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We provide a perspective on the recent emergence of “topological spintronics,” which relies on the existence of helical Dirac electrons in condensed matter. Spin- and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy shows how the spin texture of these electronic states can be engineered using quantum tunneling [1] or by breaking time-reversal symmetry [2]. Inappropriately designed systems, broken time-reversal symmetry transforms helical Dirac states into chiral edge states, a realization of Haldane’s Chern insulator phase of matter. This is characterized by a precisely quantized Hall conductance and dissipationless edge transport without a magnetic field. We show how these edge states can be quantitatively characterized by analyzing their giant anisotropic magnetoresistance [3]. At miilikelvin temperatures, the interplay between Chern states and disordered magnetism [4] results in surprising behavior, perhaps consistent with quantum tunneling out of a ‘false vacuum’ [5]. Finally, we show how these helical Dirac electrons provide a possible pathway toward a spin device technology that works at room temperature [6,7].

[1] M. Neupane, A. Richardella et al.,Nature Communications 5, 3841 (2014).
[2] S.-Y. Xu et al., Nature Physics 8, 616 (2012).
[3] A. Kandala,A. Richardella, et al.,Nature Communications 6, 7434 (2015).
[4] E. Lachman et al., Science Advances 1, e1500740(2015).
[5] Minhao Liu et al., Science Advances 2, e1600167(2016).

The field of spintronics, or magnetic electronics, is maturing and giving rise to new subfields. An important ingredient to the vitality of magnetism research in general is the large complexity due to competitions between interactions crossing many length scales and the interplay of magnetic degrees of freedom with charge (electric currents), phonon (heat), and photons (light). One perfect example, of the surprising new concepts being generated in magnetism research is the recent discovery of magnetic skyrmions. Magnetic skyrmions are topologically distinct spin textures that are stabilized by the interplay between applied magnetic fields, magnetic anisotropies, as well as symmetric and antisymmetric exchange interactions. Due to their topology magnetic skyrmions can be stable with quasi-particle like behavior, where they can be manipulated with very low electric currents. This makes them interesting for extreme low-power information technologies, where it is envisioned that data will be encoded in topological charges, instead of electronic charges as in conventional semiconducting devices. Towards the realization of this goal we demonstrated magnetic skyrmions in magnetic heterostructures stable at room temperature, which can be manipulated using spin Hall effects. Furthermore, using inhomogeneous electric charge currents allows the generation of skyrmions in a process that is remarkably similar to the droplet formation in surface-tension driven fluid flows. However, detailed micromagnetic simulations show that depending on the electric current magnitude there are at least two regimes with different skyrmion formation mechanisms. Lastly, we demonstrated that the topological charge gives rise to a transverse motion on the skyrmions, i.e., the skyrmion Hall effect, which is in analogy to the ordinary Hall effect originating from the motion of electrically charged particles in the presence of a magnetic field.

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division. Lithographic patterning was carried out at the Center for Nanoscale Materials, which is supported by DOE, Office of Science, BES (#DE-AC02-06CH11357).

Metal-ligand chemistry is shown to be a pivotal tool in the control of metal nanoparticle formation, structure, and emergent properties. Specifically, small molecule ligand chemistry is used to mediate the incorporation and distribution of metals in and on discrete, colloidal nanoparticle substrates, as well as modulate their emergent optoelectronic features once formed. Here, we focus on cases of 3d transition metals in Au and Pt hosts. The resulting structures are characterized by a wide variety of methods including NMR spectroscopy, electron microscopy, and photoelectron spectroscopy techniques. Specifically, we demonstrate that nanoparticle ligand chemistry may be used to access previously unobserved mixtures of metals, unique distributions of metals at the surface of a colloidal particle, as well as composition-tunable and surface chemistry controlled photoemission.  These results provide mechanistic platforms for the development of nanoscale alloys and other bimetallic architectures that are promising for a wide variety of applications ranging from light-driven catalysis to covert signaling. 

Molecular crystals have applications in nonlinear optics, organic electronics, and particularly in pharmaceuticals because most drugs are marketed as crystals of the pharmaceutically active ingredient. Molecular crystals are held together by van der Waals (vdW) interactions (also known as dispersion interactions) between molecules. Unlike chemical bonds, van der Waals interactions do not involve overlap of electron densities. Rather, they arise from quantum fluctuations of the electron density that lead to the formation of dipoles and higher order multipoles. The electrostatic interaction between these generates a weak but long-ranged attractive force. Owing to the weak nature of van der Waals interactions, a given molecule may crystallize in more than one structure. This is known as polymorphism. Polymorphic forms of the same molecule may possess markedly different physical and chemical properties. Crystal structure may profoundly influence the bioavailability, toxicity, manufacturability, and stability of drugs. In the context of technological applications, crystal structure affects the electronic and optical properties. We use computer simulations to perform structure prediction and design of molecular crystals from first principles, based solely on the knowledge of their elemental composition and the laws of quantum mechanics. We develop genetic algorithms, which are guided to the most promising regions of the configuration space by the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest. Offspring are generated by combining structural “genes” of the fittest structures in the population to propagate desirable features, while random mutations are employed to maintain diversity. We are particularly interested in optimizing crystal packing for high-performance organic electronics and solar cells.

Learning quantum mechanics is challenging, in part due to the non-intuitive nature of the subject matter. Our research shows that the patterns of reasoning difficulties in learning quantum mechanics are often universal similar to the universal nature of reasoning difficulties found in introductory physics. Our research also shows that students often have difficulty in monitoring their learning while learning quantum mechanics. To help improve student understanding of quantum concepts, we are developing quantum interactive learning tutorials (QuILTs) as well as tools for peer-instruction. The goal of QuILTs and peer-instruction tools is to actively engage students in the learning process and to help them build links between the formalism and the conceptual aspects of quantum physics without compromising the technical content. I will discuss the assessment of these learning tools. 

Editor's Note: There were some technical difficulties at the beginning of the talk so the video begins a moment or two after the speaker begins. We apologize for this and hope you enjoy the seminar.