Stanford scholars tapped for quantum materials research grants

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation recently chose three Stanford affiliates – AHARON KAPITULNIK, ZHI-XUN SHEN, professors of physics and applied physics at Stanford, and TONY HEINZ, who will join Stanford’s faculty in January – for one of the top grants in quantum materials research.

The Moore Experimental Investigators in Quantum Materials grants to Stanford should help the scientists pursue long-term high-risk research and develop new techniques to study quantum materials. Each grant is for $1.8 million over five years.

Quantum materials are substances in which collective behavior of electrons leads to many emergent properties, such as high-temperature superconductivity and exotic forms of magnetism.

According to the Moore Foundation’s news release, “New discoveries in this field could eventually lead to revolutionary applications in electronics, computing, energy technology and medical devices.”

Photo of Aharon Kapitulnik making hand gestures
Aharon Kapitulnik

Kapitulnik, professor of applied physics and physics, plans to use the grant to study charge ordering phenomena and bad metallicity. Both are key themes of current interest to quantum materials researchers.

Kapitulnik plans to acquire information on these two themes by developing and employing two new instruments. A polarization-sensitive optical interferometer will be used to detect the symmetry of subtle ordering of charge, while thermal diffusivity measurements of the electrons in a wide range of temperatures will give new information about coherent versus incoherent transport in correlated materials.

Zhi-Xun Shen
Zhi-Xun Shen

Shen is a professor of physics and applied physics with a joint appointment at SLAC. The grant enables him to pursue two research directions to study superconductors and other unconventional electrical materials. He will build on his Angle-Resolved Photoemission Spectroscopy instrument to include electron spin detection and develop next generation microwave impedance microscopy.

“My style has been to develop new and unique experimental tools and apply them to important physics problems,” Shen explained. Asked about potential applications, he said, “At this point it’s mostly curiosity driven, long-term problems.”

Head shot of Tony Heinz
Tony Heinz

Heinz, currently a professor of physics and of electrical engineering at Columbia University, will join the Stanford faculty in January 2015 as a professor of applied physics, with a joint appointment at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Heinz said the research funded by this grant “builds on dramatic recent advances in the ability to synthesize atomically thin sheets of materials and to combine these building blocks into new quantum materials,” similar to graphene.

He added, “The unique properties of electrons and new quantum states in these materials and stacks will be explored through their optical and electrical response.”

The grants are part of the Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems Initiative.

REX SANDERS is an intern with the Stanford News Service.