Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Science/tech consulting in creative arts

I've watched the first two episodes of the new adaptation of Foundation.  It surely looks gorgeous, though there are some script challenges (even apart from the challenge of trying to adapt an enormous book series that was always long on ideas and short on character development).   The issues I've spotted seem mostly to be ones of poor script editing for consistency.  (The emperor of the Galactic Empire says in the first episode that the imperial population is 8 trillion, and then in the second episode a character says that the core worlds alone have a population of 40 trillion.  The latter number is more reasonable, given the size of Asimov's empire.)  

Watching this, I again think it would be great fun to do scientific/technical consulting for TV, movies, and even books. I'm on the list for the Science and Entertainment Exchange, though all I've ever done is give a tiny bit of feedback to a would-be author.  (My expertise probably looks too narrow, and not living in southern California seems to be a major filter.)  

It feels like there are some similarities to the role of science in public policy.  In the creative productions, science can contribute (and these media can be a great way of getting scientific ideas out into the public), but in the end plot and what can practically be implemented will always drive the final product.  In policy, science and technical knowledge should definitely factor in when relevant, but fundamentally there are social and political factors that can overwhelm those influences in decision-making.  Now back to our regularly scheduled psychohistorical crisis....

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

DOE Experimental Condensed Matter PI meeting, Day 3

Here are some tidbits from the last day of this year's meeting.  (I didn't really get to see the other posters in my own poster session, so apologies for missing those.  For the curious:  the meeting attendees alternate between posters and 15 minute talks from year to year.)

  • It's been known for a while that combining magnetism with topological insulator materials can lead to a rich phase diagram.  Tuning composition is a powerful tool.  Likewise, the van der Waals nature of these systems mean that it's possible to look systematically through a family of related materials.
  • Tuning composition in flat-band kagome metals is also of interest.
  • I had not appreciated just how important specific crystal growth approaches (e.g., rapid quenching vs. slow annealed cooling) are to the properties of some magnetic/topological materials, such as Fe5GeTe2.  
  • Strain can be a powerful tool for tuning electronic topology in some materials such as ZrTe5, and driving certain phonon modes via laser offers the potential of controlled switching of topological properties.
  • Quantum oscillations (e.g., magnetization as a function of 1/H) are a conventional way to learn about Fermi surfaces, and it is always bizarre when that kind of response shows up in a correlated material that is nominally an insulator, or in thermal transport but not electrical transport.
  • Speaking of quantum oscillations in insulators, how about thermal transport in the spin liquid phase of \(\alpha\)-RuCl3?  Looks like some kind of bosonic edge mode is responsible.
  • If transition metal dichalcogenides are starting to bore you, perhaps you'd be more interested in trichalcogenides, which can be grown as individual 1D chains within carbon and boron nitride nanotubes.
Thanks to everyone for making the meeting enjoyable and informative, even if we couldn't get together in a random Marriott in Maryland this time.  

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

DOE Experimental Condensed Matter PI meeting, Day 2

 More highlights from the meeting.  Office hours for my class conflicted with a couple of the talks, so these are briefer than I would've liked.

  • It is possible to use coherent x-ray scattering to look at time variations in the domain structure of an antiferromagnet.  In the magnetic diffraction pattern there is speckle near the magnetic Bragg spots that bops around as the domain structure fluctuates.
  • Amorphous magnetic alloys can show some really wild spin textures.  
  • By growing a few nanometers of a paramagnetic metal, Bi2Ir2O7, on top of an insulating spin ice, Dy2Ti2O7, it's possible to get enough coupling that field-driven spin ice transitions can generate magnetoresistance signatures in the metal layer.
  • Square planar nickelates can look a lot like the copper oxide superconductors in terms of band dispersion and possible "strange" metallicity.
  • Some rare-earth intermetallic compounds can have an impressively rich magnetic phase diagram.
  • I learned that some pyrochlore iridates can exhibit a kind of topological metallic state with giant anomalous Hall response.
  • I had not previously appreciated how wild it is that one can engineer ferroelectric response in stacks of 2D materials that are not intrinsically ferroelectric, as in hBN or even WSe2.
  • Ultrasound attenuation can be a heck of a tool for looking at superconductivity and other electronic transport properties.
  • Strontium titanate remains a really interesting test case for understanding exotic superconductivity, with its superconducting dome as a function of doping, very low carrier density, and incipient ferroelectricity.  Phonons + paraelectric fluctuations + spin-orbit coupling appear to be the big players
  • A related system in the sense of near-ferroelectricity and low carrier density is at interfaces of KTaO3.
  • This experiment in graphene/hBN/graphene stacks (with encapsulating hBN and graphite top and bottom gates) is an extremely pretty, tunable demonstration of superfluidity of bilayer excitons, an effect previously seen in one limit in GaAs systems.

Monday, September 20, 2021

DOE Experimental Condensed Matter PI meeting, Day 1

Somehow I found the first day of the virtual meeting more exhausting than when we do these things in person, probably because I had to go teach in the middle of the event.  A sampling of highlights:

  • Rather than relying on relatively crude methods to create defect centers in diamond for quantum sensing (or qubit purposes), one can use chemistry to build transition metal complexes with designer ligand fields (and hence energy level structures), as demonstrated here.
  • I know understand better why it has historically been so difficult to demonstrate, experimentally, that the quasiparticles in the fractional quantum Hall effect obey fractional (anyonic) statistics.  In an interferometer, it's critical to use screening (from top and bottom electron gases that act like capacitor plates) to reduce Coulomb interactions between edge states and the bulk. Once that's done, you can see clear evidence of fractional (anyonic) phase slips.
  • Some truly exceptional people can still do research even while being a university president.  At very low energies in an Ising ferromagnet with an in-plane magnetic field, hyperfine interactions can lead to hybridization of magnetic levels and the formation of "electronuclear" spin excitations.
  • Ultraclean ABC-stacked graphene trilayers can show remarkably rich response, dominated by strong electron-electron interaction effects.
  • High quality crystal growth can drastically lower the defect densities in transition metal dichalcogenides.  That makes it possible to construct bilayers of WSe2, for example, that can host apparent excitonic condensates.  Similar physics can be seen in MoSe2/WSe2 bilayers, where it is clear that exciton-exciton interactions can be very strong.
  • Pulling and pushing on a sample can lead to elastocaloric effects (like when a rubber band cools upon being stretched), and these can reveal otherwise hidden properties and phase transitions.
More tomorrow.  (One fun idea from a colleague:  Perhaps the program officers have hidden a secret easter egg token somewhere in the Gather virtual poster area, and whoever finds it gets a bonus award supplement to support a summer undergrad....)

DOE Experimental Condensed Matter Physics PI meeting, 2021

Every two years, the US Department of Energy Experimental Condensed Matter Physics program has a principal investigator meeting, and I've written up highlights of these for a while (for 2019, see a, b, c;  2017, see abc; for 2015 see abc; for 2013 see ab).

The meetings have always been very educational for me.  They're a chance to get a sense of the breadth of the whole program and the research portfolio.  It is unfortunate that the covid pandemic has forced this year's meeting to be virtual.  I'll do my best to summarize some tidbits in posts over the next three days.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Moiré materials and the Mott transition

There are back-to-back papers in Nature this week, one out of Columbia and one out of Cornell, using bilayers of transition metal dichalcogenides to examine the Mott transition.  (Sorry for the brevity - I'm pressed for time right now, but I wanted to write something....)

As I described ages ago in here, imagine a lattice of sites, each containing one electron.  While quantum statistics would allow each site to be doubly occupied (thanks to spin), if the on-site electron-electron repulsion \(U\) is sufficiently strong (large compared to the kinetic energy scale \(t\) associated with hopping between neighboring sites), then the interacting system will be an insulator even though the non-interacting version would be a metal.  Moving away from this half-filling condition, you can get conduction, just as having an empty site allows those sliding tile puzzles to work.

As discussed here, in bilayers of 2D materials can lead to the formation of a moiré lattice, where the interlayer interactions result in an effective periodic array of potential wells.  The Columbia folks got a moiré pattern by using a 4-5 degree twisted bilayer of WSe2, while the Cornell folks instead used an aligned bilayer of MoTe2 and WSe2 (where the moiré comes from the differing lattice constants).  In both cases, you end up with a triangular moiré lattice (encapsulated in hBN to provide a clean charge environment and protection from the air).  

The investigators are able to tune the systems in multiple ways.  With overall gate voltage, they can capacitively tune the "filling", the ratio of number of "free" charges to number of moiré lattice sites.  By adjusting top gate vs. back gate, they can tune the vertical electric field across the bilayer, and that is a way of tuning interactions by pushing around localized wavefunctions for the lattice sites.  

Both groups find that they can tune in/out of a Mott insulating phase when they're at one carrier per moiré lattice site.  Interestingly, both groups see that the Mott transition is continuous (second-order) - there is no sudden onset of insulating response as a function of tuning either knob.  Instead, there appears to be quantum critical scaling, and regions of linear-in-\(T\) temperature dependence of the resistivity (a possible indicator of a strange metal) on either side of the insulating region.  The Cornell folks are able to do magnetic circular dichroism measurements to confirm that the transition does not involve obvious magnetic ordering. 

This is very pretty work, and it shows the promise of the moiré lattice approach for studying fundamental issues (like whether or not the Mott transition in a triangular lattice is continuous).  I'm sure that there will be much more to come in these and related systems.

Monday, September 06, 2021

What is the spin Hall effect?

The Hall Effect is an old (1879) story, told in first-year undergraduate physics classes for decades. Once students are told about the Lorentz force law, it's easy to make a handwave classical argument that something like the Hall Effect has to exist:  Drive a current in a conductor in the presence of a magnetic induction \(\mathbf{B}\).  Charged particles undergo a \(q \mathbf{v} \times \mathbf{B}\) force that pushes them transverse to their original \(\mathbf{v}\) direction.  In a finite slab of material with current perpendicular to \(\mathbf{B}\), the particles have to pile up at the transverse edge, leading to the development of a (Hall) voltage perpendicular to the direction of current flow and the magnetic induction.  You can measure the Hall voltage readily, and it's used for sensing magnetic fields, as well as figuring out charge carrier densities in materials.

The spin Hall effect, in contrast, is a much newer idea.  It was first proposed by Dyakonov and Perel in 1971 as an extrinsic effect (that is, induced by scattering from impurities in a material), and this was revisited in 1999 by Hirsch and others.  It's also possible to have an intrinsic spin Hall effect (proposed here and here) due just to the electronic structure of a material itself, not involving impurities.

Adapted from here.

So what is the SHE?  In some non-magnetic conductors, in the absence of any external magnetic field, a charge current (say in the \(+x\) direction) results in a build-up of electrons with spin polarized up (down) along the \(z\) direction along the positive (negative) \(y\) edge of the material, as shown in the bottom left drawing of the figure.  Note that there is no net charge imbalance or transverse voltage - just a net spin imbalance. 

The SHE is a result of spin-orbit coupling - it's fundamentally a relativistic effect (!).  While we static observers see only electric fields in the material, the moving charge carriers in their frame of reference see effective magnetic fields, and that affects carrier motion.  In the extrinsic SHE, scattering of carriers from impurities ends up having a systematic spin dependence, so that spin-up carriers are preferentially scattered one way and spin-down carriers are scattered the other.  In the intrinsic SHE, there ends up being a spin-dependent term in the semiclassical velocity that one would get from the band structure, because of spin-orbit effects.  (The anomalous Hall effect, when one observes a Hall voltage correlated with the magnetization of a magnetic conductor, is closely related.  The net charge imbalance shows up because the populations of different spins are not equal in a ferromagnet.)  The result is a spin current density \(\mathbf{J}_{\mathrm{s}}\) that is perpendicular to the charge current density \(\mathbf{J}_{\mathrm{c}}\), and is characterized by a (material-dependent) spin Hall angle, \(\theta_{\mathrm{SH}}\), so that \(J_{\mathrm{s}} = (\hbar/2e)\theta_{\mathrm{SH}}J_{\mathrm{c}}\).

There is also an inverse SHE:  if (appropriately oriented) spin polarized charge carriers are injected into a strong spin-orbit coupled non-magnetic metal (say along \(+x\) as in the bottom right panel of the figure), the result is a transverse (\(y\)-directed) charge current and transverse voltage build-up.  (It's this inverse SHE that is used to detect spin currents in spin Seebeck effect experiments.)

The SHE and ISHE have attracted a lot of interest for technological applications.  Generating a spin current via the SHE and using that to push around the magnetization of some magnetic material is called spin orbit torque, and here is a recent review discussing device ideas.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Rice University physics faculty search in experimental quantum science and technology

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University invites applications for tenure-track faculty positions in the broad area of experimental quantum science and technology. This encompasses quantum information processing, quantum sensing, quantum communication, quantum opto-mechanics, and quantum simulation in photonic, atomic/ionic, quantum-material, and other solid-state platforms. We seek outstanding scientists whose research will complement and extend existing activities in these areas within the Department and across the University. In addition to developing an independent and vigorous research program, the successful applicants will be expected to teach, on average, one undergraduate or graduate course each semester, and contribute to the service missions of the Department and University. The Department anticipates making appointments at the assistant professor level. A Ph.D. in physics or related field is required.

Beginning September 1, 2021, applications for this position must be submitted electronically at apply.interfolio.com/92734 .

Applications for this position must be submitted electronically. Applicants will be required to submit the following: (1) cover letter; (2) curriculum vitae; (3) statement of research; (4) statement on teaching; (5) statement on diversity, mentoring, and outreach; (6) PDF copies of up to three publications; and (7) the names, affiliations, and email addresses of three professional references. Rice University, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, are strongly committed to a culturally diverse intellectual community. In this spirit, we particularly welcome applications from all genders and members of historically underrepresented groups who exemplify diverse cultural experiences and who are especially qualified to mentor and advise all members of our diverse student population.We will begin reviewing applications November 15, 2021. To receive full consideration, all application materials must be received by January 1, 2022. The expected appointment date is July, 2022.  

Rice University is an Equal Opportunity Employer with commitment to diversity at all levels, and considers for employment qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, genetic information, disability or protected veteran status.