Particle physics research

New Frontier Grants Push the Boundaries of A&S Research

How could we sustainably extract the technologically essential mineral lithium from seawater? Will doctors ever create super-immune T cells? How do dialects appear in the language? Why do we forget?

The College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) has awarded seven New Frontier grants totaling $1.25 million to faculty members pursuing critical developments in areas ranging from quantum materials to sustainable technologies to philosophical theory of general sensitivity.

Now in its second year, the program’s goal is to encourage A&S faculty to engage in high-impact, boundary-pushing research with the potential to garner external support. This year, 42 entries represented disciplines spanning the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.

“Much of what we take for granted today began as bold new concepts in the minds of imaginative scholars or scientists, so we want to encourage the fearless intellectual pursuits of arts and science teachers” said Ray Jayawardhana, Dean Harold Tanner of the College of Arts and Sciences, who designed the program with the college’s leadership team. “New Frontier grants provide the impetus and resources to pursue bold ideas, turning concept into exploration, exploration into discovery, and sometimes discovery into application. Projects supported by these grants have the potential to fundamentally change major fields, whether paving the way for future quantum technologies, probing fundamental questions in linguistic theory, or making sense of retrieval mechanisms. of memory.

The grants were made possible by donations from several donors, including Miriam Shearing ’56.

Two of the New Frontier projects focus on the bottom-up field of quantum materials research, linked to Cornell’s Quantum Science and Technology initiative.

In “Understanding and Creating New Quantum Materials with Light on Ultrafast Timescales,” Jared Maxson, Joyce A. Yelencsics Rosevear ’65 and Frederick M. Rosevear ’64 Assistant Professor of Physics and Kyle Shen, James A. Weeks Professor of physical sciences, will address one of the main challenges in understanding quantum materials – their characteristic ultrafast timescales – by using technologies developed for particle accelerators to make “movies” of electronic and atomic motions at scale femtosecond, and, using the same approach, to even create entirely new quantum materials with light.

“To push the boundaries of future quantum technologies, it is essential that new methods are developed not only to understand quantum materials, but also to control and create potentially useful new quantum states of matter,” Maxson said.

Funding from the New Frontier program will allow Shen and Maxson to bring together two of Cornell’s major strengths in traditionally disparate fields, accelerator physics and quantum materials. If successful, this project could serve as the nucleus for larger campus-wide efforts in ultrafast science.

Also pursuing goals in quantum materials, Katja Nowack, Assistant Professor of Physics, and Brad Ramshaw, Assistant Professor of Dick & Dale Reis Johnson Physics, will develop a novel thermal microscope to image quantum states of matter that are invisible in conventional experiments, thanks to their project “Imaging Heat Flow in Quantum Materials”.

“Quantum materials are rich in ’emergent’ particles that are being studied both for their fundamental properties and for applications such as quantum information processing,” Nowack said. “A central difficulty is that many of these particles are invisible to most experiments because they carry no electrical charge. However, these particles carry heat. This collaboration uses superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDS), which have exquisite magnetic sensitivity, to carefully measure the magnetic signatures of intrinsic noise, Nowack said; from the magnitude of the noise, the temperature of the particles can be determined.

In a project focused on sustainable technology, Justin Wilson, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, will develop techniques to extract the mineral lithium – an essential component of batteries, wind turbines, smart phones and many other devices – from electricity. seawater. While technological demand makes intensive mining of lithium from geological deposits unsustainable, the ocean contains an estimated 230 billion tons of lithium, more than 11,000 times the amount found in land deposits. . “Lithium Seawater Extraction with Hybrid Molecular Receptor-Material Adsorbents” is a collaboration with Maha Haji, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the College of Engineering.

Other projects examine the mind and body in terms of memory, language, sensitivity and the immune system:

  • “Prefrontal Cortical Control of Memory Retrieval”: David Smith and Thomas Cleland, Professors of Psychology, and Katherine Tschida, Mary Armstrong Meduski ’80 Assistant Professor of Psychology, will explore the brain mechanisms of memory retrieval using manipulation memory as a tool to answer a fundamental question: how does memory recovery work and why does it sometimes fail? Memory manipulation research is likely to be useful in future treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, and simply to improve day-to-day memory performance.
  • “Emergence of Dialects in Networks of Speakers with Random, Constrained Interactions”: Samuel Tilsen, Associate Professor of Linguistics, and James Sethna, James Gilbert White Professor of Physical Sciences, will use a hybrid computational and experimental strategy to study the emergence of dialects, aiming to experimentally probe fundamental questions of sociolinguistic theory, such as: to what extent are dialects inevitable? And how long do they persist? In addition to improving theoretical understanding, the results will inform machine learning systems that use linguistic signals to monitor the dynamics of social groups or the health of individuals.
  • “CD8+ T cells with innate properties: determining their prevalence, mechanistic basis, and therapeutic potential:” Andrew Grimson, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, in collaboration with Brian Rudd, Associate Professor of Immunology at the College of Veterinary Medicine, study new aspects of murine and human CD8+ T cells, which are a major component of the adaptive immune system. This project will focus on an unexpected and understudied aspect of CD8+ T cells: their ability to function in the moonlight as innate immune cells. A better understanding of these powerful immune cells could ultimately help design human T cells, a cutting-edge tool in cancer treatment.
  • “Reinventing Sentience: Panpsychism”: Karolina Hübner, associate professor of philosophy and Himan Brown Continuity Fellow for the Jewish Studies program, will explore panpsychism – the theory of widespread, even generalized sentience – bringing together thought from philosophy, psychology, biology, neuroscience, and AI research to examine the possibilities, defenses, and repercussions of widespread sentience, and to make Cornell a place where groundbreaking intellectual research on the mind takes place.

Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences