that a bizarre state of matter that acts like a particle with one-quarter electron charge also has a "quantum registry" that is immune to information loss from external perturbations.

3-D cell culture: making cells feel right at home (Killian; 3/15/10)
The film "Avatar" isn't the only 3-D blockbuster making a splash this winter. A team of scientists from Houston's Texas Medical Center this week unveiled a new technique for growing 3-D cell cultures, a technological leap from the flat petri dish that could save millions of dollars in drug-testing costs. The research is reported in Nature Nanotechnology.

Noise measurements show quantum effects in conduction at room temperature (Natelson; 3/9/10)
In a recent paper from the Natelson lab, graduate student Patrick Wheeler and collaborators were able to use radio-frequency measurement techniques to observe both conductance quantization and suppression of the current noise at room temperature in atomic-scale gold junctions.

Study: Quantum fluctuations are key in superconductors (Si; 1/8/10)
New experiments on a recently discovered class of iron-based superconductors suggest that the ability of their electrons to conduct electricity without resistance is directly connected with the magnetic properties of those electrons.

Tracking new cancer-killing particles with MRI (Halas; 12/16/09)
Researchers at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) have created a single nanoparticle that can be tracked in real time with MRI as it homes in on cancer cells, tags them with a fluorescent dye and kills them with heat. The all-in-one particle is one of the first examples from a growing field called "theranostics" that develops technologies physicians can use to diagnose and treat diseases in a single procedure.

A see-through surprise (Kono; 12/09/09)
Rice lab makes solid material transparent to terahertz waves.

Atomic-scale breakthrough (Killian; 12/16/09)
Killian's lab creates Bose-Einstein condensate from strontium.

Rice physicist unravels `hole' story of cell suicide (Huang; 12/16/09)
Rice professor Huey Huang's researches how cells commit suicide.

Rice physicists find reappearing quantum trios (Hulet; 12/16/09)
Using atoms at temperatures colder than deep space, Rice University physicists have delivered overwhelming proof for a once-scoffed-at theory that's become a hotbed for research some 40 years after it first appeared. In a paper available online in Science, Rice's team offers experimental evidence for a universal quantum mechanism that allows trios of particles to appear and reappear at higher energy levels in an infinite progression. The triplets, often called trimers, form in special cases where pairs cannot. Also on the same subject is an article written by Scott E. Pollack & Daniel Dries which was published online at sciencexpress.com . Another article related to this story appeared on Yahoo! News today

Rice physicist plays key role in new collider (Padley; 12/5/09)
European atom-smasher is now world's largest

Rice astronomer and team recreate stellar jet with laser blast (Hartigan; 12/3/09)
With the trillions of watts contained in one brief pop of a powerful laser, the universe became a bit less mysterious.