This year brought us discoveries, developments and advances that uncovered new knowledge and informed fields of research. In 2018, we saw the launch of a named probe into the sun, the growth of a quantum technology hub, the critical first particle tracks in a new detector, discovered genes that may aid spinal cord healing, uncovered ways to boost achievement in math performance, produced a battery that runs on air, developed a technique to create atomically-thin fabrics, and more. Here is a look back at top highlights in research and innovation at the University of Chicago and our national and affiliated laboratories in 2018:

Joined forces to fuel quantum research
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign partnered with the University of Chicago and Illinois’s two national laboratories, Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, to make the Chicago area a national leader in quantum technology—a rapidly emerging field with revolutionary potential and growing backing from government and industry. Read more

Probe named after UChicago scientist launched to explore the sun
On Aug. 12, UChicago Prof. Emeritus Eugene Parker became the first person to witness the launch of a namesake spacecraft, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. The probe will fly closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft and help scientists understand the nature of the mechanism that flings solar wind off the sun, the magnetic underpinnings of stars, and why the sun’s corona is hotter than its surface. Read more

Produced a battery that runs on air
Scientists from Argonne and the University of Illinois at Chicago produced a lithium-air battery that stores three times more energy than regular lithium-ion batteries and could eventually be used to power electric cars. The new battery design features a protective coating and a novel electrolyte mixture that allows the cell to operate in a normal air environment, eliminating the usual need for cumbersome tanks of pure oxygen. Read more

Determined how order is created in a cell’s rush-hour traffic
Scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory have shed light on how the millions of molecules bumping around in a cell organize into functional structures. As originally observed at MBL, protein and RNA molecules spontaneously condense into membrane-free “droplets” using a phase separation process analogous to oil separating from water. Evidence is emerging that these droplets perform critical cellular functions, and also that their solidification can be associated with disease. In 2018, MBL Fellow Amy Gladfelterof University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and colleagues discovered how certain molecules come together in the same droplet while others are excluded. Read more

Helped parents overcome math anxiety, benefitting students
In a study following 587 students from 40 classrooms across the Chicagoland area, UChicago researchers found that math-anxious parents can still help their children succeed in the subject, given the correct tools. In work with Barnard College President Sian Beilock, a UChicago faculty member from 2005-17, UChicago Professor Susan Levine found that teaching tools can help solve potential connections between parents’ own math anxiety and their children’s performance in the subject. Read more

ProtoDUNE neutrino detector saw first tracks
The ProtoDUNE detector, the largest liquid-argon neutrino detector in the world, recorded its first particle tracks in September. Researchers are using the instrument, built and located at the European laboratory CERN, to test the technology for what will be a much larger detector for the international, Fermilab-hosted Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. ProtoDUNE’s milestone first tracks signaled the start of a new chapter for DUNE. Read more

Scientists built an army of metal-organic nanoflowers to treat cancer
Doctors have been using radiation to treat cancer for more than a hundred years, but it’s always been a delicate art to direct treatment while avoiding healthy tissue. Now, UChicago scientists have designed an army of tiny flower-shaped metal-and-organic nanoparticles that first boost the effects of radiation at the tumor site and then jumpstart the immune system to search out any remaining tumors. Read more

Fossil discovery helped to reveal global exodus of mammal ancestors to major continents
A small fossil is evidence that Earth’s ancient supercontinent, Pangea, separated some 15 million years later than previously believed. An analysis of a newly discovered 130-million-year-old fossil by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC and UChicago has helped to update our understanding of how mammals evolved and dispersed across major continents during the age of dinosaurs. Read more

Researchers sewed atomic lattices seamlessly together
UChicago scientists invented a technique to “sew” two patches of crystals seamlessly together at the atomic level to create atomically-thin fabrics. The breakthrough could open up new possibilities for flexible electronics or materials with cool new properties, like fabric that changes color when stretched. Read more

Astrophysicists settled a century-old cosmic debate on magnetism of planets and stars
Using one of the world’s most powerful laser facilities, a team led by UChicago scientists experimentally settled a century-old debate over how stars, planets, and galaxies form their incredibly strong magnetic fields. Researchers from the Flash Center for Computational Science used a combination of computational simulation and experimentation to create turbulent dynamo conditions in a laboratory setting for the first time. Read more

Analyzed massive datasets to show what drives the spread of flu in the U.S.
Using several large datasets describing health care visits, geographic movements and demographics of more than 150 million people over nine years, UChicago researchers have created models that predict the spread of influenza throughout the United States each year. They show that seasonal flu outbreaks originate in warm, humid areas of the south and southeastern U.S. and move northward, away from the coasts. The models could someday lead to targeted advance warnings .Read more

Discovered genes that aid spinal cord healing in lampreys are also present in humans
Many of the genes involved in regenerating an injured spinal cord in the lamprey, a vertebrate distantly related to humans, are also active in repairing the peripheral nervous system in mammals, according to a study by Marine Biological Laboratory scientist Jennifer Morgan and collaborators. This is consistent with the possibility that in the long term, the same or similar genes may be harnessed to improve spinal cord repair in humans and other mammals. Read more

Evelo Bioscience, a biotech company based on UChicago-licensed technology, debuted on NASDAQ
Evelo Biosciences, a biotech company developing a new class of oral biologic therapies, made their debut on NASDAQ earlier this year. Evelo is developing cancer therapies based on the research of Thomas Gajewski, the AbbVie Foundation Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Chicago. Gajewski’s team showed that the introduction of a particular strain of bacteria into the digestive tracts of mice with melanoma boosted the ability of the animal’s immune systems to attack tumor cells. When combined with anti-PD-L1, an anti-cancer antibody also known as a checkpoint inhibitor, the treatment regimen nearly eradicated tumors. By securing funds through the IPO, Evelo has the means to advance its oncology programs to the clinic. Read more

Announced the investment of $600,000 in biotech companies
The George Shultz Innovation Fund, managed by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation announced its plans to invest up to $600,000 in three biotechnology companies: nuBorn Medical, which will continue the creation of a smart baby bottle system used to diagnose feeding problems in preterm infants; Polaris Genomics, which isdeveloping next-generation liquid biopsy technologies that can be used to rapidly diagnose diseases, improve patient care, and deliver upon the promise of personalized medicine; and QMIS, which will advance its novel MRI software for prostate cancer detection that creates a heat map of potential cancer. Read more