Taylor Hughes selected for 2015 Young Investigator Program

Siv Schwink

Assistant Professor Taylor Hughes
Assistant Professor Taylor Hughes
Assistant Professor Taylor Hughes has been selected for the 2015 Young Investigator Program of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), one of the oldest and most selective scientific research advancement programs in the country. Hughes is among 36 early-career university faculty selected for the program this year from across the nation. Each will receive annual monetary awards over a three-year period for research efforts that hold promise for advancing naval technologies.

Hughes will use the award, which extends his previous ONR funded research, to explore new classes of electronic materials including crystalline topological insulators (TCIs) and topological semi-metals (TSMs), with interactions. Both of these classes of materials are expected to exhibit remarkable properties, some of which are yet to be predicted.

Both TCIs and TSMs rely on the presence of certain spatial crystalline symmetries for robustness. Hughes’s work will study the materials’ electromagnetic response properties, sensitivity to strain, disorder, and electron interactions, and the properties of topological bound states localized on crystalline defects. The ultimate goal of this research program is to discover new unconventional topological phases of matter and to exploit the materials’ electromagnetic response properties that might provide a portfolio of capabilities not found in conventional materials.

“Topological materials have electromagnetic properties that are advantageous for real-world applications,” explains Hughes, “including possible room-temperature operation, robustness against imperfections and disorder, and ease of growth/processing, while also supporting exotic fundamental physical phenomena. TCIs and TSMs are the next wave of materials—they hold a lot of promise for further theoretical and experimental breakthroughs, especially when the effects of strong electron correlations are considered. The likelihood of finding interesting physics in these materials is almost assured, and the potential for device applications is immense.”

This work has implications for possible applications in electronic devices, superconductivity, and quantum computing.

Hughes is a recipient of numerous honors. He received a 2014 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, the 2014 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and of a 2013 Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He is a member of the Institute of Condensed Matter Theory and of the US Department of Energy’s Quantum Materials at the Nanoscale research effort headquartered at the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Hughes received his bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics from the University of Florida in 2003, graduating summa cum laude. He then worked for a year as a software engineer for the Department of Defense. He went on to receive his doctoral degree from Stanford University in 2009, working under Shou-Cheng Zhang.

Hughes completed a postdoctoral appointment at Physics Illinois and the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory (2009-2011), working under Professor Eduardo Fradkin. He joined the faculty at Physics Illinois in 2011.

The Young Investigator Program, administered by the Office of Naval Research, is designed to promote the professional development of early-career academic scientists, both as researchers and instructors. Candidates are selected based on merit and potential breakthrough advances for the Navy and Marine Corps. Since its inception in 1985, the program has supported research that led to breakthroughs in nanoscience, fiber-laser systems, ultrafast optoelectronic devices, and more. All told, this year’s awardees will receive $18.8 million in grants, which represents a 50 percent increase over last year’s program funding.

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