One of the most vivid memories Martin Rodriguez-Vega has of his hometown of Comalalocated in the western coastal state of Colima, Mexico, and famous for its all-white buildingsis seeing flocks of birds flying into beautiful sunsets.
Rodriguez-Vega recalls watching the birds swooping in the sky as if dancing harmoniouslyeach bird flying adroitly to form large and intricate patterns in the air.
At the time, the interaction between those birds was simply something upon which Rodriguez-Vega liked to gaze. Later, as a doctoral student in theoretical physics, he came to understand that the birds behavior was an example of a complex phenomenon scientists call emergence: patterns or behaviors that form or emerge thanks to the dexterity of the individual parts of a dynamic system, such as birds in a flock.
Working collectively, these parts give rise to a type of group behavior that would be impossible to generate without the coordinated dynamics of its individual components.
The birds want to stay with the group together, but they dont want to be too close together because otherwise they collide, he says. So theres this competition of wanting to be close, but not so close, which leads to these emergent patterns. Its quite interesting.
More than a decade later, Rodriguez-Vega, now a postdoctoral research fellow at Northeastern, is studying a similar type of behaviorexcept that instead of analyzing the dynamics of bird flight, he and a group of physicists are studying, modeling, and testing the collective behavior of subatomic particles. Their goal is to explore the hidden properties of quantum materials, which are known to display exotic qualities that emerge from the arrangement of electrons.
At the subatomic scale, electrons are responsible for the conduction of electricity in all materials. But by stimulating quantum materials with specialized laser pumps or ultra-cold temperatures, scientists can make electrons rearrange collectively, giving those materials new properties.
Eventually, scientists hope to use their knowledge of quantum materials to transform technology, helping to produce faster electronics, better supercomputers, and smarter communication devicesall of which rely on the behavior of electrons.
One of the most striking examples of emergent quantum properties is superconductivity: the ability of materials such as aluminum to conduct electricity perfectly, and at ultra-fast speeds, under extremely frigid temperatures.
A single electron would never be able to present this type of behavior, Rodriguez-Vega says. But with every electron together, [the material] can transition into a new state in which all the electrons can move together through it without resistance.
The impacts of superconductors and other quantum materials are likely to drive a technological revolution. And Rodriguez-Vega wants to be part of it.
In addition to developing theories that predict and explain the behavior of potential quantum materials, Rodriguez-Vega works with researchers to conduct experiments and test his theories in a lab. By shooting the materials with special lasers to probe their properties, the researchers hope to find easier and cheaper ways to harness the power of quantum materials.
Recently, Rodriguez-Vega was part of a team that used that technique to discover new ways in which magnetite, a mineral that scientists have long used to study magnetism, can turn from a metal that transports charge into a material that stops charge.
That ability to combine theory with experiments is what drives Rodriguez Vega to devote his life to research. The most thrilling part of being a physicist, he says, is seeing equations he has written accurately predict the outcome of an experiment.
The thrill is about the deeper meaning, because what youre writing on the paper and solving in your computer is just your interpretation of what could be going on with nature in general, he says. That gives you this sense that things really work, that perhaps math is really the language of nature. Its really amazing.
Rodriguez-Vega grew up the son of two accountants in a small, agricultural town of Mexico, and says his parents played an integral role in opening the doors for him to pursue a life in physics. When he first applied to graduate school in the United States, the fees for language and admission tests amounted to nearly two months of his parents salary, he says.
At the time, they did everything in their possibility for me to do the tests, and then, when I was accepted, to gather the money to get the plane tickets, and get the security deposit for a place to live, he says. That was pretty incredible on their side.
Rodriguez-Vega also credits his career as a theoretical physicist to the support and mentorship of scientists such as Paolo Amore, his professor at the University of Colima, and Enrico Rossi, who took Rodriguez-Vega under his wing when he migrated to the U.S. to pursue a doctoral degree at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
When you live in a small town, a little disconnected from the notion of science, its quite common for people to think that if youre going into one of these careers, the only possible outcome for you is to be a schoolteacher, Rodriguez-Vega says. The idea of being able to get an education, to devote your life and try to create knowledge to answer some questions out there is not something that was on my mind.
Rodriguez-Vega thinks mentors in science are important not only because of the technical knowledge they pass on to their students, but because they can help budding scientists who face a huge wall of challenges and knowledge to break into the scientific community.
A career in science is much more manageable, he says, when you have somebody sitting on top of that wall, giving you a hand to climb over it.
The knowledge that [scientists] accumulated at this point is really large, he says. At least for me, it was quite easy to feel overwhelmed by the complexity of things.
As part of the Quantum Matter and Correlated Electron Theory Lab, Rodriguez-Vega tries to dedicate as much time as possible to young scientists who need it, even if that entails discussions that have nothing to do with physics. Sometimes, he says, students just need to chat about their lives in general, as well as the challenges of graduate school.
Gregory Fiete, a professor of physics who leads the lab, says that thanks in large part to Rodriguez-Vega, his students are developing new skills in a cutting-edge area of physics. Rodriguez-Vega has been training them to use machine learning techniques to scan large sets of data in order to spot potential quantum materials.
Fiete also recognizes the importance of helping students advance, and says Rodriguez-Vega is the epitome of a model scientist. Hes a capable scientist who can do the technical aspects of the work, Fiete saysthe numerical and analytical partsbut hes also a reliable mentor for junior researchers in the group.
Ultimately, everything challenging that any person undertakes requires help and assistance in life, whether you are a dancer, a musician, a scientist, whatever you might be, Fiete says. You need someone else to help you learn and someone else to bounce ideas off of, or maybe be inspired by.
Those relationships between mentors and students are essential for the advancement of science, Fiete says, and for the democratization of the research enterprise worldwide.
One of the things that I find inspiring about Martin is just how far he has come, Fiete says. Not everyone has the same starting point in life, and he had to overcome a lot of obstacles in early stages to get where he is today.
For media inquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Improving LIDAR and GPS: Breaking Through the Resolution Barrier With Quantum-Limited Precision - SciTechDaily - January 18th, 2021
- Amy Noelle Parks Brings The Romance of Math and Science To YA - The Nerd Daily - January 18th, 2021
- Surprising Discovery of Unexpected Quantum Behavior in Insulators Suggests Existence of Entirely New Type of Particle - SciTechDaily - January 18th, 2021
- If Wormholes Are Lurking in Our Universe, This Is How We Could Find Them - ScienceAlert - January 18th, 2021
- New quantum technology projects to solve mysteries of the universe - Open Access Government - January 14th, 2021
- Exploring the unanswered questions of our universe with quantum technologies - University of Birmingham - January 14th, 2021
- Wormholes may be lurking in the universe and new studies are proposing ways of finding them - The Conversation UK - January 14th, 2021
- University of Sheffield to lead multi-million pound project which could open up a new frontier in physics - University of Sheffield News - January 14th, 2021
- Raytheon UK part of team transforming the Royal Navy's technology, training and learning solutions - PRNewswire - January 14th, 2021
- Optical selection and sorting of nanoparticles according to quantum mechanical properties - Science Advances - January 14th, 2021
- The unhackable computers that could revolutionize the future - CNN - January 8th, 2021
- Birds Have a Mysterious 'Quantum Sense'. For The First Time, Scientists Saw It in Action - ScienceAlert - January 8th, 2021
- How understanding light has led to a hundred years of bright ideas - The Economist - January 8th, 2021
- Tokyo Institute of Technology: Quantum Mysteries: Probing an Unusual State in the Superconductor-Insulator Transition - India Education Diary - January 8th, 2021
- Quantum Nanodevice Can Be Both a Heat Engine and Refrigerator at the Same Time - SciTechDaily - January 8th, 2021
- Illumination at the limits of knowledge - The Economist - January 8th, 2021
- The top 20 most random things that happened in 2020: Nos. 16-20 - 104.3 The Fan - January 6th, 2021
- Detective Work in Theoretical Physics: Comprehensive Review of Physics of Interacting Particles - SciTechDaily - January 6th, 2021
- New Quantum-Based Distance Measurement Method for GPS and LIDAR - AZoQuantum - January 6th, 2021
- Raytheon Technologies Appoints Marie R. Sylla-Dixon as Chief Diversity Officer to Further Advance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives -... - January 6th, 2021
- Quantum Superposition Evidenced by Measuring Interaction of Light with Vibration - AZoQuantum - December 24th, 2020
- Superpositions The Cosmic Weirdness of Quantum Mechanics - The Daily Galaxy --Great Discoveries Channel - December 24th, 2020
- Here's Why Quantum Computing Will Not Break Cryptocurrencies - Forbes - December 24th, 2020
- Irish researchers reveal how Santa delivers toys to billions in one night - BreakingNews.ie - December 24th, 2020
- Eight ways Argonne advanced science in 2020 - Newswise - December 24th, 2020
- Scaling the heights of quantum computing to deliver real results - Chinadaily.com.cn - China Daily - December 24th, 2020
- MIT's quantum entangled atomic clock could still be ticking after billions of years - SYFY WIRE - December 24th, 2020
- Matter Deconstructed: The Observer Effect and Photography - PetaPixel - December 24th, 2020
- Everything you need to know about quantum physics (almost ... - December 21st, 2020
- Quantum mechanics - Wikipedia - December 21st, 2020
- Six Things Everyone Should Know About Quantum Physics - December 21st, 2020
- Counter-Intuitive Quantum Mechanics: State of Vibration That Exists Simultaneously at Two Different Times - SciTechDaily - December 21st, 2020
- A state of vibration that exists simultaneously at two different times - Tech Explorist - December 21st, 2020
- This Incredible Particle Only Arises in Two Dimensions - Popular Mechanics - December 21st, 2020
- Quantum Mechanics, the Mind-Body Problem and Negative Theology - Scientific American - December 17th, 2020
- Quantum Interference Phenomenon Identified That Occurs Through Time - SciTechDaily - December 17th, 2020
- 9 Most Confusing Sci-Fi Movies That Feel Like You Need a PhD in Quantum Physics - FandomWire - December 17th, 2020
- Expanding the Scope of Electronic-Structure Theory - Physics - December 17th, 2020
- Physicists attempt to unify all forces of nature and rectify Einstein's biggest failure - Livescience.com - December 17th, 2020
- Black dwarf supernovae: The last explosions in the Universe - SYFY WIRE - December 17th, 2020
- Orford 17-year-old is among brightest young minds in north west - Warrington Guardian - December 17th, 2020
- Meet the kaon - Symmetry magazine - November 10th, 2020
- There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness by Carlo Rovelli review - The Guardian - November 10th, 2020
- Digging into the 3D Quantum Hall Effect - Physics - November 10th, 2020
- Physicists Circumvent 178-Year Old Theory to Cancel Magnetic Fields - SciTechDaily - November 10th, 2020
- A Modem With a Tiny Mirror Cabinet Could Help Connect The Quantum Internet - ScienceAlert - November 8th, 2020
- Quantum Technology: Harnessing the Power of Quantum Mechanics - Analytics Insight - November 8th, 2020
- Will the Universe Remember Us after We're Gone? - Scientific American - November 8th, 2020
- Threat of Quantum Computing to Bitcoin Should be Taken Seriously, But theres Enough Time to Upgrade Current Security Systems, Experts Claim -... - November 8th, 2020
- Pablo Jarillo-Herrero receives the Lise Meitner Distinguished Lecture and Medal - MIT News - November 8th, 2020
- Lighting up the ion trap - MIT News - November 8th, 2020
- For Thomas Searles, a passion for people and science at HBCUs and MIT - MIT News - November 8th, 2020
- University of Kansas Team Explore Heavy-Ion Particle Physics - Pagosa Daily Post - November 8th, 2020
- Reimagining the laser: new ideas from quantum theory could herald a revolution - The Conversation AU - October 29th, 2020
- Deep Reality: Art, Physics, the Unseeable and Space-Time - UNM Newsroom - October 29th, 2020
- Physicist breaks down the science of 11 iconic DC movie scenes - Insider - INSIDER - October 29th, 2020
- Q&A: Stanford MacArthur fellows talk creativity and 'publish or perish' - The Stanford Daily - October 29th, 2020
- Prime Minister's Prize for Science awarded to gravitational wave scientists - ABC News - October 29th, 2020
- Life and Work: Teaching in the Time of COVID: A Tale of Three Universities - All Together - Society of Women Engineers - October 29th, 2020
- COMMENTARY Covid seen to worsen poverty - The BVI Beacon - BVI Beacon - October 29th, 2020
- Quantum Time Twist Offers a Way to Create Schrdinger's Clock - Scientific American - October 24th, 2020
- Quantum Tunnels Show How Particles Can Break the Speed of Light - Quanta Magazine - October 24th, 2020
- A New Timekeeping Theory Reconciles Einstein's Relativity and Quantum Clocks - Science Times - October 24th, 2020
- Could Schrdingers cat exist in real life? We propose an experiment to find out - Scroll.in - October 24th, 2020
- Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Physics job with THE UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG | 230760 - Times Higher Education (THE) - October 24th, 2020
- Province gives $11.8M to U of C for quantum research, other projects - Calgary Herald - October 24th, 2020
- Physicists clock the fastest possible speed of sound - Live Science - October 24th, 2020
- Column: A new era of electric vehicles could be on the way - Gainesville Times - October 24th, 2020
- Beyond Homo Sapiens A Slightly Different Roll of the Darwinian Dice (Weekend Feature) - The Daily Galaxy --Great Discoveries Channel - October 24th, 2020
- Diamonds Are a Quantum Scientist's Best Friend: Discovery May Revolutionize the High-Tech Industry - SciTechDaily - October 24th, 2020
- The many paths of muon math | symmetry magazine - Symmetry magazine - October 24th, 2020
- Sumit Das to Deliver 2019-20 A&S Distinguished Professor Lecture on 'Deconstructing Space-Time' - UKNow - October 24th, 2020
- Of Science, Philosophy and Revelation - Greater Kashmir - October 24th, 2020
- In Waterloo they're looking for nature's deepest and weirdest secrets - National Observer - October 24th, 2020
- Max Planck and the Birth of Quantum Mechanics - SciTechDaily - October 15th, 2020
- Reality Does Not Depend on the Measurer According to New Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics - SciTechDaily - October 15th, 2020
- Bringing the promise of quantum computing to nuclear physics - MSUToday - October 15th, 2020
- Could Schrdinger's cat exist in real life? Our research may soon provide the answer - The Conversation AU - October 15th, 2020
- A Force From Nothing Used to Control and Manipulate Objects - SciTechDaily - October 15th, 2020
- Facebook and Carnegie Mellon launch project to discover better ways to store renewable energy - VentureBeat - October 15th, 2020