The Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) Initiative was established as an integrated research program that crosses the boundaries between physics, chemistry, and materials science. One of the interrelated strategies to achieve the initiative’s goal is community building – creating and sustaining a collaborative research community to promote the exchange of materials, methods, and knowledge.
In 2020, the annual EPiQS investigator symposium, a community activity cherished by the first cohort of grantees, had to be reimagined. The week-long in-person gathering of all grantees was condensed to a three-day virtual symposium, nicknamed EPiQS Zoomposium. Presentations by the newest grantees were prioritized as an opportunity for them to interact and meet the rest of the cohort. Plenary sessions were organized focused on effective science communication as well as diversity, equity and inclusion in physics. Also, a theory tutorial and a group discussion on a hot topic in physics were organized for the first time. To better understand the experience of the participants in this reimagined gathering, we reached out to three of them.
We spoke to EPiQS Experimental Investigator Vidya Madhavan, and EPiQS Materials Synthesis Investigator Johnpierre Paglione, who led the group discussion on topological superconductors, a hot topic at the frontier of the field of quantum materials. We also spoke with Srinivas Raghu, principal investigator of an EPiQS Theory Center, who led the tutorial on superconductors with broken time-reversal symmetry. This theory tutorial was identified as one of the highlights of the Zoomposium. Overall, the opportunity to dive deeply into specific topics was positively received by the participants and the Zoomposium has stimulated meaningful discussions among the EPiQS community.
Johnpierre Paglione, who directs a research group in the Quantum Materials Center at the University of Maryland, reflects, “leading a group discussion always forces one to put their work into a greater context. In the case of topological superconductivity, this kind of discussion is much needed because there is still not a consensus even on what exactly a topological superconductor is and what the key features of such materials should be for identification.” Vidya Madhavan’s group utilizes scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) techniques to probe the unusual electronic behavior that emerges in bulk and ultra-thin films of quantum materials. She describes, “as physicists, we are always searching for new phases of matter where we can find electrons or quasiparticles excitations that show unique, interesting properties that we have not seen before. Topological superconductivity is an example of such new phases. While there are theoretical predictions about what one might find when we probe a topological superconductor, there have been few experiments done on these materials (mainly since they have been hard to find).
To prepare for his Zoomposium tutorial, Srinivas Raghu and his student, Yue Yu, looked into Professor Madhavan’s experimental findings. Raghu, who is a condensed matter physicist, explains, “it was a great opportunity to think through how to present the key organizing principles that would be most useful to experimental scientists. In preparing the tutorial, I became familiar with the evolving story of superconductivity in the Uranium based material UTe2, and we are finalizing a manuscript that addresses some of the recent puzzling STM data carried out by Vidya Madhavan.” Reflecting on the bigger picture and the EPiQS initiative, Raghu says, “the Moore Foundation is playing a key role in enabling this work by supporting experimental efforts in the study of such superconductors. Such systems are actively studied in competing groups in Japan and China. By funding experimental efforts aimed at such materials, the Moore Foundation is enabling American scientists to play a leading role in developing and setting the agenda in the field.”
Both EPiQS investigators Madhavan and Paglione emphasize that the funding provided by the foundation enables them to pursue the most exciting and emerging areas of physics where scientists do not know what they might find. The EPiQS Initiative has provided them with the boost they needed to take the higher risks involved in properly pursuing ideas, hints, and sometimes gambles involved in trying to identify new materials. Community events like the in-person annual investigator symposium or the recent virtual Zoomposium are valuable opportunities to discuss their ideas with an audience that shares their passion for understanding the underlying physics of quantum materials.