Carnegie Mellon University
May 15, 2019

Physics Professor Awarded Simons Fellowship

By Ben Panko

Associate Professor of Physics Di Xiao has been awarded a fellowship by the Simons Foundation. The fellowship will allow Xiao to take a sabbatical from teaching for the 2019-20 academic year to focus on research.

Xiao, whose research centers around quantum condensed matter theory, plans to take advantage of the fellowship to dig into magnetic and electric multipoles in crystalline solids.

The structure of a crystal sometimes can cause "exotic arrangements" of electric and magnetic charges and currents, Xiao notes, which can be described by multipoles.

For example, a toroidal moment is realized by the magnetic moments arranging themselves into a circle with head-to-tail pattern, forming the shape of an uroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a snake eating its own tail. These states exhibit unusual cross-coupling effects between electricity and magnetism, offering the prospect of controlling magnetism using the electric field and vice versa.

"My plan is to develop a theory to describe these quantum states," Xiao said. "It is going to be a challenging problem and the Simons Fellowship will allow me to focus my time on this problem."

The Simons Foundation was founded in 1994 to support research in mathematics and the basic sciences. Xiao was one of nine theoretical physicists awarded fellowships by the foundation this year.