Douglas Beck brings diverse knowledge to IQUIST

12/9/2022 3:02:01 PM Maggie Knutte

Douglas Beck, a nuclear physics professor, has recently become a member of IQUIST. He has been at the University of Illinois for 34 years, continuing to contribute research to the nuclear and now quantum fields of physics.  

Beck first became curious about physics in grade school. He received a tour of a particle accelerator lab in 6th grade, introducing him to the world of physics that he would pursue as a career years later. 

In 1979, Beck earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. He then went on to earn his doctoral degree in nuclear physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986. Following that, Beck spent two years at California Institute of Technology working as a senior research fellow before coming to the University of Illinois

At the University of Illinois, Beck first started in 1989 and was promoted to full professor in 1999.

Beck has been involved in many research projects over the years. One in particular involved taking measurements to understand the structure of protons and neutrons at quark level; focusing on how the energy and matter inside play off each other.

While experimenting, Beck and other researchers discovered contributions of up, down, and strange quarks – which tend to live longer than regular quarks because of their slow decay. Conducting two different experiments on protons measuring parity violation (at a basic level meaning the process that can be observed in a mirror but not in reality), they found two contradictory results for the contribution of strange quarks. The existence of an unexpectedly large anapole moment (measure of electromagnetic force) of the proton accounts for this large difference between experiments. 

This study, titled the SAMPLE experiment, was conducted at the MIT Bates Research and Engineering Center. Beck was one of several collaborators from institutions across the Midwest and East Coast, including the University of Illinois. Overall, it was found that the contribution of strange quarks to the proton’s magnetic moment to be (0.1+/-5)%. Techniques that were developed from SAMPLE have aided subsequent experiments and research at different institutes. 

Still experimenting with strange quarks now, Beck continues to make new discoveries. Specifically, he is taking measurements to see if the momentum of heavier strange quarks is affected the same way as up and down quark pairs in a nucleon. 

His interest in quantum has persisted with his recent involvement in the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee (NSAC) Quantum Information Science (QIS) subcommittee. Some of the first experiments Beck conducted focused in the quantum field of physics were the Electric Field Sensing for EDM Experiments. These experiments relied on nitrogen vacancies in diamonds to measure energy shifts due to the linear Stark effect. 

The Neutron Electric Dipole Moment (nEDM) Research Project is the focus of Beck’s research group. Partnering with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Beck and affiliates take measurements of the EDM of neutrons to learn more about them. Specifically, they are focused on seeing how their experiments may lead to new discoveries for the Standard Model of particle physics, looking for new sources of T and CP violation.

Currently, Beck is working on a quantum information project. Its focus is understanding entanglement structures in quantum field theory and the scalar field theory. Working again with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Beck is able to experiment with quantum sensing.

At the University of Illinois, Beck teaches several physics courses. One of them is an introductory undergraduate course to quantum physics. Beck stresses the importance of quantum education at not just graduate, but undergraduate level as well. In 2018 and 2020, Beck was ranked ‘excellent teacher’ by his students for Physics 487 course Quantum Physics II. 

Beck is not collaborating with anyone in IQUIST at the moment, but sees opportunity for overlap in the future. 

“There is still a lot we don’t understand,” said Beck. Looking forward, Beck is excited to see how quantum computing “evolves and becomes more capable.” 

Beck brings diverse experience and knowledge to IQUIST through his background in nuclear physics. His knowledge is useful in better understanding the physics of atomic nuclei as it relates to quantum physics and potential applications.