Rice physicists building long-lasting ties with China

Rice physicists building long-lasting ties with China
Last week’s Zhejiang workshop is latest effort to foster collaborations

Rice News staff

An 18-month effort to bolster grassroots ties between physicists at Rice and partner institutions in China and Europe is paying dividends this week with the publication of an important new paper in Physical Review Letters and the culmination of a four-day workshop on quantum matter at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.

“Regardless of whether it’s in the U.S. or Europe, there is a great deal of curiosity in the physics community right now about what’s going on in China,” said Qimiao Si, the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Rice. “That’s something new.”

In 2008, Rice President David Leebron, left, and Zhejiang University President Yang Wei met for a signing ceremony to establish an International Collaborative Center on Quantum Matter in the presence of faculty members from Zhejiang’s Physics Department.

The Chinese government is investing heavily in higher education and in physical sciences, and Si said part of the curiosity in western countries stems from the boost in funding. But Chinese scientists are also conducting notable research. Last year, Thomson-Reuters for the first time declared a Chinese physics paper — a report about high-temperature superconductivity in an iron-based material — as one of the hottest papers of the year.

Si’s own research centers upon quantum-correlated effects — including the effects that lead to high-temperature superconductivity. Si and a handful of longtime collaborators in the U.S., Germany and the United Kingdom discovered a few years ago that they each had independent but complementary collaborations under way with physicists at some of China’s top universities.

“There was much serendipity involved,” Si said. “Rice has built up a world-class program in quantum condensed matter physics and has established a Quantum Magnetism Laboratory to organize our activities in this area. At some point, the Chinese side expressed an interest in being coupled to what we were doing here at Rice. And President David Leebron had the vision of extending our reach to Asia and other parts of the world. As all of these threads came together, I said, ‘Why not? Let’s get the four institutions together, plan some activities and see if we can secure some resources.'”

The result was the International Collaborative Center on Quantum Matter (ICC-QM), a joint effort unveiled by Leebron and his Zhejiang counterpart in Hangzhou in 2008 that involves Rice; the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, Germany; the London Centre for Nanotechnology; and Zhejiang University. ICC-QM completed its second international workshop last week.

ICC-QM’s goal is to foster long

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.