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Meet Yunxiang Liao, recently appointed Assistant Professor of Physics

Published Dec 13, 2023

Yunxiang Liao, recently appointed assistant professor, specializes in condensed matter theory and focuses on quantum physics of many-body systems. She talks about the synergy between teaching and research, the value of perseverance in science and the importance of communicating research to a wider audience.

Yunxiang Liao, photo: private

Tell us a bit about yourself and your educational background?

My name is Yunxiang Liao, and I recently joined the Department of Physics at KTH as an assistant professor. I obtained my B.S. in physics from Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and later completed my Ph.D. under Prof. Matthew Foster at Rice University in Houston, USA. Following that, I did my postdoctoral studies with Prof. Victor Galitski at University of Maryland before taking on my current position here at KTH.

What is your research about?

Many-body systems

Many-body systems in quantum physics are systems in which a large number of particles interact with each other in complex ways that lead to unique quantum effects. These systems are crucial for understanding advanced materials and are fundamental to quantum computing and other cutting-edge technologies.

My research lies within the field of condensed matter physics, focusing on the quantum physics of many-body systems. These systems can exhibit a diverse range of physical phenomena, such as thermalization, localization, and superconductivity. What’s particularly intriguing is the observation that seemingly distinct systems can display phenomena underpinned by universal physical mechanisms, irrespective of their specific microscopic details. My research seeks to enhance our understanding of the fundamental principles governing these behaviors observed across various many-body quantum systems.

One central research question that I have been particularly interested in recently is understanding why isolated quantum interacting systems tend to attain thermal equilibrium, with their macroscopic properties fully characterized by just a handful of parameters, such as temperature and chemical potential. This exploration can contribute to a deeper understanding of quantum dynamics in isolated many-body systems.

Do you see a way of combining your research with your teaching duties, or do you consider the two roles separate from each other?

I believe teaching and research are two mutually reinforcing components of my academic role. Engaging in research provides me with a deep understanding of the rapidly evolving subject areas, enriching the content delivered in the classroom. My research experience allows me to help students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. On the other hand, teaching offers fresh perspectives on research topics and promotes questions that can lead to new unexplored research directions. Teaching can also help me enhance skills essential for research, particularly in presenting research findings in the most effective way to a diverse audience.

What advice would you give to youngsters interested in becoming scientists?

My advice is to stay persistent and patient in your scientific pursuits. Your research may not immediately provide a solution to a significant scientific problem. However, every small progress can contribute to the collective advancement of knowledge. Don’t be discouraged if a breakthrough feels distant, instead enjoy each small progress you make in the continual process of scientific discovery.

Is it important for you to communicate your research to the world? If yes, why and how do you do that?

Yes, communicating research to the world is crucial, as it enables others to build upon these discoveries, potentially turning small scientific findings on a specific topic into valuable contributions that advance our understanding of the field. In addition to the standard methods like publishing research papers in journals and presenting talks at conferences and seminars, I plan to explore online platforms to present my research in a more accessible manner to a wider audience.

Text: Elina Charatsidou