Physics professor Chris Henley dies at 59

Christopher L. Henley, professor of physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, died June 29 after an illness. He was 59 years old.

Henley joined the Cornell faculty in 1989 as an assistant professor of physics, was promoted to associate professor in 1993, and became a full professor in 2001. Before that, he was an assistant professor at Boston University and also worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

At Cornell, Henley’s research was in the theory of frustrated magnetism, both classical and quantum; interacting electron systems; quasicrystals; and biological physics.

In interacting electron systems, Henley’s research group worked on the border of analytic theory and computation. They studied the ground states of a spinless fermion lattice model with supersymmetry. They also worked on phenomenology of scanning tunneling microscopy measurements in high-temperature superconductors.

In biological physics, Henley led projects in pattern formation and mechanics, specifically a large project about the physical bases of left/right symmetry breaking in various animals including snails; in plants; or in assemblies of single cells. He also was fascinated by the exterior shell geometry of viruses and worked to model the mechanics of plant roots.

Paul McEuen, the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science, called Henley a “brilliant scientist.”

“He was interested in almost anything, unafraid of applying his careful and precise approach to wild and wooly problems in fields ranging from quantum physics to biology,” McEuen said.

“He was a productive colleague, dedicated mentor and deeply committed to intellectual and academic pursuits,” said Jeevak Parpia, professor of physics. “He will be missed by all of us.”

Last September, Henley’s colleagues and friends came together to celebrate his 59th birthday and his contributions to the field of theoretical solid-state physics. The symposium included an international panel of speakers.

Henley was born Sept. 24, 1955, in Washington, D.C., to Norman F. and Nancy Henley. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1977 and his doctorate in physics from Harvard University in 1983. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society and was the recipient of many professional honors, including an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship and a Presidential Young Investigator Award.

When young, according to his mother, he had a strong interest in maps and was a precocious navigator for his family’s trips. In adulthood, Henley ran, swam or bicycled every day, and enjoyed hiking, reading, contra dancing, classical music and Scrabble, among other things.

Henley was given a natural burial in Chesterfield, Massachusetts. He is survived by his mother, son, aunt and cousins.

Cornell Chronicle

By Anne Ju, July 8, 2015

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Three alumni win million euro Brain Prize

Cornell Chronicle By Linda B. Glaser, March 24, 2015

The 1 million euro Brain Prize has been awarded to four scientists – three of them Cornell alumni – for their groundbreaking work with two-photon microscopy: Winfried Denk, Ph.D. ’89, Karel Svoboda ’88, David Tank, M.S. ’80, Ph.D. ’83, and Arthur Konnerth. All three graduates – who studied math, physics and applied and engineering physics at Cornell – worked in the laboratory of Watt Webb, professor emeritus of applied and engineering physics, where multiphoton microscopy for biological applications was pioneered.

“These alumni embody the ‘Webb Group’ style of mixing physics, engineering and biology together to achieve their goal,” says Warren R. Zipfel, associate professor of biomedical engineering and a former Webb research associate. “For decades, Watt’s lab was the place to be at Cornell if you loved playing with lasers and optics and applying them to biological questions.”

Zipfel still has the world’s first two-photon microscope in a case near his office, built by Denk out of an early confocal microscope “scanbox.” Denk took the first two-photon microscopy images with the help of Frank Wise, the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Engineering, who built the femtosecond laser needed to make two-photon microscopy work.

Solving the mystery of how circuits in the brain produce behavior, thoughts and feelings is one of the most important scientific frontiers in the 21st century. Two-photon microscopy is a transformative tool in brain research, combining advanced techniques from physics and biology to allow scientists to examine the finest structures of the brain in real time.

To read the entire Cornell Chronicle article, click here.

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Visualizing how radiation bombardment boosts superconductivity

by Staff Writers
Upton NY (SPX) May 29, 2015

Sometimes a little damage can do a lot of good – at least in the case of iron-based high-temperature superconductors. Bombarding these materials with high-energy heavy ions introduces nanometer-scale damage tracks that can enhance the materials’ ability to carry high current with no energy loss – and without lowering the critical operating temperature.

Such high-current, high-temperature superconductors could one day find application in zero-energy-loss power transmission lines or energy-generating turbines. But before that can happen, scientists would like to understand quantitatively and in detail how the damage helps–and use that knowledge to strategically engineer superconductors with the best characteristics for a given application.

In a paper published May 22, 2015, in Science Advances, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven and Argonne national laboratories describe atomic-level “flyovers” of the pockmarked landscape of an iron-based superconductor after bombardment with heavy ion radiation. The surface-scanning images show how certain types of damage can pin potentially disruptive magnetic vortices in place, preventing them from interfering with superconductivity.

The work is a product of the Center for Emergent Superconductivity, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center established at Brookhaven in partnership with Argonne and the University of Illinois to foster collaboration and maximize the impact of this research.

“This study opens a new way forward for designing and understanding high-current, high-performing superconductors,” said study co-author J.C. Seamus Davis, a physicist at Brookhaven Lab and Cornell University.

To read the entire Space Daily article click here.

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Large Hadron Collider Restarts


The world’s largest particle accelerator is fired up again after two years of being offline for an upgrade. The Large Hadron Collider is located underground on the border of France and Switzerland and is run by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

CERN is credited with the discovery of a new particle that led to further understanding of the Standard Model, the predominant theory of particle physics. Now, the Large Hadron Collider is even more powerful than before.

Julia Thom-Levy, an associate professor of experimental physics at Cornell University, told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that scientists believe it will continue to pave the way for new scientific discoveries. She and her grad students are using detectors to record data at the Large Hadron Collider.

“It’s very, very challenging to go to such high energies, to accelerate protons to such high energies, and so there was a fair amount of work done to the accelerator to allow that,” Thom-Levy said. “And now we’re at 13 teraelectronvolts. That’s unimaginably high energy that has never been reached before, and at those high energies, different things can happen. Things happen at different rates, and new production channels open up. So that’s what all the excitement is about.”

So how will the upgrades impact the world of physics, for scientists and outsiders alike?

“It’s understanding the world at the most fundamental level,” Thom-Levy said. “So what are the elementary particles, how do they hold together, how do they communicate with each other, what are the forces between them, what mediates the forces, how to they acquire their mass. So for me those are really, really exciting questions.”

Photo and story courtesy of Here and Now with Robin Young & Jeremy Hobson, wbur Boston’s NPR News Station




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Lehman Fund makes 10 awards for China study

Fourteen Cornell scholars (11 faculty members and one faculty member-graduate student team) received 2015 awards from the Jeffrey S. Lehman Fund for Scholarly Exchange with China. The fund provides grants to initiate research projects, sponsor research-related conferences or workshops, host visitors from China or support faculty travel to China to work on collaborative research projects.

Projects and winners are:

  • Integrating Eastern and Western Medicine to Address Iron Deficiency In Rural Chinese Women. Project director: Laura Pompano, doctoral candidate in the field of nutritional sciences, and Jere D. Haas, the Nancy Schlegel Meinig Professor of Maternal and Child Nutrition, Division of Nutritional Sciences;
  • Manufacturing Revolutions: The Socialist Development of a Chinese Auto-Industrial Base. Project director: Victor Seow, assistant professor, Department of History;
  • Chinese Medicine and Healing: Translating Practice. Project director: TJ Hinrichs, associate professor, Department of History;
  • China/Cornell Media Arts Exchange Program. Project director: J.P. Sniadecki, assistant professor, Department of Performing and Media Arts;
  • Constructing the Autobiographical Self in Cyberspace. Project director: Qi Wang, professor, Department of Human Development;
  • Inflation, String Theory, and Cosmic Strings. Project directors: David Chernoff, professor, Department of Astronomy, and Liam McAllister, professor, Department of Physics;
  • Conference and Publication on Feminist Jurisprudence in Shanghai. Project director: Cynthia Grant Bowman, the Dorothea S. Clarke Professor of Feminist Jurisprudence, Law School;
  • Ricci Flow on 4manifolds and Applications. Project director: Xiaodong Cao, associate professor, Department of Mathematics;
  • Beijing Film and Digital Media Initiative. Project directors: Tim Murray, director, Society for the Humanities, and Amy Villarejo, chair, Department of Performing and Media Arts;
  • Creating China? Transnational Public Intellectuals and the Making of Contemporary Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. Project director: Allen Carlson, associate professor, Department of Government.

For more information, contact the East Asia Program in the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at

Cornell Chronicle May 26, 2015

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Two A&S Faculty Win Early Career Research Awards

Professors in physics and chemistry were honored this week by the Department of Energy with early career research awards. The funding supports the development of individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers and stimulates research careers in the disciplines supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

Cornell’s winners include:


Thomas Hartman, assistant professor of physics, who studies universality in quantum gravity.
Quantum mechanics and general relativity, two pillars of modern physics, have yet to be reconciled. Theoretical advances in string theory and related subjects over the last two decades indicate that this can be achieved if we abandon the assumption that space and time are fundamental. Hartman’s research tries to understand how general relativity emerges at long distances and to identify the class of the quantum field theories that exhibit this phenomenon.


Kyle M. Lancaster, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, for his work on elucidating biological energy transduction from ammonia.
While most organisms metabolize carbon-based chemical fuel, a select few organisms evolved to derive sufficient biological energy from the six-electron aerobic oxidation of ammonia to nitrite.
Mastering the fundamental chemical principles underlying the two main reactions in this process will fuel the development of novel catalysts for small molecule activation and selective, proton-coupled redox transformations.

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GPSA Faculty Award

In November 2011, the GPSA unanimously passed a resolution calling for the creation of awards that acknowledge and express gratitude for the many excellent faculty mentors at Cornell University. The first university-wide awards for teaching at the graduate and professional student level at Cornell University were given away by the Ad-Hoc Awards Committee at a ceremony in May 2012 and we were pleased that efforts that have previously gone unacknowledged would now be recognized.

To continue this tradition, the GPSA passed a resolution in Fall 2012 that created a permanent Awards Committee. We started our nomination process for the 2015 Awards in March and were amazed by the large number of nominations that we received in a month. While reviewing nomination letters, the Awards Committee was impressed and overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and passion with which graduate students have nominated faculty members who have made a positive impact on their academic and professional development. In many cases, these faculty members serve as inspiring role models, champion graduate and professional student interests, and go above and beyond in their commitment to furthering their students’ personal and professional success.
With so many nominations of faculty members who exemplify excellence in the mentoring of graduate and professional students, the Awards Committee faced an extremely challenging, yet exciting, decision.   It is our privilege to congratulate the following faculty members as the winners of the 2015 Faculty Awards:

John Abowd, Professor, Department of Economics;  Durba Ghosh, Associate  Professor, Department of History;  Matthias Liepe, Associate Professor,
Department of Physics

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Synchrotron Laboratory Welcomes New Particle Accelerator Module


Correction appended

Last month, the basement of Newman Laboratory opened to transport a distinctive red pipe containing the Main Linac Cyromodule — a prototype designed to accelerate particles with unparalleled energy efficiency — across campus. Now housed inside the Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory, the MLC is the latest addition to Cornell’s own particle accelerator located under Alumni Field.

The MLC is the product of over twenty thousand hours of work within Newman Lab, built and designed with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation to explore technologies for use in the next generation of particle accelerators. Its seven superconducting cavities funnel energy into particle beams to help scientists study, basic building blocks of matter, solid state physics and even human biology.

“The topic of this research and development program was to build a very efficient sort of conducting accelerator. This is what the MLC is,” said Prof. Ralf Eichhorn, phyics, a key scientist on the project who headed the accelerator department of the technical university of Darmstadt before coming to Cornell in summer 2012.

Particle accelerator modules of a similar construction and purpose require liquid helium to keep their superconducting components at less that two degrees celsius above absolute zero. Liquid helium requires large amounts of energy to produce, so cryogenic modules require much more energy to cool than they impart into their particle beams, according to Eich­horn.

“This cryogenic module is beyond the state of the art accelerator cryogenic module in terms of efficiency,” Eich­horn said.

The MLC’s transport through campus drew as much concern from its creators as it did confused glances from onlookers.

“This module was designed to be operated in a fixed location. The more you try to constrain the cold mass, the thing that is inside the cryo module, the more possibilities you add to bring heat into the module,” explained Eichhorn.

To read the entire Cornell Daily Sun article, click here.


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