Barry Bradlyn receives NSF CAREER Award

Siv Schwink for Illinois Physics

Illinois Physics Professor Barry Bradlyn. Photo by Fred Zwicky, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Illinois Physics Professor Barry Bradlyn. Photo by Fred Zwicky, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Illinois Physics Assistant Professor Barry Bradlyn has been selected for a 2020 National Science Foundation CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) Award. This award is conferred annually in support of junior faculty who excel in the role of teacher-scholars by integrating outstanding research programs with excellent educational programs. Receipt of this award also reflects great promise for a lifetime of leadership within the recipients’ respective fields.

Bradlyn is a theoretical condensed matter physicist whose work studying the novel quantum properties inherent in topological insulators and topological semimetals has already shed new light on these extraordinary systems. Among his contributions, he developed a real-space formulation of topological band theory, allowing for the prediction of many new topological insulators and semimetals.

Topology is the mathematical concept that quantum properties are conserved even when the shape of a material is contorted or stretched. Over the last decade, physicists have made great strides in understanding the bizarre emergent quantum phenomena in topological materials, including the ability of some classical insulators to carry electrical current without resistance along their edges.

Because topology is robust, it has great potential for new technologies, especially in classical-computing and quantum-computing hardware. But many obstacles to our understanding of topological materials still stand in the way of developing such technologies.

Bradlyn’s CAREER Award will support a project titled, “Topology and Geometry in Condensed Matter Systems.” Bradlyn and his research team will use symmetries to characterize properties of topological materials through their interactions with external probes, such as light and magnetic fields. Examining the interplay between crystal symmetries and electron-electron interactions in these materials will enable Bradlyn’s team to discover new examples of topology in existing materials and to design new topological materials. This work has strong implications for advances in quantum computing.

Bradlyn’s CAREER Award will additionally support education in quantum science through the development of an advanced graduate course at Illinois Physics on Berry phases and topology in electronic structure. The grant will also support training of undergraduate researchers on his team in theoretical physics and quantum information science. Furthermore, the grant will provide support for an outreach plan that uses techniques from statistical physics to study online harassment and its spread across social media platforms, demonstrating the applications of physics to data science.

Bradlyn is a member of the Institute for Condensed Matter Physics and of the Illinois Quantum Information Science and Technology Center, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship (2020). He is the very first Illinois faculty member ever to receive the McMillan Award (2019), presented annually by Illinois Physics to an outstanding early-career condensed matter physicist working anywhere in the world.

Bradlyn received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009 and a doctoral degree in physics from Yale University in 2015. From 2015 to 2018, he held a postdoctoral research position at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science, before joining the faculty at Illinois Physics in 2018.

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