Nadya Mason receives 2020 Edward A. Bouchet Award of the American Physical Society

Siv Schwink for Illinois Physics

Illinois Physics Professor Nadya Mason. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Illinois Physics Professor Nadya Mason. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor of Physics Nadya Mason has won the 2020 Edward A. Bouchet Award of the American Physical Society (APS). This award recognizes a distinguished underrepresented-minority physicist who has made significant contributions to physics research and the advancement of scientists from underrepresented groups.

The citation reads “For impactful experimental research on low-dimensional superconducting and topological materials and devices, and for the promotion of diversity and inclusiveness in the scientific workforce, enhancing opportunities for underrepresented groups through leadership, service, and mentoring.”

Mason comments, “It’s a tremendous honor to receive this award, and now be in the company of the great and committed scientists who have won this before me. I really appreciate that this award is for both scientific impact and for enhancing diversity, because I think great science and inclusivity go hand-in-hand—open minds and variety of thought lead to better work. Personally, I work best in an environment that is supportive and collaborative. So it’s a big goal of mine to foster these environments in physics and create opportunities for others to thrive within them.”

Mason is an experimental condensed matter physicist who has made seminal contributions to our understanding of electronic transport in low-dimensional systems at the quantum limit. Her group works to characterize the novel electronic properties and emergent phenomena of low-dimensional systems including carbon nanotubes and graphene, superconductivity, and topological materials. Her extensive body of research has applications in technologies using high-temperature superconductors and semi-conductors, and more specifically for the development of new nanotechnologies for quantum computing.

A striking example of her innovative experimental work, Mason and her team were the first to create nano-patterned superconducting systems by installing arrays of superconducting “islands” on top of normal metals to produce tunable proximity-coupled superconductor arrays. The results of this work were published in 2012 in the journal Nature Physics. This was the first-ever study of a hybrid “strange metal” superconductor and normal metal system having tunable emergent properties. This novel line of inquiry has strong implications for the development of new superconducting technologies.

In another important accomplishment, Mason and her team at Illinois were the first ever to isolate and measure individual Andreev bound states in graphene. Theoretically predicted in the 1960s, these individual, gate-tunable superconducting states likewise have strong implications for applications in improved electronic devices, including superconducting transistors and topological qubits for quantum computing. These results were published in Nature Physics in 2011.

Mason serves her scientific community in several roles. She is the director of the Illinois Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (I-MRSEC) on the Urbana campus. Funded by the National Science Foundation with additional support from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Materials Research Laboratory, the center is dedicated to performing fundamental, innovative materials research with applications to societal needs and to supporting interdisciplinary education and training of students in materials design. Mason has developed a research agenda for I-MRSEC that is both broad and deep in its goals, encouraging interdisciplinary collaborations that include both theoretical and experimental lines of attack.

Mason is also a member of the 2018/19 class of the Defense Science Study Group, a program of education and study in national defense and security challenges directed by the non-profit Institute for Defense Analyses and sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

From 2014 through 2017, Mason served as a general councilor of the APS. She also served as one of the theme leaders for the DOE Basic Energy Sciences cluster on quantum materials and nanoarchitectures (2013).

Mason has long been an avid spokesperson for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the sciences. Among her many professional activities encouraging greater involvement by underrepresented groups in the scientific enterprise, Mason served on the APS Committee on Minorities (COM) from 2013 to 2017, and as its chair from 2014 to 2017. As Chair of COM, she spearheaded the development of the National Mentoring Community, which aims to match a mentor to every URM undergraduate physics major.

At Illinois, Mason has served as Chair of the Physics Diversity Committee and on the Gender Equity Council. She has organized science-based workshops and lab tours for the local chapters of the Society for Women in Physics and the Society for Women in Engineering, inviting high-school students and teachers from underrepresented groups to take part.

Beyond Illinois, Mason regularly organizes the condensed matter sessions at the National Conference of Black and Hispanic Physicists and has undertaken numerous mentoring activities for underrepresented groups, including women. Some examples of this are her participating in multiple conferences for undergraduate women in physics and participating in an Imhotep Academy ceremony in Nova Scotia.

Illinois Physics Professor and former Head Dale Van Harlingen remarks, “In addition to her scientific leadership and far-reaching scholarly activities, Nadya has focused her prodigious intellect, enormous energy, and infectious zest for physics into becoming an informative and engaging spokesperson for the importance of diversity in physics and for creating a climate in science that embraces and supports those who have historically been excluded.”

Mason has also demonstrated tremendous dedication to scientific outreach to the non-scientific community. Recently, through I-MRSEC, Mason produced a four-part science-themed web mini-series for teens called “Magnetic Fields” that is both educational and entertaining. Mason is regularly featured on the local Champaign-Urbana CBS affiliate WCIA’s “Whys Guys” science segment, demonstrating scientific concepts to a public audience. And Mason plays the main character Dr. Albert Schrödenberg in narrative of two LabEscape adventures, appearing in pre-recorded video for the popular Urbana science-themed escape-room outreach project.

Mason is the recipient of numerous accolades. At Illinois, she is the John Bardeen Faculty Scholar in Physics and is a University Scholar. She is a recipient of the Grainger Engineering Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research and a Center for Advanced Study Fellowship.

Mason’s national recognitions include the Maria Goeppert Mayer Award of the APS, the Denice Denton Emerging Leader ABIE Award of, a Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship, and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

Mason received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1995 and a doctorate in physics from Stanford University in 2001. She returned to Harvard for postdoctoral training, where she was elected junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. She joined the faculty at Illinois Physics in 2005.


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