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Cornell Laboratory for Atomic and Solid State Physics


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Jane Wang's Insect Flight Research Highlighted by Cornell Research

The dragonflies free fall for about 100 milliseconds before they roll over and right themselves. “Once a dragonfly senses that it’s falling, it quickly goes through a set of neurocomputations to instruct its muscles,” Wang explains. “The muscles contract and modulate the wing motion. The wings interact with the air, modifying the aerodynamic forces, and the resulting torque rotates the dragonfly’s body 180 degrees.”


Dragonflies flap their wings about 40 times a second. To track the wing motion, Wang uses high-speed video cameras, filming at three different angles. She constructs computer simulations to examine the consequence of wing motions on the insect’s body movement. “3D tracking tells us about the changes in a dragonfly’s wing motion, but relating these changes to the body rotation is a complex dynamical problem,” Wang says. “We take advantage of the fact that the governing laws of flight can be described by equations, and this allows us to make specific predictions. These predictions can be tested in experiments and can be further related back to the other pieces in the puzzle involving neural responses.”

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Erich Mueller proposes a new way to produce a specific quantum state, whose excitations act as anyons

In the three-dimensional world, all fundamental particles must fall into one of two categories – those that behave like the photons that make up light, and those that behave like the electrons and protons that make up matter.

In a hypothetical two-dimensional world, however, there would be an infinite number of additional options, referred to as anyons. These theorized particles are characterized by how moving them around one another manipulates quantum information. With access to the right system of anyons, ultrafast error-free quantum computing would be possible.

Recent work by Erich Mueller, professor in the Department of Physics, and doctoral student Shovan Dutta, takes an important step toward this goal by proposing a new way to produce a specific quantum state, whose excitations act as anyons.


Their paper, “Coherent Generation of Photonic Fractional Quantum Hall States in a Cavity and the Search for Anyonic Quasiparticles,” was published March 15 in Physical Review A, a publication of the American Physical Society.

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Jie Shan and Kin Fai Mak become the first to control atomically thin magnets with an electric field

Cornell researchers have become the first to control atomically thin magnets with an electric field, a breakthrough that provides a blueprint for producing exceptionally powerful and efficient data storage in computer chips, among other applications.

The research is detailed in the paper, “Electric-field switching of two-dimensional van der Waals magnets,” published March 12 in Nature Materials by Jie Shan, professor of applied and engineering physics; Kin Fai Mak, assistant professor of physics; and postdoctoral scholar Shengwei Jiang.

In 1966, Cornell physicist David Mermin and his postdoc Herbert Wagner theorized that 2-D magnets could not exist if the spins of their electrons could point in any direction. It wasn’t until 2017 that some of the first 2-D materials with the proper alignment of spins were discovered, opening the door to an entirely new family of materials known as 2-D van der Waals magnets.


Shan and Mak, who specialize in researching atomically thin materials, jumped on the opportunity to research the new magnets and their unique characteristics.

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Eun-Ah Kim's Research Highlighted by the DOE

The U.S. Department of Energy has highlighted Eun-Ah Kim's groups research on machine learning. 

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Paul McEuen and Itai Cohen Built "Muscle" for Microscale Machines

An electricity-conducting, environment-sensing, shape-changing machine the size of a human cell? Is that even possible?

Cornell physicists Paul McEuen and Itai Cohen not only say yes, but they’ve actually built the “muscle” for one.

With postdoctoral researcher Marc Miskinat the helm, the team has made a robot exoskeleton that can rapidly change its shape upon sensing chemical or thermal changes in its environment. And, they claim, these microscale machines – equipped with electronic, photonic and chemical payloads – could become a powerful platform for robotics at the size scale of biological microorganisms.

“You could put the computational power of the spaceship Voyager onto an object the size of a cell,” Cohen said. “Then, where do you go explore?”

“We are trying to build what you might call an ‘exoskeleton’ for electronics,” said McEuen, the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science and director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science. “Right now, you can make little computer chips that do a lot of information-processing … but they don’t know how to move or cause something to bend.”

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Natasha Holmes's Research Shows that Lab Activity doesn't Correlate with Brain Activity

“Although one may think that labs are inherently active, our research shows that in traditional labs students may be active with their hands but they’re not really active with their brains,” says Holmes. “Following rote procedures to get a proscribed outcome at the end isn’t doing a whole lot.”

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Physics Today