Smitha Vishveshwara



Smitha Vishveshwara

Primary Research Area

  • Condensed Matter Physics
2109 Engineering Sciences Building


Professor Smitha Vishveshwara received her bachelor's degree in physics magna cum laude from Cornell University in 1996 and was supervised in undergraduate research by Carl Franck and David Mermin. She completed her Ph.D in theoretical physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2002 under the guidance of Matthew Fisher. Her graduate research includes the studies of localization physics in superconductors, Luttinger liquids, and quantum entanglement in carbon nanotubes. From 2002 to 2005, she worked in the groups of Paul Goldbart and Tony Leggett as a postdoctoral researcher in the Dept. of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At this stage, she explored tunneling and fractional statistics in quantum Hall systems, Aharonov-Bohm effects in carbon nanotube, entanglement in spin chains, and critical dynamics in charged superconductors. Since 2005, she has remained in the department as a faculty member and has also gained affiliations with the university’s Materials Research Laboratory and Beckman Institute.

Research Statement

Vishveshwara's research spans a broad range of topics in quantum condensed matter theory. Her group maintains active collaborations worldwide and strong ties with condensed matter and cold atomic experimentalists. Her work also interfaces with other sub-disciplines, such as with biological physics and gravitation. Some of her research directions are as follows:

Strongly correlated systems and low dimensions: Interacting systems confined to low dimensions demonstrate striking collective phenemona that baffle and contradict the intuition obtained from three-dimensional electronic systems. Vishveshwara’s group has investigated various aspects of such systems, including induced superconductivity in carbon nanotubes, field-induced control of valley degrees of freedom in nanotube quantum dots, and interferometry in mesoscopic rings. In nanotubes, wires, and quantum Hall fluids, they have extensively characterized Luttinger liquid behavior

Fractionalization, anyons, and Majorana fermions: Perhaps the most spectacular feature of two-dimensional interacting systems is the existence of ‘topological order’ and associated quantum particles, namely anyons, which possess ‘fractional statistics’ interpolating between the statistics of the well-known fermions and bosons. Vishveshwara has proposed ways to detect anyons in fractional quantum Hall systems inspired by the astronomical 1950’s setting of Hanbury Brown and Twiss and currently day photonic beam splitters. With regards to more exotic ‘non-Abelian’ anyons, her group has proposed schemes for interferometry in topological superconductors, which form a prime candidate for hosting the much sought after Majorana fermion. The group has avidly studied such superconductors in wire settings in the presence of disorder and quasiperiodic potential landscapes.

Critical behavior and quench dynamics: Dynamically forcing a system across phase transitions gives rise to dramatically out-of-equilibrium behavior stemming from the critical slowing down of the system’s intrinsic relaxation.  Such quench induced regimes can exhibit universal scaling laws in non-equilibrium features, originally postulated by Kibble in the cosmic setting and by Zurek in that of liquid Helium. Vishveshwara and collaborators have explored this behavior for quantum quenches in spin chains and topological systems. They have identified a new scaling regime in the presence of decoherence and a feature they coined as ‘topological blocking’ in the latter system.

Optical lattices and novel geometries for ultracold atoms: The laboratory realization of the coldest states of matter in the universe in suspended traps and lattices formed by interfering lasers beams has opened up incredible new terrains for fundamental physics and quantum computation. Vishveshwara’s theoretical group works to investigate and inform such experiments in optical lattice settings in situations that reveal co-existence of multiple phases or are subject to different potential landscapes. An on-going direction involves bubble-shaped condensates created in the microgravity setup of none other than the international space station.

Condensed matter meets biophysics and gravity: Vishveshwara’s  close relationship with her parents, both scientists, extends to her research. Her work with her mother, biophysicist Saraswathi Vishveshwara, borrows concepts from percolation theory to address the connectivity of protein structure networks. Their long-distance communication during the pandemic lockdown has resulted in applying these studies to the coronavirus. Smitha Vishveshwara’s group, guided by her late father, black hole physicist C. V. Vishveshwara, has explored gravitational parallels in quantum Hall settings and identified the equivalent of his predicted black hole quasinormal mode signatures, which are related to gravitational wave ringdowns observed in LIGO’s landmark detection.


Vishveshwara combines her passion for physics with that for the arts in various interconnected ways. She has developed a project-based interdisciplinary course, Where the Arts Meets Physics. In close collaboration with artists, she has created several pieces on the quantum world and the cosmos. The theater piece, Quantum Voyages, created with theater-maker Latrelle Bright, is a tale of two explorers guided through quantum realms by the spirit of wisdom, accompanied by a quantum ensemble, and visited by quantum physicists. The multimedia piece Quantum Rhapsodies, created in collaboration with the Jupiter String Quartet and a visuals team nucleated at the Beckman Institute, combines narrative, music, and visuals to meditate on the quantum world, and its role in our daily lives and in the Universe.

Research Honors

  • Margaret Burbidge Visiting Professorship 2019-2020
  • APS Fellowship (2019)
  • Center for Advanced Study Associate Position (2018-2019)
  • Arnold T. Nordsieck Physics Award for Teaching Excellence (2018)
  • Simons Fellowship (2012)
  • NSF American Competitiveness and Innovation Fellow (2010)
  • Center for Advanced Studies Beckman Fellow (2009-2010)
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2007)

Semesters Ranked Excellent Teacher by Students

Fall 2020PHYS 485
Fall 2017PHYS 485
Fall 2015PHYS 101
Fall 2014PHYS 150
Spring 2012PHYS 213
Spring 2011PHYS 598
Spring 2008PHYS 487
Fall 2007PHYS 486

Selected Articles in Journals

Related news

  • Events
  • Outreach

Now, Vishveshwara and her colleagues at ICASU and Illinois Physics are putting on a virtual arts and sciences festival entitled The Illuminated Universe, featuring the work of scientists and artists. The multidisciplinary event taking place April 23 through 25, is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required.

The presentations will span multiple themes, starting with “Cosmic Flights” on Friday night at 6:00 P.M. The second session’s theme, “When Art and Science Collide,” kicks off Saturday at 11 A.M. Then Saturday afternoon, the theme “Quantum Enchantment” will start at 2:00 P.M. The festival’s final theme, “Art of Life” starts Sunday at 12 P.M. (all times are in Central Daylight Time CDT). Each session will run about one-and-a-half to two hours long.

  • Perspective

"We see surge after surge of the coronavirus disease plague the world. People driven out of homes, hungry, fearful, unable to bid their passing ones adieu. Science and much else is denied. Rampant hatred and prejudice tears us asunder. And we are left asking what there is to hope for, what will remain that we hold precious, sacred.

Yet, the nourishing oceanic waters of our planet continue their ebb and flow. We connect like never before in virtual space. Elephants and peacocks roam through newly emptied land and cleaner air. Strangers leaving care packages on doorsteps and other random acts of kindness abound. Grandparents feel the warmth of toddler palms kissing theirs across windowpanes."

  • In the Media

Walking to school as a child, UC San Diego visiting professor Smitha Vishveshwara asked her father, a black hole physicist, what he did for a living.

“He’d say, ‘Oh, I show that you can’t really kick a black hole.’ He’d be very playful,” said Vishveshwara, who lives in Solana Beach. “What he really meant was that he showed that black holes were stable entities.”

Through her father’s work, she learned about Margaret Burbidge, an influential astronomer, astrophysicist and the first director of UC San Diego’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences. Coming full circle, Vishveshwara now serves as the university’s Margaret Burbidge visiting professor of physics.

  • Research

Institute for Condensed Matter Theory in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has recently received a five-year grant of over $1 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The grant is part of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) Initiative, which strives to catalyze major discoveries in the field of quantum materials—solids and engineered structures characterized by novel quantum phases of matter and exotic cooperative behaviors of electrons. This is the second 5-year EPiQS grant awarded to the ICMT by the Moore Foundation. The two awards establish an EPiQS Theory Center at the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory.