S Lance Cooper

Associate Head for Graduate Programs


S Lance Cooper

Primary Research Area

  • Condensed Matter Physics
227B Loomis Laboratory
218 Seitz Materials Research Lab


Lance Cooper received a B.S. in Physics summa cum laude from the University of Virginia in 1982 and a Ph.D in Physics from the University of Illinois in 1988. After a two-year postdoctoral appointment at AT&T Bell Labs, Professor Cooper joined the UIUC faculty in 1990. From 1993-1995, he was a member of the Defense Science Study Group (DSSG), a Divisional Associate Editor for Physical Review Letters from 2006-2011, and the Secretary-Treasurer for the Division of Condensed Matter Physics of the American Physical Society from 2015-2019.

The Cooper group uses optical spectroscopy to reveal the properties of and excitations in novel states of matter in strongly correlated materials. His group has developed particular expertise in light-scattering experiments on materials under extreme conditions of low temperature, high pressure, and high magnetic field. The Cooper group's Raman spectroscopy experiments have shed light on the behavior of matter through various pressure- and magnetic-field-tuned quantum (T~0 K) phase transitions.

The Cooper group's first accomplishment with its "extreme conditions" optical spectroscopy capability was a study of the evolution of the crystal lattice ("phonon") and atomic spin dynamics through the pressure-tuned destruction of the insulating state of layered ruthenate materials. More recently, his group has studied how high pressures "melt" charge- and orbital-ordered insulating states, even at T=0 K, creating novel metallic phases. His group has also shown that magnetic fields can be used both to control the elastic properties of materials (e.g., "magnetic field induced shape memory") and to thwart long-range order down to T=0 K.

The Cooper group has used floating zone, vapor transport, evaporative, and other methods to grow high quality single crystals, including spinel materials such as Mn3O4 and CoCr2O4, orbital ordering materials such as KCuF3, layered chalcogenide materials such as TiSe2, and topological insulators like Bi2Se3.

Lance Cooper also runs a Physics Grad Student Blog with job, fellowship, academic deadline, and other information of interest to graduate students; the Physics Careers seminar, in which Physics PhDs -- mostly Illinois alumni -- describe their jobs and the importance of a physics PhD and their grad school experiences to their careers; and a Physics Grad Student Travel Award program.

Lance Cooper's Curriculum Vitae

Research Statement

Field- and pressure-tuned spectroscopy of magnetically frustrated and strong spin-lattice coupled materials
The development at low temperatures of some form of long-range order -- such as magnetism, orbital-order, charge-order, or superconductivity -- is ubiquitous in materials, and reflects the tendency of a material to lower its ground state degeneracy near T=0 K. We are interested in growing -- using float zone and other growth techniques -- and spectroscopically studying materials in which structural geometry and competing interactions conspire to frustrate the onset of long range magnetic and/or orbital order, even down to T=0 K. This interest is motivated by the novel low temperature phase behavior frustrated materials have been proposed to exhibit -- including orbital- and spin-liquid phases -- and by a desire to elucidate the connection between frustration and exotic properties such as colossal magnetoresistance, and multiferroic and magnetodielectric behavior. Our current efforts include using various single crystal growth methods to grow geometically frustrated materials, and then applying field- and pressure-dependent optical spectroscopy to study orbital- and spin-disordered phases in several classes of materials, including the layered ruthenates, spinels such as Mn3O4, iridates like Sr2IrO4, and vanadates such as Ni3V2O8. Our results have revealed interesting routes by which magnetic and orbital frustration can be tuned with field or pressure and show the connection between orbital/spin frustration and highly tunable properties of matter.

Field- and pressure-tuned melting of orbital order in correlated materials
We are also interested in creating and investigating novel orbital-liquid phases in various orbital-ordered systems such as Ca2RuO4, Ca3Ru2O7,and KCuF3. Our results have revealed pressure-induced transitions to novel quantum liquid-like phases in which structural elements fluctuate even at T=0 K, as well as pressure- and magnetic-field-tunable insulator-metal transitions governed by controllable changes induced in the orbital population.

Pressure-tuned quantum phase transitions and superconductivity in layered chalcogenide materials
We are interested in studying how charge ordered and charge density wave (CDW) states melt into disordered quantum phases at low temperatures and investigating the novel phases that are predicted to develop under these conditions. To study this, we use vapor transport growth methods to grow various layered chalcogenide single crystals, including TiSe2, TaSe2, TaS2, Bi2Se3, and Bi2Te3, and we study the quantum (T~0 K) phase transitions in these materials using pressure- and temperature-dependent inelastic light scattering. For example, our low temperature, pressure-dependent inelastic light scattering studies of the critical ('soft') mode in 1T-TiSe2 indicate that lattice compression leads to quantum melting of the CDW phase through a novel incommensurate phase that may have hexatic order, and our more recent light scattering studies of the soft mode in CuxTiSe2 provided evidence for x-dependent quantum mode softening and the coexistence of fluctuating CDW order and superconductivity in this system.

Teaching Honors

  • 2011 Engineering Council Outstanding Advisor Award
  • 2008 Arnold T. Nordsieck Award for Teaching Excellence
  • 2006 Excellence in Lecturing Award, UIUC Student Senate
  • 2013 American Physical Society Outstanding Referee Award
  • Sony Faculty Scholar, 2003-2006
  • Fellow, American Physical Society, 2003

Semesters Ranked Excellent Teacher by Students

Fall 2020PHYS 596
Spring 2020PHYS 598
Fall 2019PHYS 596
Spring 2019PHYS 598
Fall 2018PHYS 596
Spring 2018PHYS 598
Fall 2017PHYS 596
Spring 2017PHYS 598
Fall 2016PHYS 596
Spring 2016PHYS 598
Spring 2015PHYS 598
Fall 2014PHYS 596
Spring 2014PHYS 598
Fall 2013PHYS 596
Spring 2013PHYS 598
Fall 2012PHYS 596
Fall 2010PHYS 499
Spring 2010PHYS 496
Fall 2009PHYS 499
Spring 2009PHYS 496
Fall 2008PHYS 499
Spring 2008PHYS 496
Fall 2007PHYS 487
Fall 2006PHYS 487
Spring 2006PHYS 486
Fall 2005PHYS 499
Spring 2005PHYS 498
Fall 2004PHYS 498
Spring 2004PHYS 383
Spring 2001PHYS 114

Selected Articles in Journals

Related news

  • Research Funding

The University of Illinois Writing Across Engineering & Science (WAES) program has been awarded $599,999 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the research project Advancing Adaptation of Writing Pedagogies for Undergraduate STEM Education Through Transdisciplinary Action Research. This research program, which ultimately aims to incorporate effective technical writing as a core skill taught in STEM courses across the university, is funded through NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program: Education and Human Resources.

  • Outreach
  • Accessibility

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physics graduate student Colin Lualdi quickly realized he was venturing into uncharted territory when he arrived at Illinois Physics at the start of Fall 2017. Deaf since birth and a native speaker of American Sign Language (ASL), Lualdi was now among a very small group worldwide of Deaf individuals working in physics. The exhilaration of performing cutting-edge research was accompanied by a sobering discovery: the lack of a common language model for effective scientific discourse in ASL was going to be a far greater challenge than he’d anticipated. Lualdi has embraced his own accessibility challenges as an opportunity to address a pressing need in the broader Deaf community. He has teamed up with colleagues at other research institutions to develop a robust and shared framework for scientific discourse in ASL. Specifically, Colin has been working with ASL Clear and ASLCORE, two national scientific sign language initiatives that are making good progress.

  • Accolades

Associate Head for Graduate Programs and Professor S. Lance Cooper has been awarded the 2018 Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award of the Office of the Provost at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

One of the Campus Awards for Excellence in Instruction conferred annually at the campus’s Celebration of Teaching Excellence, this accolade recognizes sustained excellence in graduate student mentoring; innovative approaches to graduate advising; major impact on graduate student scholarship and professional development; and other contributions in the form of courses and curricula, workshops, or similar initiatives. Cooper was presented with the award on April 12, 2018.