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SIU | Walter Henneberger
Vindicated: 50 Years later, an SIUC physicist’s theory is confirmed

CARBONDALE — In 1968, an SIU Carbondale physicist named Walter Henneberger published a paper suggesting that an electron could be freed from an atom and bound to it at the same time, with the help of super-intense lasers.

It was a prediction no one could test. The first laser had only been constructed eight years prior, and wasn’t nearly powerful enough to produce the conditions Henneberger theorized about.

He saw his solution as a mathematical fact, arising naturally from everything scientists knew about how atoms interact with light.

But to his peers, it was nonsense.

“There were just so many papers explaining what was wrong, allegedly, with it,” Henneberger said of his theory. ““Everyone in the United States thought it was crazy. I got the idea that I was never going to do anything for optics.”

He shifted his focus to other realms of theoretical physics.

But 50 years later, the 88-year-old emeritus professor has been vindicated.

In April, a team of German and Swiss researchers announced the first definitive experimental proof of Henneberger’s theories.

They used a laser trillions of times more intense than sunlight to separate an electron from the nucleus of an atom, while keeping it close enough that it still felt the nucleus’s pull.

Courtesy University of Geneva/ Xavier Ravinet 

Schematic illustration of the Kramers Henneberger potential formed by a mixture of the atomic potential and a strong laser field.

“Normally we think that when you hit an atom hard enough with a laser, you can knock off an electron from it,” said SIUC Physics Professor Dipanjan Mazumdar. “What he showed is that actually, if you hit it very, very hard, the electron will stay with the atom,” trapped in the oscillations of the laser, but still feeling the pull of its parent nucleus.

In producing that rare "dual state," the European researchers also made several other important discoveries. Most significantly, they found that these "Kramers-Henneberger" atoms, as they're known in scientific literature, can sometimes amplify the laser light that hits them.

The findings have widely been called “fundamental” to understanding the interaction between lasers and gases.

“When he solved the problem, he came up with this beautiful, beautiful answer,“ Mazumdar said. “It was one of those things that was so counterintuitive that people assumed it had to be wrong.”

Over the last 30 years, Henneberger had seen scientific opinions towards his theory change, somewhat. Several papers had been published agreeing with the phenomenon he predicted, and suggesting ways of proving it.

But he was unaware he’d been conclusively proved right, until Mazumdar brought a copy of the new research, to his home, on the west side of Carbondale.

“I feel good,” he said, laughing. “My life was not completely wasted.”

Mazumdar is an experimental physicist. His job is to test the “far-out” ideas conceived by theorists like Henneberger, he explained. When he learned of Henneberger’s research, Mazumdar was eager to meet him.

“I want to know his train of thought,” Mazumdar said. “What led him to come up with this idea? What other things has he thought about but not put into words?”

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Retired professor Walter Henneberger (left) and current SIU professor Dipanjan Mazumdar discuss papers related to Henneberger's research in physics on Tuesday in Carbondale.

It’s been 25 years, Henneberger said, since he did any physics. His mind is still full of equations and mathematical proofs, but these days, he mostly fixes clocks.

They hang all over his small living room, looking down on the bookshelves, the ornate rugs, the collections of china and figurines, and the wooden rocking chair where he sits.

He buys them online, cleans them and gets them running, then talks about them with his friends in the local chapter of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors.

He likes his hobby for the same reason he likes physics.

“It’s fun,” he said.

Henneberger credits his physics breakthroughs to coincidence, one lucky accident after another.

He gravitated to theoretical physics thanks to an inspiring instructor, Friedrich J. Belinfante, who came to the United States fleeing Hitler.

It’s a passion he might never have discovered, Henneberger reasons, if Hitler hadn’t been so stupid as to drive away many of Europe’s brightest minds.

Henneberger was drafted out of his Purdue University graduate program and sent to Fort Bliss, to serve during the Korean War.

It seemed like a bad break at the time, but it gave him the opportunity to study in Germany, his parents' homeland, on the GI Bill.

There he would receive his doctorate, and later meet his wife, Gerlinde, at a festival of Mozart music held in a town where Mozart stopped for coffee, just once, Henneberger said.

He came to SIUC in 1963, having heard good things from a friend in the service. He liked the salary offer and the small physics department.

Courtesy SIU Carbondale Special Collections Research Center / Aaron Lisec 

Physicist Walter Henneberger teaches at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, in 1968.

“What I really wanted here was people who would let me alone and let me work, and that was exactly what I got,” Henneberger said. “It was a great place to be, if you didn’t need to be prodded all the time.”

His fateful 1968 paper was published thanks to another stroke of luck. John Van Vleck, a Harvard physicist who would later win the Nobel Prize, came to SIUC to defend a former student who he believed had been unfairly fired from a teaching post.

Henneberger met Van Vleck, showed him his work, and won his support.

Without it, he says the paper could just as likely have been thrown in the trash as published.

“People can take bows everywhere, ‘Oh, I did something wonderful ... Like hell you did,’” Henneberger said. “There’s so many things that lead up to this that were accidents.”

Now, Henneberger is content to be another building block in the knowledge of the physical world.

“It’s nice to know that I did something useful,” he said.

To Mazumdar, Henneberger’s career is an example of physics working the way it should: theorists leading the way with innovative ideas, and experimenters putting them through rigorous evaluation.

That’s how a once far-fetched idea becomes scientific truth.

“If you can hit one bullseye in 20 tries you are an amazing scientist, because you are proving something new,” Mazumdar said. “To have a theory which was proven in his lifetime, we can actually say that he is pretty lucky.”

In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted that light, and even time, could be affected by gravity. In his general theory of relativity, he envisioned a universe where bodies with strong gravitational pull, like a black hole, could bend the light and time that passes them, slowing them down.

In 2015, a team of scientists called the LIGO group proved him right. They detected and recorded gravitational waves: waves of energy unleashed by the collision of two black holes, a billion years ago.

In doing so, they showed gravitational waves could stretch and squeeze light and time, causing them to pass at different speeds for different observers.

The research won the Nobel Prize in 2017.

Though Henneberger’s work is much smaller in scope, it has one clear similarity to Einstein’s.

No one knows yet how it will be used. But they agree it’s pretty important.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Retired professor Walter Henneberger reflects on his time at SIU Carbondale. Theories he proposed in the 1960s have sparked new experiments, even this year.

“You might not see an application which uses this theory in the next 20 years, but I’m pretty sure a lot of fundamental work will come from here,” Mazumdar said. “It’s almost like a solution looking for a problem.”

Mazumdar can imagine the possibilities, from even stronger lasers, to NASA research.

“I’m sure a lot of creative people are waiting for these discoveries,” he said. He hopes to share Henneberger’s name and story with his undergraduate quantum mechanics students this semester, even if they can’t yet grasp the equations Henneberger composed.

“I’m very happy to know somebody at SIU did this work,” Mazumdar said. “There’s a pride attached to it.”

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Carbondale City Council gives zoning certificate for warming center

CARBONDALE — The operative word during Tuesday night’s debate was “but.”

“I applaud what you are doing, but...” Deborah Burress told the Carbondale City Council during a lengthy public comment on a resolution to grant a permit for a temporary warming shelter for the homeless, slated to go at 800 E. Main Street.

Burress and several business owners in the area came to warn the council that they feared the placement of the warming center there would increase harassment of their customers and make their portion of town unseemly.

“So a parade of (shopping) carts,” Burress asked the council, suggesting that an onslaught of homeless persons would descend on Carbondale’s main artery, Highway 13, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., when the center is closed.

A coalition of civic groups and churches have worked for the last three years to find a place to open a temporary shelter, expanding Carbondale’s network of beds for those experiencing housing insecurity. It is projected that the facility could house as many as 24 people.

During the council’s debate of the issue Tuesday, it was brought to light that countless parcels of land were considered, SIU was consulted, and even the City Hall itself was considered, but all presented zoning issues, namely a close proximity to a park, school or daycare facility. These locations have a 500 foot buffer that is to be free from those on the sex offender registry.

Councilman Jeff Doherty raised an objection to the location of the center early in the evening. He, too, had a "but" to add: He saw the need, but said that as he read the city’s code, the addition of construction trailers to the lot would violate its designation as a secondary-use property, which bars mobile homes.

He said this would need a special use permit and would have to go back to committee to get that to happen.

Councilman Adam Loos said this was unacceptable. He pointed out that this would push the timeline for the project into March and the facility is scheduled to close for the season in April.

Loos said “persnickety” objections could cause people to freeze in the cold.

Others on the council pointed out that carnivals are often approved all over the city, and these come with trailers for carnival workers to sleep in while in town. They asked how the construction trailers were any different.

Councilman Navreet Kang also expressed concern for the impact on businesses and subverting the city’s code. He agreed with Doherty that the issue should be resolved through all the proper channels.

Councilman Carolin Harvey appealed to the council’s humanity.

“Think about those people we try not to see,” she said.

Michael Hess took the podium to tell his story. He told the council that he has been in and out of homelessness in Carbondale for many years, he was staying Tuesday night in a local hotel, and said the need is great for more beds during the cold months.

“I think that we should at least have the opportunity to get something going,” he said. He added that there should to be a place for people to lay their head and get a few hours of decent sleep.

Mike Wright owns a small shopping center near the proposed warming center and he said he and his employees have to ask homeless persons to leave several times a day, and seemed to blame the breaking of his storefront’s windows on vagrant persons.

Wright also asked the question of what they would do during the hours the facility was not open, and expressed concern with the nearby Thomas School.

However, it was pointed out that the proposed warming center would not suddenly create more homeless people.

Diana Brawley Sussman is the director of the Carbondale Public Library and has been part of the organizing committee for the shelter. She said after the meeting that if businesses in this part of town already have problems with the homeless, they aren’t likely to see an increase — and having more places for people to sleep could actually help.

“That is a valid concern. But, if we deal with this issue collaboratively by developing a solution which provides adequate sleeping space, then the burden on individual businesses, people and organizations can be reduced, hopefully making the situation more tenable and survivable for everyone,” she told the council.

Before the matter went to a vote, Loos spoke once more. Addressing the business people who spoke against the warming center he suggested doing more “passing the hat,” and stepping up to help more directly.

“Give them a ride if you don’t want your eyes offended,” he said to an objection about long lines of homeless people making their way to and from the center.

He then pointed to Hess, who was in the audience, and questioned if others would relegate him to freezing outdoor conditions. 

“Do you want to look him in the eyes and tell him?”

The measure passed with a vote of 5-to-2 — Kang and Doherty were the sole nays.

Brawley Sussman said after the meeting that the project for this season is about 70 percent funded, and buildings are being ordered and staff are being trained.

Trump pleads on TV for wall money; Dems say he 'stokes fear'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall Tuesday night in a somber televised address that was heavy with dark immigration rhetoric but offered little in the way of concessions or new ideas to break the standoff that has left large swaths of the government shuttered for 18 days.

Speaking to the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued the wall was needed to resolve a security and humanitarian "crisis," blaming illegal immigration for what he said was a scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and asking: "How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?"

Democrats in response accused Trump appealing to "fear, not facts" and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain.

Using the formal trappings of the White House, Trump hoped to gain the upper hand in the standoff over his demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He plans a visit to the border Thursday as he continues to pitch what was a signature promise of his 2016 presidential campaign.

He addressed the nation as the shutdown stretched through its third week, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without pay and some congressional Republicans growing increasingly jittery about the spreading impact of the impasse. Trump will visit the Capitol today to meet with Senate Republicans, and has invited Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to return to the White House to meet with him later that day.

He claimed the standoff could be resolved in "45 minutes" if Democrats would just negotiate, but previous meetings have led to no agreement.

For now, Trump sees this as winning politics. TV networks had been reticent about providing him airtime to make what some feared would be a purely political speech. And that concern was heightened by the decision Tuesday by Trump's re-election campaign to send out fundraising emails and text messages to supporters trying to raise money off the speech. Their goal: A half-million dollars in a single day.

"I just addressed the nation on Border Security. Now need you to stand with me," read one message sent out after his remarks.

In their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said.

Schumer said Trump "just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration."

In his dire address, Trump ticked off a string of statistics and claims to make his case that there is a crisis at the border, but a number of his statements were misleading, such as saying the new trade deal with Mexico would pay for the wall, or suggesting through gruesome examples that immigrants are more likely to commit crime.

Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.

Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: "I've met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I've held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible."

The president often highlights such incidents, though studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the billions he's requested. But he did not mention that Tuesday night.

Trump was nearly halfway through his 9-minute address before he ever mentioned the border wall, describing it as a request from law enforcement rather than his own longstanding political pledge. He also suggested that his proposal to build the wall from steel, rather than concrete, was a concession to Democrats, although they don't see it that way.

Trump sought to put the blame on Democrats for the shutdown, which reached its 18th day, saying they "will not fund border security." In fact, House Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security. And Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.

Ahead of the speech, the White House sought to shore up GOP support on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of Republicans have been expressing unease with the extended shutdown. But GOP lawmakers were still raising concerns Tuesday, talking about disruptions in payments to farmers and troubles for home buyers trying to get government-backed mortgage loans.

Madigan thanks House for work in 'epic struggle' over budget

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House wrapped up its two-year session Tuesday with legislation to help the incoming governor, with House Speaker Michael Madigan praising lawmakers for persevering in an "epic struggle" over state spending with outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The Democratic House majority endorsed measures to allow Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker to offer higher salaries to his cabinet and to replace a problematic Illinois Tollway board. The legislation moves to the Senate for action before the 101st General Assembly convenes on Wednesday.

The two-year session saw Madigan, who's held the gavel for all but two years since 1983, become the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history during a critical period in which he proved his mettle.

The Republican Rauner's insistence on approval of his conservative agenda in exchange for an annual budget deal had left Illinois without a spending plan for two years. Madigan lured enough Republicans in July 2017 to approve an income-tax increase to fund an annual budget over Rauner's vetoes, ending what Madigan on Tuesday called an "epic struggle."

"You deserve credit for what you do day-in and day-out, but you know that from time to time, the issues become more significant on one day than they were on a prior day or they may be on a future day," Madigan said. "And that's exactly what happened in that struggle between the Legislature and the executive department."

Rauner, who relinquishes the office to Pritzker on Monday, previewed the end-of-term report he must present to the Legislature. He highlighted his involvement in landmark 2017 legislation to make public school funding fairer, cutting red tape for small businesses, improving Medicaid and winning a U.S. Supreme Court case he initiated that prohibits government unions from collecting "fair-share" administrative fees from nonunion members.

But he said the report will also encourage the business-friendly changes he came into office trumpeting and which prompted the budget showdown. When it was suggested that voters had repudiated that agenda by choosing the Democratic Pritzker in November, Rauner said, "Change is hard."

"The folks that created the massive problems in our state certainly are resistant to change," Rauner said. "That doesn't mean that our recommendations are somehow wrong or flawed. It means it's going to take time to communicate with the voters and get the changes done."

Pritzker, who wasn't part of the proceedings, was the main beneficiary of Tuesday's action. The House voted 68-37 to change state law and increase annual pay for the director of prisons, the transportation secretary and the directors of other agencies governing human services, health care, the environment and more.

Pritzker said Illinois salaries for agency directors and assistant directors aren't competitive. The legislation would increase the highest salaries from $150,000 to $172,500.

Critics complained that nonunion middle managers have dealt with salary freezes for 15 or more years. They said the state can't afford higher pay when there's a $130 billion hole in what the state owes to its pension systems.

By a vote of 100-6, the House approved allowing Pritzker to abolish the terms of the Tollway board that oversees 294 miles of tolled interstate highway in northeastern Illinois because of questionable spending.

Opponents argued that replacing the board would delay the Tollway's construction work scheduled for this spring. Republican Rep. Jeanne Ives called the legislation a political ploy because a majority of board members' terms will expire by May.

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Shawnee Community College plants roots in Cairo with opening of new extension center

CAIRO — Shawnee Community College’s new Cairo Extension Center is officially open and enrolling students for classes that begin Monday, marking an important milestone for the city and college.  

The college has offered classes in Cairo for a number of years in various borrowed spaces, including at the high school and a public housing high-rise. However, this marks the first time the college has owned its own permanent location for the extension center, allowing for expanded hours and class offerings to serve the broader community, Shawnee Community College President Peggy Bradford said.

“We are delighted to be part of the rich history of Cairo and are confident that this location will serve the residents of our district for many years to come,” Bradford said. 

The center will offer certificate training for truck driving and various other trades. Students working toward an associate's degree will have the ability to take the vast majority of their classes at the center. The only exception to that is those classes requiring labs, which are only offered at the main campus in Ullin.

In an interview this week, Bradford said that Shawnee Community College had stopped offering classes altogether in Cairo in the summer of 2017. The college had been offering classes at the Delta Center, but when the social service provider closed its doors, citing financial woes created by the state budget crisis, that left the college without a home here. 

Provided by Shawnee Community College 

Edward Smith, chair of the Shawnee Community College's Saints Foundation Board, addresses the crowd at the Dec. 20 grand opening celebration of the college's new Cairo Extension Center. Smith donated funds for the purchase of the college's first permanent location in Cairo. 

Prior to the start of the fall semester that year, Bradford worked with Cairo School District 1 Superintendent Andrea Evers to establish classes at the high school. But college officials have long hoped to find a permanent location for a Cairo center. And that goal finally came to fruition thanks to years of perseverance and a recent generous donation. 

Edward Smith, president and CEO of Ullico Inc., a labor-owned insurance company, and chair of the college's Saints Foundation Board, donated $50,000 to purchase a building that had for years housed the Laborers' Local 773. In 2003, following a merger with other local union chapters, the expanded Local 773 moved its labor hall to Williamson County. 

The Cairo site was renovated using about $750,000 in bond funds, Bradford said.

Bradford said the iconic building is the perfect place to establish a permanent presence in Cairo, right in the center of town. The extension is intended to serve students from communities in and near Alexander County, as well as those from across the rivers in places such as Wickliffe, Kentucky and Charleston, Missouri.

Evers said that the Cairo school district is thrilled the college extension center has opened. “The long-term educational opportunities for our high school students and our community members are limitless,” the superintendent said in an email. Evers said she appreciates the collaborative leadership led by Bradford and the college’s board of trustees to “assure equitable access to post-secondary course work throughout the Shawnee Community College district.”

The college additionally has fully accredited extension sites in Metropolis and Anna. In addition to those locations, beginning this spring semester the college also is opening an accredited extension center in Vienna to serve the greater Johnson County community in space that Vienna High School is providing, rent-free. Bradford said she hopes these new developments in Cairo and Vienna help to bolster enrollment and begin to reverse sluggish enrollment trends. 

Cairo trustee Don Patton said fellow board members believe the Cairo Extension Center represents an important opportunity for residents of the area to advance their educational and job training skills. Patton said it also adds to the many resources available to help rebound the region's economy and support its workforce. 

“As it relates to Cairo, I think it’s important that we take advantage of our location — the river, the rails and the interstate,” Patton said. “If we can do that in a collaborative fashion, we can revitalize what I call the opportunity of hope for residents of the area.”