Ankit Disa: Understanding and controlling quantum materials

Ankit Disa
  • New Faculty Year: 2022

Assistant Professor, Applied and Engineering Physics

Academic focus: Condensed matter physics, quantum materials, ultrafast/nonlinear optics, thin films and interfaces

Research summary: My research centers broadly around understanding and controlling the properties of quantum materials at the smallest length and time scales possible. Quantum materials exhibit some of the most interesting phenomena in physics – for example, the ability for electrons to flow without any resistance (superconductivity) or the spontaneous formation of microscopic patterns of swirling magnetism and charge. My group investigates how one can manipulate and engineer these types of quantum phases. We come at the problem from two different directions: on the one hand, building artificial materials atomic layer by atomic layer, and on the other hand, using ultrashort laser pulses to “steer” a system’s electronic and magnetic behavior dynamically. The goal is to develop the tools and physical insights we need to be able take advantage of quantum materials for next-generation technologies (think computing and energy).

What inspired you to pursue a career in this field? The short answer is serendipity. I had the opportunity as an undergraduate to dabble in some research projects and found myself in a materials physics group. Creating a material that no one had ever made before was quite a thrill for me (I call it “21st century alchemy”), so I stuck with it through graduate school. Materials research involves a mix of fundamental and applied physics that is really appealing to me, and I’m constantly learning new perspectives to understand nature, which I love.  More than that, I think what has been most motivating is the potential to make real impact in a variety of important technological areas—as my advisor once said, “Everything is made of something.” Hopefully, I can make something useful!

What are you most looking forward to as a Cornell Engineering faculty member? I was actually an undergraduate here in Applied & Engineering Physics, so it’s really a kind of homecoming for me. It’s been very energizing to see how many things have changed, and at the same time how much the spirit of this place has remained the same. I’m looking forward to seeing Cornell, the college, and the department with new eyes and from the entirely different perspective as a faculty member. It will be especially fun to teach courses that I had taken myself and see how students react to the material now. Aside from that, I’m most excited about the prospect of building my lab and joining the vibrant research community here, which has already been so welcoming and encouraging.

What do you like to do when you’re not working? I like to get outdoors anyway I can: hiking, skiing, birdwatching, rollerblading, golfing, playing tennis. If I’m being honest, though, when I’m not working I will mostly be spending time with my cat, Winnie, who also happens to be the official mascot of the Disa Lab.

Ankit Disa faculty page

Disa Group research site

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