Olli V. Lounasmaa Memorial Prize awarded to Professor J.C. Séamus Davis

The winner of the 2020 prize tells us about his research in quantum materials
The Olli V Lounasmaa Memorial Prize 2020 awarded to JC Séamus Davis

The Olli V. Lounasmaa Memorial Prize is awarded once every four years to a scientist who has made outstanding contributions to advances in low temperature physics and related fields. It is named in honour of the founder of the Low Temperature Laboratory at Aalto University, and world-leading researcher in low temperature physics.

The 2020 prize has been awarded to Professor J.C. Séamus Davis for his pioneering research into visualizing electronic quantum matter at the atomic scale.

Professor Davis’s research group operates laboratories at the University of Oxford, University College Cork, and Cornell University. ‘My work is in the development of the instruments for discovering and visualizing new quantum states of matter,’ says Professor Davis. The work is exploratory, setting out to find quantum states that haven’t been demonstrated in the real world before. ‘Common phases of matter like solids, liquids and gasses with properties like conducting electricity or being magnetic, are well known because materials we can pull out the ground have these properties,’ Professor Davis explains, ‘but quantum mechanics doesn’t limit us to just these phases and properties. There are many more phases and properties that could exist, we’ve just got to find and understand them.’ Professor Davis compares the field to Columbus’s discovery of the New World whilst searching for a route to the Indies, in that researchers set out into the unknown, discover unexpected new ‘continents’ and then have to explore and understand what they’ve found.

Professor Davis’s group members work together on research projects that use the complementary resources and instruments available at each site. Most recently, they have discovered and visualized the first Pair Density Wave state, a new state of matter comprising a crystal of electron Cooper-pairs, instead of the dissipationless fluid of Cooper-pairs that form a superconductor. ‘This is one of those newly discovered continents that we’re still working hard on uncovering.’ His team are also developing instruments to try and visualize the elusive quantum spin liquid, a state of matter which has been known to exist theoretically for decades, but has not yet been observed definitively in experiments. ‘When you build your own tools, you’re more likely to find something interesting. If we can visualize these spin liquid states at atomic scale it could be revolutionary, because when you can actually see things, you can understand them much better’ explains Professor Davis.

The award citation praises the work Professor Davis has done in developing the equipment and technology for low temperature physics:

He has pioneered the development and applications of electronic matter visualization techniques in the low temperature regime. Today, the instruments emulating his design have spawned a worldwide revolution in electronic quantum matter studies, allowing direct visualization of electronic matter. His persistent scientific and technological work has generated numerous advances in the understanding of strongly correlated superconductivity, changing the direction of discourse in the field of low temperature physics.

The prize will be announced on September 4th 2020 at the international condensed matter physics conference CMD2020GEFES, organized online. The Prize Fund receives endowment from Bluefors, the world’s leading manufacturer of customized cryogen-free, ultra-low temperature dilution refrigerators. Bluefors is a spin-off company from the Low Temperature Laboratory of Aalto University.

More information:

Professor Davis’s Research website
The Olli V. Lounasmaa memorial prize website


Professor Pertti Hakonen
Chair of the Olli V. Lounasmaa selection panel
Aalto University Department of Applied Physics
[email protected]

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