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UR to receive $13 million in federal funding for new Physics Frontier Center 

click to enlarge Artist's conception of a pair of young, still-forming stars (background) and the fragmentation of material in a larger cloud in which the stars are born.

IMAGE CREDIT NSF / UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER

Artist's conception of a pair of young, still-forming stars (background) and the fragmentation of material in a larger cloud in which the stars are born.

The National Science Foundation is providing nearly $13 million in federal funding for a new Physics Frontier Center at the University of Rochester.

University officials say the Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures (CMAP) will focus on understanding the physics and astrophysical implications of matter under pressures so high that the structure of individual atoms is disrupted.

U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand say that the funding will also establish the University of Rochester as a pioneer in the field of high energy density science.

The research at the new Physics Frontier Center will be done in collaboration with scientists at MIT, Princeton, the Universities of California at Berkeley and Davis, the University at Buffalo and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Gilbert Collins, associate director of science, technology and academics at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at UR and principal investigator on the project, says the project is part of a paradigm shift “in how we think about extreme states of matter." It was previously believed, for example, that materials subjected to very high, atomic-scale pressure, would transition to simple, densely packed metals.

"However, recent theoretical and experimental results now suggest such extreme matter can become increasingly more complicated, with extraordinarily exotic properties," Collins says. "Aluminum, for example, may transform from a simple metal to a transparent insulator, hydrogen from a gas into a superconducting superfluid, and traditional hot conducting plasma to an insulating plasma."

UR researchers also say that the new CMAP center will also help scientists understand the nature of planets including a deeper look into how the solar system evolved.

There’s also an educational component to this work — Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at UR, is leading outreach efforts on bringing high-energy-density science to students in a range of settings from high schools to graduate schools.

Randy Gorbman is the news director at WXXI News, a media partner of CITY. He can be reached at rgorbman@wxxi.org.
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