Shedding Nanolight on Quantum Materials

  • Speaker
  • Dmitri Basov, Ph.D.Professor and Chair of Physics, Columbia University
Date & Time


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Simons Foundation Presidential Lectures are free public colloquia centered on four main themes: Biology, Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Neuroscience and Autism Science. These curated, high-level scientific talks feature leading scientists and mathematicians and are intended to foster discourse and drive discovery among the broader NYC-area research community. We invite researchers in the area — as well as interested members of the metropolitan public — to join us for this weekly lecture series.

Optical imaging is pervasive in daily life and modern technology. Unfortunately, optics encounters problems when it comes to “seeing” objects much smaller than the wavelength of light. This limitation is a common roadblock in studying quantum materials that host various unexplored quantum phases. Interesting effects in these systems often occur at nanometer scales that are much shorter than the wavelength of light. The wavelength obstacle in imaging is epitomized under the notion of the ‘diffraction limit’ and is particularly acute in the infrared range where the wavelength is exceptionally long (tens or even thousands of microns).

Over the last decade, Dmitri Basov and his group have introduced and deployed a fundamentally different form of optical imaging suited to extend infrared and optical experiments to the nanoscale. They no longer use free-space photons to study the physics of quantum materials. Instead, their imaging agent is a hybrid quasiparticle known as a polariton comprised of a photon and material excitations. Polaritons are incredibly compact, beating the diffraction by several orders of magnitude. Yet they are mobile and can surf along the sample surfaces over macroscopic distances. As Basov and his coauthors track ‘nanolight’ polaritonic waves with home-built tools, they learn about the physics of quantum materials supporting these waves. In this talk, Basov will discuss several examples of progress in understanding electronic phenomena and topological effects in solids all empowered by nanolight.

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About the Speaker

Basov is a Higgins professor and chair of the department of physics at Columbia University. He is also the director of the Department of Energy’s Energy Frontiers Research Center on Programmable Quantum Materials and co-director of the Max Planck–New York City Center for Nonequilibrium Quantum Phenomena. He previously served as a professor and chair of physics at the University of California, San Diego.

His research interests include the physics of quantum materials, superconductivity, two-dimensional materials and infrared nano-optics.

He received a Sloan fellowship in 1999, the Genzel Prize in 2014, the Humboldt research award in 2009, the Frank Isakson Prize in 2012 and the K.J. Button Prize in 2019. He was a Moore Investigator in 2014 and 2020 and earned a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense in 2019. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2020.

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