HOUSTON, May 10, 2007 - Houston plays host to one of physics' largest annual topical meetings next week, when more than 500 scientists from about 40 countries will gather to discuss ways to unlock the mysteries of materials like high-temperature superconductors and quantum magnets.
The scientists, who specialize in the study of condensed matter, or solid-state materials, will meet May 13-18 at the 2007 International Conference on Strongly Correlated Electron Systems (SCES '07) at the Hilton Americas downtown conference center.
"The aim of correlated electron physics is to understand all the electronic processes governing both natural and man-made materials," said Rice University theoretical physicist Qimiao Si. "Developing a better understanding of these materials will, over the long run, impact everything from microelectronics to national power grids and medical technology."
Si is co-chairing the conference with University of Houston experimental physicist Paul Chu. Rice and UH are co-sponsoring SCES '07. This marks only the third time the SCES meeting has been held in the United States in its 16-year history.
The topic of the meeting - strongly correlated electron systems - refers to a class of materials with odd electronic properties that defy explanation. In everyday wiring and semiconducting computer chips, scientists can chart and describe the flow of electricity by assuming that the billions upon billions of individual electrons that make up the flow of current are "free," or independent of each other. But in strongly correlated materials, the interactions of electrons - and the quantum physics that accompanies those interactions - play such an important role that they cannot be ignored.
"The properties of high-temperature superconductors are so unusual that they have pushed strong correlation physics to center stage," said Rice's Carlos Bolech, assistant professor in physics and astronomy and a local organizing member of the conference.
Prominent members of strongly correlated electron systems include radioactive metals like plutonium, and compounds based on so-called rare earth elements and transition metals like cerium, ytterbium and cobalt. These materials exhibit a plethora of magnetic properties, reflecting an intrinsic property of electrons called "spin." A typical piece of magnetic material contains many billions of billions of spins, which organize themselves into a variety of magnetic structures, or "quantum phases." A major recent development the conference will feature is quantum phase transitions. In recent experiments, physicists have tuned the strength of quantum forces in strongly correlated materials to creating phase transitions that are the quantum equivalent of everyday phase changes like ice melting or water boiling.
In addition to providing a forum for technical discussions of SCES research, the conference will feature an evening session May 15 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the theory of conventional superconductors. The theory, developed by American physicists John Bardeen, Leon Cooper and Robert Schrieffer, had a profound influence, not only in condensed matter physics, but also in such diverse subjects as elementary particle physics and the study of neutron stars and ultracold atoms.
Non-technical abstracts describing a selection of conference research are available by clicking "Scope" at http://sces07.