U of T quantum physicist receives boost for research into new phases of matter

March 2, 2022 by Sean Bettam - A&S News

Yong-Baek Kim, a professor in the Department of Physics, the director of the Centre for Quantum Materials and a member of the Centre for Quantum Information & Quantum Control in the Faculty of Arts & Science, has been named a 2022 Simons Fellow in Theoretical Physics by the U.S.-based Simons Foundation.

Kim is one of ten scientists from across Canada and the United States named in this year’s cohort. The Simons Fellowship provides support to researchers during academic leave, enabling recipients to focus solely on research for the long periods often necessary for significant advances. The fellowship is awarded in recognition of scientific accomplishments in the preceding five-year period and the potential scientific impact of the work to be done during the leave period.

“This is a great honor for me as it represents the appreciation of my work by peer scientists,” said Kim, a past recipient of a Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Brockhouse Medal from the Canadian Association of Physicists, and a Killam Research Fellowship from the Canada Council for the Arts. “I am grateful to my past and present students, postdoctoral fellows and collaborators from whom I have learned a great deal of science.”

Kim’s research interests lie in the development of theories of quantum condensed matter physics — a subfield in which the study of materials reveals unexpected and exotic behaviour when subjected to extreme conditions such as low temperature and high pressure. The Simons Fellowship will support research into emergent quantum phases in strongly interacting quantum materials — including a new phase of matter proposed by physicists called quantum spin liquids. Spin liquids create new particles called spinons, which could be harnessed for building quantum computing platforms.

But first scientists need to discover a spin liquid in a real substance. Kim aims to develop a theoretical model that can help design a tool to detect this unusual phase of matter in materials.

“The fellowship will help me focus on the investigation of the so-called topological phases of matter, which may make a significant impact on future quantum technologies,” said Kim. “The research involves explorations of new theoretical models and proposing novel experimental tools that may help us to verify the predictions from such theories.”

Department of Physics chair Kimberly Strong says the fellowship recognizes Kim’s pioneering work on strong interactions between electrons within materials in the formation of novel quantum phases.

“His work has focused on developing a deeper understanding of topological phenomena, which is likely to produce new categories of quantum phases unknown to condensed matter physicists today,” she said. “The support of the Simons Fellowship will enable Kim to further contribute to U of T’s continuing efforts in playing a leading role in the discovery of novel quantum properties and the development of new quantum technologies.”