UT Austin & CCNY physicists receive Keck Foundation boost for quantum materials research

Physicists at the University of Texas at Austin and The City College of New York are the recipients of a highly competitive $1.1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to explore exotic phases of matter in atomically thin quantum materials. The project is only one of five selected by the foundation this year in the science and engineering category; five more were selected for medical grants.

Vinod Menon, professor of physics in the Division of Science, is the CCNY scientist on the team that also includes UT Austin’s Allan H. MacDonald, Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in Physics; and assistant professor of physics Edoardo Baldini.

The grant will support three years of research. Over this period, Menon will lead the design and implementation of advanced resonators operating in the infrared to engineer vacuum fluctuations. MacDonald will establish the theoretical framework for exploring atomically thin materials within quantum cavities, while Baldini will investigate the emergence of various phases of matter using state-of-the-art spectroscopy and microscopy tools.

Over the past decade, researchers have designed and built ultrathin materials that exhibit exotic quantum properties that could be useful in a range of applications from quantum computers to transmitting electricity without losing energy. But these quantum properties are often highly unstable, only lasting for very short timescales or at extremely low temperatures. 

Baldini’s lab will develop a new approach to possibly stabilize the useful properties of these materials for far longer and at higher temperatures. This approach involves creating an environment around the material – called a quantum cavity – that harnesses fluctuations in the vacuum electromagnetic field to stabilize the material’s properties. These quantum cavities developed by Menon’s lab will operate in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum and integrate atomically thin materials that host exotic quantum phases. The researchers will specifically target superconductivity, a state in which electrons propagate without losing energy. They will also explore “fractional Chern insulator states,” where electrons don’t exhibit their usual electric charge—called the elementary charge—but instead some fraction of it.

One of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, the W. M. Keck Foundation supports scientific, engineering, and medical research in the United States. It was founded in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder and president of Superior Oil Company (now part of ExxonMobil). The Foundation's net assets exceeded $1.3 billion at the end of 2019.

About The City College of New York
Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided a high-quality and affordable education to generations of New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. CCNY embraces its position at the forefront of social change. It is ranked #1 by the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights out of 369 selective public colleges in the United States on the overall mobility index. This measure reflects both access and outcomes, representing the likelihood that a student at CCNY can move up two or more income quintiles. Education research organization Degree Choices ranks CCNY #1 nationally among universities for economic return on investment. In addition, the Center for World University Rankings places CCNY in the top 1.8% of universities worldwide in terms of academic excellence. Labor analytics firm Emsi (now Lightcast) puts at $1.9 billion CCNY’s annual economic impact on the regional economy (5 boroughs and 5 adjacent counties) and quantifies the “for dollar” return on investment to students, taxpayers and society. At City College, more than 15,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in eight schools and divisions, driven by significant funded research, creativity and scholarship. This year, CCNY launched its most expansive fundraising campaign, ever. The campaign, titled “Doing Remarkable Things Together” seeks to bring the College’s Foundation to more than $1 billion in total assets in support of the College mission. CCNY is as diverse, dynamic and visionary as New York City itself. View CCNY Media Kit.

Jay Mwamba
p: 917.892.0374
e:  jmwamba@ccny.cuny.edu