Yang selected for NSF CAREER Award

March 16, 2017

Assistant Professor Liang Yang of the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been selected for a 2017 NSF CAREER Award. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award of the National Science Foundation is conferred annually in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars by integrating outstanding research with excellent education. Receipt of this honor also reflects great promise for a lifetime of leadership within recipients’ respective fields.

Yang will use his CAREER Award to develop novel analysis techniques for investigations of neutrinos, ubiquitous yet mysterious particles. Yang is co-spokesperson of the Enriched Xenon Observatory (EXO-200) experiment, currently in its Phase-II data taking. By searching for neutrinoless double beta decay, an exotic nuclear process, the EXO-200 collaborators hope to shed light on fundamental properties of neutrinos, including whether neutrinos are Majorana particles, i.e., their own anti-particles. A Majorana neutrino coupled with charge-parity (CP) violation could generate physical mechanisms responsible for the matter- antimatter asymmetry in the Universe.

The search for neutrinoless double beta decay will also shed light on the neutrino mass generation mechanism and put limits on the absolute scale of neutrino mass. Yang’s group at the U. of I. led the upgrade of the EXO-200 front-end electronics system, enhancing the detector’s energy resolution. He and Prof. Michelle Dolinski at Drexel University are currently overseeing the 3-year Phase-II data taking.

Yang plans to offer several EXO-200-centered research projects for undergraduate and graduate students at the U. of I. He is additionally developing an educational program to strengthen science education at the middle-school level, working in tangent with the U. of I. College of Education. He plans to organize workshops for middle-school teachers that will offer advanced training in hands-on activities for physical-science teaching, in accordance with New Generation Science Standards. Yang will also work with undergraduate student volunteers to improve outreach programs to middle school students.

Yang received his bachelor's degree in physics from Yale University in 1999. He received his master's (2003) and doctoral degrees (2006) in physics from Harvard University. He worked as a research associate at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory from 2007 to 2011. He joined the faculty at Physics Illinois in 2012.

These CAREER grants are supported by NSF’s Division of Physics.