Talk with Fabian von Rohr, Professor, UZH

What made you decide to become a materials researcher ?

Materials are an integral part of modern society. New materials can have a profound impact on our lives, and they are an indispensable component for technological progress. Inventing them has always sparked a particular fascination for me. This fascination still drives me today when we look for the most complex materials of all, quantum materials. Emergent, collective quantum states remain incredibly difficult to predict, which makes their discovery all the more interesting.

What are your upcoming main research goals ?

The SNSF Eccellenza fellowship allows us to tackle an eminent and fundamental question in materials research: “Is there an intrinsic topological superconductor?” For this we will pioneer novel families of materials, and certainly discover many interesting new compounds with complex physical properties along the way.

In addition, we will use our expertise in materials research and synthesis to contribute to fore-front quantum materials research questions. I am convinced that quantum materials will play an essential role in our technological future. In collaboration with theoretical, computational, and specialized experimental physics groups, we will aim to make significant contributions in this field.

How does your group discover new materials ?

Our research in the Laboratory for Quantum Materials Discovery is at the boundary between solid-state chemistry and condensed-matter physics. The combination of chemical and physical design principles is crucial for developing new materials. This requires a high degree of interdisciplinarity: on the one side, we are truly synthetic scientists, who discover new compounds and phases, on the other side, we also perform in-depth properties measurements on our materials. This line of research by implication lays the ground for many fascinating collaborations with both chemistry and physics groups.

 What have been the highlights of your research during these last years ?

One highlight was the discovery of the new black-phosphorus analogue b-GeSe which has a new unique layered crystal structure, during my time as a postdoc at Princeton University (JACS 2017). A second highlight was the observation of the unconventional scaling of the superfluid density with Tc in transition metal dichalcogenides in close collaboration with Zurab Guguchia at PSI during my time as an Ambizione fellow (Science Advances 2019). Currently, I am very passionate about the PhD students’ success in my group, all three of whom have produced exciting new results recently that are on their way to being published.

Which book would you recommend ?

“The Breakthrough: The Race for the Superconductor” by Robert M. Hazen is a book that I particularly enjoyed reading as a graduate student. It is a personal account of Robert Hazen – the crystallographer working with Paul Chu on solving the structure of YBCO – about the early days of cuprate superconductors. This book vividly describes the great euphoria that surrounded this astonishing discovery and the excitement it generated. A must read for anyone involved in quantum materials research.

Photo credit: Jos Schmid

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