Gregory Fiete is a professor of Physics at the Northeastern University. He spent 10 years at the University of Texas, Austin before joining Northeastern. He is leading a team of theoretical physicists who study subatomic behaviours hidden within superconductors and other rare materials that could lead to better and faster technologies based on quantum physics. It is quite difficult to understand the inner workings of these materials as some of the laws of quantum physics aren’t exactly intuitive. Some physicists believe that certain rules of quantum mechanics can be spooky and make people uncomfortable. According to Fiete, exploring the possibilities hidden within quantum materials through theories and calculations isn’t much different from recognising the patterns of activity that helped him make big catches based on moon phases.
Fiete’s team focuses on the fundamental behaviours and characteristics that move electrons to produce new properties within special materials, such as superconductors. They are trying to push the field to dig deeper and build on knowledge to understand the mechanics controlling the collective behaviour of electrons within solid matter. These motions can have important implications for the ability of a material to conserve energy or transmit heat. He suspects that in the next 80 years, the understanding that he and other scientists are building will bring the power of technologies based on quantum physics within a closer reach for researchers in several fields. It also catalyses a new era of technology that relies on quantum computers. Such computers could calculate in minutes what would take the supercomputers of today thousands of years. However, in order to do that, researchers need to extrapolate the understanding that theoretical physicists already have of electrons to harness the hidden powers of quantum materials.
Just as internal forces drive quantum materials, Fiete says, the intangible aspects of being a physicist will advance his field.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman