UW Today

Department of Physics

October 4, 2016

UW Professor Emeritus David J. Thouless wins Nobel Prize in physics for exploring exotic states of matter

An illustration of how “heavy water” within the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory detects neutrinos from the sun.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Tuesday that David James Thouless, professor emeritus at the University of Washington, will share the 2016 Nobel Prize in physics with two of his colleagues. Thouless splits the prize with Professor F. Duncan M. Haldane of Princeton University and Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz of Brown University “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter,” according to the prize announcement from the Academy. Half the prize goes to Thouless while Haldane and Kosterlitz divide the remaining half. Thouless is the UW’s seventh Nobel laureate, and second in physics after Hans Dehmelt in 1989.

May 13, 2016

UW researchers unleash graphene ‘tiger’ for more efficient optoelectronics

Image of one of the graphene-based devices

In traditional light-harvesting methods, energy from one photon only excites one electron or none depending on the absorber’s energy gap, transferring just a small portion of light energy into electricity. The remaining energy is lost as heat. But in a paper released May 13 in Science Advances, Wu, UW associate professor Xiaodong Xu and colleagues at four other institutions describe one promising approach to coax photons into stimulating multiple electrons. Their method exploits some surprising quantum-level interactions to give one photon multiple potential electron partners.

February 23, 2016

Four UW scientists awarded Sloan Fellowships for early-career research


Four faculty members at the University of Washington have been awarded early-career fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The new Sloan Fellows, announced Feb. 23, include Bingni Brunton, assistant professor of biology; Christopher Laumann, assistant professor of physics; Matthew McQuinn, assistant professor of astronomy; and Emina Torlak, assistant professor of computer science and engineering….

February 12, 2016

UW scientists create ultrathin semiconductor heterostructures for new technological applications

An illustration of the strong valley exciton interactions and transport in a 2-D semiconductor heterostructure.

University of Washington scientists have successfully combined two different ultrathin semiconductors — each just one layer of atoms thick and roughly 100,000 times thinner than a human hair — to make a new two-dimensional heterostructure with potential uses in clean energy and optically-active electronics.

February 11, 2016

Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction

The LIGO facility in Hanford, Washington. Over 1,000 scientists from 15 countries make up the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

November 19, 2015

After Nobel win, neutrino endeavors snag Breakthrough Prize in Physics

Neutrinos may be small, but when it comes to prizes, they pack quite a punch. In October, it was announced that two scientists who headed international projects to study these miniscule, seemingly ephemeral subatomic particles will share the Nobel Prize in Physics. On Nov. 8, these same scientists joined five of their colleagues from other…

October 11, 2015

UW physicists celebrate contribution to Nobel-winning neutrino discoveries

At 2:45 a.m. on Oct. 6, bleary-eyed Nobel Prize enthusiasts on the West Coast were treated to an unexpected lesson about fundamental particles and forces in our universe. Across the globe in Stockholm, a panel of scientists announced that the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics would honor two scientists who led international collaborations to understand…

September 28, 2015

A new single-molecule tool to observe enzymes at work

nanopore channel

A team of scientists at the University of Washington and the biotechnology company Illumina have created an innovative tool to directly detect the delicate, single-molecule interactions between DNA and enzymatic proteins. Their approach provides a new platform to view and record these nanoscale interactions in real time. As they report Sept. 28 in Nature Biotechnology, this tool should provide fast and reliable characterization of the different mechanisms cellular proteins use to bind to DNA strands — information that could shed new light on the atomic-scale interactions within our cells and help design new drug therapies against pathogens by targeting enzymes that interact with DNA.

September 24, 2015

Cooled down and charged up, a giant magnet is ready for its new mission

The fully assembled magnet at Fermilab.

The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory — or Fermilab — announced that a 680-ton superconducting magnet is secure in its new home and nearly ready for a new era of discovery in particle physics. This achievement follows the delicate, 3,200-mile transport of the magnet’s 17-ton, 50-foot-wide housing ring to the U.S. Department of Energy facility outside Chicago two years ago. The fully assembled magnet will drive high-energy particle experiments as part of an international partnership among 34 institutions, of which the University of Washington is a leading contributor.

June 3, 2015

‘Stable beams’ achieved: Large Hadron Collider at CERN research facility begins recording data

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research are dwarfed by the Atlas particle detector, part of the Large Hadron Collider.

The Large Hadron Collider has started recording data from the highest-energy particle collisions ever achieved on Earth. This new data, the first recorded since 2012, will enable an international collaboration of researchers — including many from the UW — to study the Higgs boson, search for dark matter and develop a more complete understanding of the laws of nature.

May 28, 2015

Physicists conduct most precise measurement yet of interaction between atoms and carbon surfaces

An illustration of atoms sticking to a carbon nanotube, affecting the electrons in its surface.

UW physicists have conducted the most precise and controlled measurements yet of the interaction between the atoms and molecules that comprise air and the type of carbon surface used in battery electrodes and air filters — key information for improving those technologies.

April 28, 2015

UW apparatus measures single electron’s radiation to try to weigh a neutrino

colorful block figure

UW researchers and their collaborators used an experiment in the physics building to measure the energy of a single electron emitted by radioactive decay, a key step in their strategy to measure the mass of the elusive neutrino.

March 23, 2015

UW scientists build a nanolaser using a single atomic sheet

The ultra-thin semiconductor, which is about 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, stretches across the top of the photonic cavity.

University of Washington scientists have built a new nanometer-sized laser using a semiconductor that’s only three atoms thick. It could help open the door to next-generation computing that uses light, rather than electrons, to transfer information.

October 8, 2014

UW fusion reactor concept could be cheaper than coal

A prototype of the UW's current fusion experiment.

University of Washington engineers have designed a concept for a fusion reactor that, when scaled up to the size of a large electrical power plant, would rival costs for a new coal-fired plant with similar electrical output.

August 26, 2014

Scientists craft a semiconductor junction only three atoms thick

As seen under an optical microscope, the heterostructures have a triangular shape. The two different monolayer semiconductors can be recognized through their different colors.

Scientists have developed what they believe is the thinnest-possible semiconductor, a new class of nanoscale materials made in sheets only three atoms thick.

March 10, 2014

Scientists build thinnest-possible LEDs to be stronger, more energy efficient

This graphical representation shows the layers of the 2-D LED and how it emits light.

University of Washington scientists have built the thinnest-known LED that can be used as a source of light energy in electronics. The LED is based off of two-dimensional, flexible semiconductors, making it possible to stack or use in much smaller and more diverse applications than current technology allows.

February 3, 2014

Solving a physics mystery: Those ‘solitons’ are really vortex rings

An example of a vortex ring, also called a toroidal bubble, which dolphins create under water. The concept of vortex rings lies at the heart of new University of Washington physics research.

The same physics that gives stability to tornadoes lies at the heart of new UW research and could lead to a better understanding of nuclear dynamics in studying fission, superconductors and the workings of neutron stars.

December 3, 2013

‘Spooky action’ builds a wormhole between ‘entangled’ particles

An illustration depicting a wormhole between two black holes.

New research indicates that a phenomenon called “quantum entanglement” could be intrinsically linked with the creation of wormholes.

November 6, 2013

A shot in the dark: Detector at UW on the hunt for dark matter

Physicists examine components of the axion detector at the University of Washington.

Physicists are using a detector at the UW to search for a particle called an axion, which would be the first physical evidence of the universe’s dark matter.

May 1, 2013

National Academy of Sciences selects Mary Lidstrom, David Kaplan

A large 'W' is at the north entrance to the UW campus.

Mary Lidstrom and David Kaplan are among the 84 new members announced by National Academy of Sciences.