Yesterday I spent a fair bit of time seeing specialized talks related to my group's research. In the contributed session in the morning, I saw a couple of talks by the theory group of Kevin Ingersent at the University of Florida. When describing electronic transport through a molecule, there are two basic theory approaches. One way to tackle this problem is to try to do realistic quantum chemistry calculations about specific molecular orbitals and how a molecule couples electronically to metal electrodes. A complementary tactic is to construct a mathematical model that you think contains the essential physics (e.g., treat the molecule as a "dot" with two electronic levels, each coupled to generic conduction electrons in the leads; then add in a single, local harmonic vibrational mode with some coupling between the level populations and the amplitude of the vibration, etc.). These two schemes correspond well with approaches to bulk materials: realistic electronic structure calculations vs. construction of model Hamiltonians. Ingersent's group takes the latter approach, and it looks like there is even more rich physics buried in single-impurity junctions than I'd previously appreciated.
In the same session, there were some nice experimental talks from Latha Venkataraman's group at Columbia. Recently, her students have seen that it's possible to create comparatively good contacts between molecules and metals, with a single quantum channel being transmitted through the system with a transmission of about 90%. This is in contrast to the more common situation, where transmission is more like 0.1%. She's also started doing single-molecule measurements of thermopower and Seebeck coefficient, where you apply a temperature gradient across a molecule and look at the resulting voltage difference that shows up. Cool data, though thermal transport at these scales is very challenging.
Later in the day I heard some nice invited talks. Jean-Marc Triscone gave a nice presentation of the properties of the two-dimensional electron gas that shows up at the interface between strontium titanate and lanthanum aluminate (STO/LAO). This field of oxide heterostructures has become very popular, and includes all sorts of rich physics, including coexistent superconductivity and magnetism. Any topic that gets to talk about a "polarization catastrophe" has to be good.
In another invited session, Cyrus Hirbijehedin talked in detail about Kondo physics in single magnetic atoms on very thin insulating layers, as probed by STM. Dan Ralph gave an extremely clear talk (via iphone from Cornell, due to inclement weather) on Kondo physics in single-molecule junctions, with their particular experimental twist of being able to stretch or squish the junctions in situ. Very neat. There are some lingering technical points in such structures that need further examination by the community.