UT Austin Physicists Receive Keck Foundation Boost for Quantum Materials Research

January 8, 2024 • by Marc Airhart

Edoardo Baldini leads a team developing a new approach to stabilize useful quantum properties of atomically thin materials for far longer and at higher temperatures.


The W.M. Keck Foundation has awarded a highly competitive grant to physicists at The University of Texas at Austin and City College of New York to explore exotic phases of matter in atomically thin quantum materials.

Over the past decade, researchers have designed and built ultrathin materials that exhibit exotic quantum properties that could be useful in a range of applications from quantum computers to transmitting electricity without losing energy. But these quantum properties are often highly unstable, only lasting for very short timescales or at extremely low temperatures. A team led by UT Austin assistant professor of physics Edoardo Baldini will develop a new approach to possibly stabilize the useful properties of these materials for far longer and at higher temperatures. 

The approach involves creating an environment around the material – called a quantum cavity – that harnesses fluctuations in the vacuum electromagnetic field to stabilize the material’s properties. These quantum cavities will operate in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum and integrate atomically thin materials that host exotic quantum phases. The researchers will specifically target superconductivity, a state in which electrons propagate without losing energy. They will also explore “fractional Chern insulator states,” where electrons don’t exhibit their usual electric charge—called the elementary charge—but instead some fraction of it.

The team includes UT Austin’s Allan MacDonald, Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in Physics, and City College of New York’s Professor of Physics Vinod Menon. The $1.1 million grant will support three years of research. Over this period, MacDonald will establish the theoretical framework for exploring atomically thin materials within quantum cavities. Meanwhile, Menon will lead the design and implementation of advanced resonators operating in the extreme infrared. Baldini will investigate the emergence of various phases of matter using state-of-the-art spectroscopy and microscopy tools.

The W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 in Los Angeles by William Myron Keck, founder of The Superior Oil Company. One of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, the W. M. Keck Foundation supports outstanding science, engineering and medical research. The Foundation also supports undergraduate education and maintains a program within Southern California to support arts and culture, education, health and community service projects.