Uncharted ground in condensed matter systems offers immense opportunity

Solid materials, comprised of many billions of interacting ions and electrons, present boundless opportunities for discovery and create the basis of modern technology. Quantum materials are substances in which interactions among constituent electrons and strong quantum-mechanical effects lead to a great variety of emergent phenomena—cooperative behaviors that cannot be predicted from the properties of individual electrons. A well-known example is high-temperature superconductivity, in which electrons form bound pairs despite their electrical repulsion and flow without any resistance. Other, equally striking, emergent phenomena include: “heavy” electrons that appear to be hundreds or thousands of times more massive than free electrons; exotic emergent particles with properties different from any known elementary particle; and electrons that self-organize into complex spatial patterns, reminiscent of the behavior of molecules in a liquid crystal display.  

The exotic collective properties of electrons underlying emergent phenomena in materials have perplexed scientists for decades. However, with advances in nanotechnology and instrument design as well as recent experimental and theoretical progress, significant change is taking place and opening new opportunities for discovery. This progress has been driven largely by:

  • New ways to create materials, including atomic-control synthesis of hybrid materials with unique and tunable emergent properties, creating an almost infinite number of possible structures;
  • Ultra-sensitive measurement tools that can probe structural, electronic and magnetic properties on the sub-atomic scale, and
  • New theoretical frameworks for understanding and predicting materials' electronic properties and powerful new approaches to calculating the electronic structure of complex solids. 

We established the Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) Initiative as an integrated research program in quantum materials that includes materials synthesis, experiment and theory, and that crosses the boundaries among physics, chemistry and materials science. The initiative supports exploratory research with the aim of accelerating progress in the field and propelling it into a state in which new, deeper questions can be asked about organizing principles of complex quantum matter and the materials can be interrogated in superior new ways. While we support basic research, we also expect some of these materials will find applications in new technologies that improve human life or change the way science is done. To achieve our initiative's goal, we implement four interrelated strategies:  

  • People: Maximize the potential of a group of top experimentalists and theorists to make breakthrough discoveries in the field of quantum materials.
  • Materials Synthesis: Bolster synthesis and discovery of quantum materials and improve career paths for materials synthesis scientists. 
  • Flexible Funding: Enhance experimental capabilities at leading research institutions and enable rapid response to new developments in the field. 
  • Community Building: Create and sustain a collaborative research community to promote the exchange of materials and knowledge. 
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IMPACT STATEMENT

Stimulate breakthroughs that fundamentally change our understanding of the organizing principles of complex matter. 

KEY DATA POINTS

Materials hide a universe of complexity

A cubic centimeter of solid material has about as many atoms as there are stars in the observable universe.

  • first award

    Jun 2013

  • grants to date

    $85,956,713

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