Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2014
Superconductivity in Strange Metals: Some Like It Hot
For the past several decades physicists have been studying a phenomenon of the so-called “strange” metallic state in a variety of materials. Because of strong interactions among electrons in these materials, electric current travels through them differently compared to regular metals such as aluminum or copper, although researchers aren’t entirely sure why. In some cases high-temperature superconductivity – which may prove important for future technologies -- can emerge out of the strange metallic state.
Nevidomskyy is using state-of-the-art analytical and computational techniques to investigate the “emergence” of superconductivity in these strange metals.
“Emergence” is a key concept in their work, as it is in certain areas of philosophy, systems theory, art and other fields of science. The term refers to the way non-trivial complex systems and patterns arise out of many relatively simple constituents.
“One way of thinking about this,” Nevidomskyy said, “is to envision a crowded stadium of football fans standing up in unison to create a traveling ‘wave.’ If one were to observe any one person, he would not see the wave, because it is an example of a collective behavior of the entire system.”
Interactions among constituent parts are the key to the emergence of new behaviors.
“To create emergent behavior, electrons must interact strongly amongst themselves, just like a football fan has to interact and play along with others around him to help create a 'wave,' “Nevidomskyy said
In the case of strange metals, he added, “The electrically charged particles of which they consist, fermions, are unlike ‘ordinary’ electrons. When an electric current or thermal heat flow travels through an ordinary metal, the electrons can be treated as moving independently and interacting only very weakly with each other. However, when a current travels through a strange metal, the electrons lose their individuality and create a collective excitation.” In other words, a new phenomenon emerges.
The Cottrell Scholars Award also supports Nevidomskyy’s goals as a teacher. He is developing active learning techniques for Rice University’s upper division undergraduate classes in quantum mechanics. He hopes to engage undergraduate students in research into the theoretical aspects of magnetism and superconductivity. He is also working to create digital visualizations of quantum phenomena, to be used in a master’s program for in-service high school teachers, and in a full-dome planetarium show aimed at a very broad audience, to raise the general public's awareness of the importance of fundamental research.