W. M. Keck Program in Quantum Materials

On the horizon is a convergence on these problems by condensed matter (CM) and atomic/molecular/optical (AMO) physicists, as recent developments in both ultracold atomic physics and nanostructures allow the construction of tunable models of such systems. Investigations of these models promise great insight into real strongly correlated quantum materials. Rice University is uniquely positioned at this moment of opportunity to make great strides at this CM/AMO interface, through our excellence and shared interest in both experimental and theoretical aspects of quantum matter in both subdisciplines. Because the melding of ideas from CM and AMO is critical to success, under the auspices of the W.M. Keck Foundation, we are implementing a W.M. Keck Program in Quantum Materials. This consists of Keck Fellows (postdoctoral researchers) and Keck Scholars (graduate researchers) to capitalize on this synergy and enable rapid, groundbreaking progress in fundamental understandings of strongly correlated quantum systems. We believe that establishing an academic program that trains researchers to examine these systems from a broad, multidisciplinary perspective will have a significant long-term impact on the development of both CM and AMO physics.

What are quantum materials?

Some of the most pressing areas of physics today involve strong correlations within many-particle quantum systems, in which the macroscopic states-the way the particles are organized-are determined by strong interactions between the particles. Many of these correlations are intimately related to magnetic degrees of freedom of the particles, including collective effects such as ordering (ferro- and antiferromagnetic), dynamics (spin waves and magnetic heavy electrons), and unusual excitations (spinons, holons, quasiparticles with fractional quantum numbers). Examples abound, from high temperature superconductors to heavy fermion metals. Major efforts have been devoted to the studies of these strongly correlated condensed matter materials, and new concepts have resulted. An emerging theme that appears to be broadly relevant to many of these quantum materials is the notion that strong inter-particle correlations lead to new quantum phases and phase transitions. These quantum phases and quantum critical points can exhibit the exotic excitations which, in turn, are responsible for the novel physical properties such as high temperature superconductivity. In spite of these developments, the detailed inner workings in many of these strongly correlated materials remain poorly understood. To make further progress, it is desirable to gain new insights from new engineered quantum structures.