• Research
  • Condensed Matter Physics

Recently, a team of scientists led by Pablo Jarillo-Herrero at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a huge stir in the field of condensed matter physics when they showed that two sheets of graphene twisted at specific angles—dubbed “magic-angle” graphene—display two emergent phases of matter not observed in single sheets of graphene. Graphene is a honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms—it’s essentially a one-atom-thick layer of graphite, the dark, flaky material in pencils. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have recently shown that the insulating behavior reported by the MIT team has been misattributed. Professor Philip Phillips, a noted expert in the physics of Mott insulators, says a careful review of the MIT experimental data by his team revealed that the insulating behavior of the “magic-angle” graphene is not Mott insulation, but something even more profounda Wigner crystal.

  • In the Media

“Lots of people who come into physics can solve problems in a textbook,” he said. “They want research to be cut-and-dried. Those who want ordinary don’t last long. Those who do original thinking have done so in other aspects of their lives. They already were confronted with differences early in life rather than floating through it.”

So, yes, Chief Justice, minority students can bring all kinds of vital, unique ideas to physics. The field depends on it.

  • Accolades
  • Condensed Matter Physics

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has awarded 2015 Guggenheim fellowships to two University of Illinois faculty members: Wendy K. Tam Cho, professor of political science and of statistics, and Philip W. Phillips, professor of physics. Cho and Phillips are among 175 fellows chosen for "prior achievement and exceptional promise" from a group of more than 3,100 applying scholars, artists and scientists. To provide creative freedom, fellows are awarded unrestricted grants that they can apply to work of their choosing.

Phillips works in theoretical condensed matter physics. He has developed various models of how electrons travel through superconductors containing copper and iron and how electrons interact at temperatures near absolute zero. He is known for devising the random dimer model, a 1-dimensional model that conducts electricity, thereby providing a concrete counterexample to Anderson's localization theorem, and for developing the concept of Mottness, in which strong electron interactions lead to a breakdown on the particle concept in high-temperature superconductors.

Phillips plans to apply his award to understand how collective phenomena emerge from strong electron interactions and precisely how the principle of scale invariance simplifies the normal state of copper-oxide superconductors.