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College of Arts and Sciences

Physicist receives prize for ‘pioneering research’

By: Staff
A&S Communications
July 2, 2020

Physicist J.C. Séamus Davis has been awarded the 2020 Olli V. Lounasmaa Memorial Prize for his pioneering research into visualizing electronic quantum matter at the atomic scale. The prize is awarded once every four years to a scientist who has made outstanding contributions to advances in low temperature physics and related fields. The prize will be announced on September 4 at the international condensed matter physics conference CMD2020GEFES.

“Today, the instruments emulating [Davis’] design have spawned a worldwide revolution in electronic quantum matter studies, allowing direct visualization of electronic matter,” noted the award committee in their citation.  “His persistent scientific and technological work has generated numerous advances in the understanding of strongly correlated superconductivity, changing the direction of discourse in the field of low temperature physics.’

Davis described his research as developing instruments “for discovering and visualizing new quantum states of matter” -- quantum states that haven’t been demonstrated in the real world before. “Common phases of matter like solids, liquids and gasses with properties like conducting electricity or being magnetic, are well known because materials we can pull out the ground have these properties, but quantum mechanics doesn’t limit us to just these phases and properties. There are many more phases and properties that could exist, we’ve just got to find and understand them,” said Davis, the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Davis operates laboratories at Cornell, the University of Oxford and University College Cork. His group members work together on research projects that use the complementary resources and instruments available at each site. Most recently, they have discovered and visualized the first Pair Density Wave state, a new state of matter comprising a crystal of electron Cooper-pairs, instead of the dissipationless fluid of Cooper-pairs that form a superconductor. His team are also developing instruments to try and visualize the elusive quantum spin liquid, a state of matter which has been known to exist theoretically for decades, but has not yet been observed definitively in experiments.

“When you build your own tools, you’re more likely to find something interesting. If we can visualize these spin liquid states at atomic scale it could be revolutionary, because when you can actually see things, you can understand them much better,” said Davis.