Electric vehicles are dramatically changing the way people move from place to place, ushering in an era of cleaner transportation. But according to Carlo Segre, Duchossois Leadership Professor of Physics at Illinois Institute of Technology, there is still one big hitch: the distance such vehicles can travel before needing to be recharged.
Segre says that the more affordable electric vehicles today can travel approximately 100 miles on a single charge, and for some drivers, this presents what he refers to as “range anxiety”—a predicament Segre hopes to address through his research.
In a three-year, $3.4 million project funded by the United States Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Segre’s interdisciplinary team, including IIT collaborator John Katsoudas (PHYS ’97, M.S. ’04); Vijay Ramani, Hyosung S. R. Cho Endowed Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering at IIT; and collaborators from Argonne National Laboratory—Elena Timofeeva, Dileep Singh, John Zhang, and Michael Duoba (ME ’91)—will design and construct a new kind of battery for such vehicles. More »
Experimental Gravity Research
Illinois Tech Picometer Laser Metrology Lab
The group is doing tests of the Weak Equivalence Principle using apparatus from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This includes the G-POEM vertical bouncer system for putting two dissimilar masses into free fall and a Semiconductor-Laser Tracking Frequency Gauge (SL-TFG) that can be used to monitor the distance between the masses to a precision of fractions of a picometer. The group is running IPRO courses in which the students help to install and debug this equipment.
The SL-TFG also enables a unique measurement of antimatter gravity using muonium atoms produced in a beamline at Switzerland’s Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), the world’s leading center for muonium research. The group is collaborating with them and with the Argonne Center for Nanoscale Materials to develop a precision cryogenic interferometer that can make picometer-scale measurements of the gravitational displacement of the muonium beam.
Experimental Neutrino Physics Research
Neutrinos travel the universe at nearly the speed of light, seeming to disappear, reappear, and transform themselves as they travel, unimpeded, from sources like the sun and other stars through space, planets, and even our own bodies. By detecting neutrinos and measuring their properties, physicists can learn a great deal about the Standard Model of Particle Physics as well as the objects and processes that created them.
The Daya Bay Experiment
Four antineutrino detectors deployed underground in an ultra-pure water pool at the Daya Bay Far Experimental Hall, just over a mile (2 km) from the Daya Bay and Ling Ao I and II Nuclear Generating Stations
The Daya Bay Experiment utilizes antineutrinos from a nuclear reactor complex in Shenzhen, China, to measure the neutrino mixing angle θ13, which may be defined as a parameter that describes the extent to which the electron neutrino can oscillate into the other kinds and it is a key step to measuring the neutrino/antineutrino difference. Daya Bay scientists, along with scientists from four other experiments investigating neutrino oscillation awarded the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for the first unambiguous measurement of this parameter, which was achieved by measuring relative differences in antineutrino interaction rates between detectors at ~500 and ~1650 meters standoff from Daya Bay's reactor cores. In addition to improving precision on θ13, ongoing Daya Bay and Illinois Tech efforts will produce measurements of the reactors' antineutrino flux and energy spectrum, which are valuable for new physics searches and applied reactor modeling and monitoring purposes.
For example, Illinois Tech researchers recently used Daya Bay's data to separately measure neutrino production by a reactor’s two primary fuel sources: plutonium and uranium. This measurement uncovered new evidence of incorrect understanding of the nuclear physics processes taking place inside operating nuclear reactors.
The PROSPECT Experiment
A spent nuclear fuel core being extracted from the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR). Antineutrinos produced by HFIR are detected in the PROSPECT experiment’s four-ton detector target.
PROSPECT is designed to produce similar measurements of distance-dependent variations in reactor antineutrino detections, but at meter-scale distances. These short-baseline oscillations would indicate the existence of new neutrino states not predicted by the Standard Model. To probe this behavior, PROSPECT will place a moveable 3-ton segmented scintillator detector at 6–12 meter distances from the highly enriched High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. In addition, PROSPECT’s measured antineutrino energy spectrum, which is produced entirely by fission of the isotope U-235, will provide new constraints on reactor models complementary to Daya Bay’s. To achieve these goals, PROSPECT must demonstrate precision on-surface detection of reactor antineutrinos, a major stepping stone in the development of viable antineutrino-based reactor monitoring technology. The Illinois Tech group is leading the neutrino oscillation analysis effort for the experiment and is in charge of the design and production of the detector’s segmentation system.
Fully installed detector near the reactor at Oak Ridge National Lab
The Fermilab Short Baseline Neutrino (SBN) Program
The cryostat of the MicroBooNE experiment, on the day of its delivery to Fermilab in 2014. This cryostat now houses a 96-ton liquid argon time projection chamber, which takes 3D digital images of interactions of neutrinos from Fermilab’s Booster Neutrino Beam.
The Fermilab Short Baseline Neutrino (SBN) program, like PROSPECT, aims to probe the existence of nonstandard neutrino oscillations. This is accomplished at SBN by searching for the appearance of electron neutrinos in the muon neutrino-dominated Booster Neutrino Beamline at Fermilab utilizing detectors at three different locations along the beamline. The detectors are liquid argon time projection chambers (LArTPCs), which produce 3D digital images of neutrino interactions with unparalleled mm-scale precision. In addition to its oscillation physics goals, the SBN will provide new measurements of neutrino-argon interaction cross sections and help develop LArTPC detection experience and infrastructure, both of which are vital to the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), the community’s future-centerpiece long-baseline neutrino oscillation effort. Illinois Tech is involved in the design and construction of the MicroBooNE and SBND detectors as well as in the oscillation analyses for these detectors.
Superconducting RF Cavity Research
Superconducting radiofrequency (SRF) cavities, having surface impedances orders of magnitude lower than normal metals such as copper, are an enabling device for a host of particle accelerator applications such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS). SRF cavities are currently made of elemental Nb, and there is a need to understand how the various processing steps (deep drawing, acid etching and polishing, vacuum annealing, and high pressure water rinsing) affect the cavity performance. Since the RF currents occupy a thin surface layer (~45 nm), research and development have focused on surface analysis of the Nb.
The Illinois Tech group has developed two new surface probes for SRF cavity research. Using Raman microscopy/spectroscopy, along with Density Functional Theory and Transmission Electron Microscopy, they have identified surface patches containing excess carbon in the form of amorphous graphite, chain-type hydrocarbons, and nanoscale precipitates of NbC. A new plasma cleaning process at SNS removes C and hydrocarbons and leads to improved performance. In collaboration with Argonne National Lab, they have developed point contact tunneling spectroscopy to probe the local superconductivity on the surface. They have discovered surface magnetism in regions with degraded performance which appears to originate in the native oxide.
In the past two years, an important new discovery has been made at Fermi National Laboratory. Scientists there have shown that a nitrogen processing step during the cavity anneal can lead to quality factors, Q, that actually increase with accelerating field and have achieved record high values of Q at 20 MV/m. This has opened the door to development of a free electron laser (FEL) based x-ray light source, LCLS II. Illinois Tech alumni Martina Martinello and Mattia Checchin, who now work at Fermi, made important discoveries as students concerning thermal processing to remove trapped magnetic flux in cavities for this FEL.
Checchin and Martinello
Looking to the future, there is a need to develop a compact electron linac using SRF cavities with higher performance than Nb. Thin film coatings with higher Tcsuperconductors such as Nb3Sn and MoN are being investigated along with superconducting photocathodes to produce the electron beam.
Synchrotron X-ray Radiation and the Development of Novel X-ray Optical Components and Sources
Tim Morrison's research interests include X-ray (synchrotron radiation) absorption spectroscopic studies of disordered materials, particularly catalysts and alloys, as well as research and development of novel X-ray optical components and sources. In addition, Morrison is working on a means of easing the transition from high school to university-level science courses.
Muon Accelerator Program (MAP) and Muon Ionization Cooling Experiment (MICE)
The Muon Accelerator Program (MAP) was created in 2010 to unify the Department of Energy-supported research and development in the United States to develop the concepts and technologies required for muon colliders and neutrino factories.
These muon-based facilities have the potential to discover and explore new exciting fundamental physics, but will require the development of demanding technologies and innovative concepts. The MAP aspires to prove the feasibility of a muon collider within a few years, and to make significant contributions to the international effort devoted to developing neutrino factories.
It is the goal of the international Muon Ionization Cooling Experiment (MICE) to establish the feasibility of ionization cooling for muons, to build a section of an actual cooling channel, to measure its performance in various configuration, and to develop and test all necessary software. MICE is implemented in steps with each step adding more crucial components and allowing for more essential studies. Step I data taking was completed in Summer 2010, and new data analysis is ongoing, while contributors to the experiment from all over the world prepare the next stage.