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Quantum slam dunk!

September 9, 2019

Work of NIU Ph.D. student, professor highlighted in prestigious physics journal

A Filipino graduate student who was first attracted to NIU by its proximity to world-class federal research laboratories—and by the prospect of being able to attend a Chicago Bulls game—recently scored a slam dunk of sorts in the world of theoretical physics. 

Ph.D. student Edward Aris Fajardo

NIU Ph.D. student Edward Aris Fajardo and his adviser, physics professor Roland Winkler, published a research paper this month in the prestigious journal, Physical Review B, where the editors highlighted their work as a suggested read.

The paper illuminates certain aspects of quantum physics, an exciting branch of physics that describes how nature works at its smallest scales.

The NIU scientists’ work is complex, to say the least. They developed a comprehensive theory for the effective dynamics of Bloch electrons based on symmetry. Commonly found in crystals, Bloch electrons are named for Swiss physicist Felix Bloch. Their quantum states can be described using symmetry, which in physics is a property of a system that is unchanged during transformations, such as reflections and rotations.

Professor Roland Winkler

The paper embraces a wide range of aspects from very fundamental questions in solid-state physics to important applications of the theory. Winkler, a veteran researcher and professor, says it is a milestone in his own career—and the longest paper he’s ever published.

“This work addresses many questions I always wanted to know, as they are fundamental for our understanding of electrons in solids,” he says. “I am very happy that Aris has worked out these things with great care, unfolding numerous unexpected surprises along the way.  This is, indeed, what research is about, when we do not know in advance the answers to our questions.”

In 2014, Fajardo came to NIU to work on his Ph.D. Previously, he had worked as a physics instructor at Mindanao State University in Marawi City in the Philippines.  The new research paper is a major part of his dissertation, which he will defend later this fall.

Fajardo says he originally chose to attend NIU because he knew it had a strong physics program and was close to Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory, opening a wide variety of research options. The Chicago Bulls also came into play.

“In my country, basketball is a big thing,” Fajardo says. “Although we are not good at it, we can play it very easily. So when I was looking to do my graduate work, there were so many schools to choose from. I decided I would narrow it down by looking at places near my favorite basketball team. I had hoped to be able to go to their home games.”

Fajard intends to graduate with his Ph.D. in December, return to his home country to be a university professor and continue his theoretical physics work. Because of time constraints, he has yet to attend a Bulls game. But he’s crossing his fingers for this coming season.

“Hopefully, it will happen,” he says.