Baylor Chemist/Materials Scientist Part of MagLab Research to Develop Roadmap to New Quantum Materials

Julia Chan, Ph.D.
Julia Chan, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry and materials science at Baylor University (Matthew Minard/Baylor University(
Aug. 22, 2022

Julia Chan, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry and materials science, and MagLab Research Faculty Ryan Baumbach, Ph.D., connect physics, chemistry and materials science to illustrate new methods to yield materials with quantum properties

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-709-5959
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WACO, Texas (Aug. 22, 2022) – A new review article in Science Advances co-authored by a researcher with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) in Tallahassee, Florida, and Julia Chan, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry and materials science at Baylor University, connects several decades of research on a family of intermetallic crystalline materials to find practical ways to design strongly correlated electronic, magnetic and superconducting phenomena.

Metals that contain lanthanide elements have attracted sustained interest for several decades because they exhibit a wide variety of exciting phenomena, including unconventional superconductivity, complex magnetism and other unusual states. However, scientists are often uncertain which materials will exhibit specific states and must conduct time and resource-intensive, experimental surveys of large number of chemical/structural combinations to discover new materials with exotic properties.

This collaboration between Baylor’s Chan and MagLab’s Ryan Baumbach, Ph.D., seeks to provide new clarity for where to look for these enhanced properties. The paper – “Electronic landscape of the f-electron intermetallics with the ThCr2Si2 structure” – was published Aug. 10 in Science Advances.

“What is often missing is a simple way to determine whether a given compound can reasonably be expected to exhibit novel behavior,” said Baumbach, who is corresponding author on the manuscript. “Understanding the likely impacts of tuning and what specific tuning vector(s) would be useful has been a long-standing goal of the community.”

In this work, the authors reexamined a large family of materials containing rare earth elements with a specific structural prototype (“ThCr2Si2”). There are hundreds of materials that have this structure some of which contain the elements cerium, europium, ytterbium or uranium. The team found useful trends that connected the electronic/magnetic state of the materials to predictable combinations of the unit cell volume and the chemical composition. Importantly, the materials that exhibit attractive behavior, such as unconventional superconductivity and non-Fermi-liquid behavior, are found in well-defined regions of the phase space.

These observations are consistent with earlier organizing principles but make an important step forward by clarifying chemical strategies to search for new material combinations within a simple scheme that is accessible to researchers across a wide variety of disciplines. 

As a materials scientist who leads the Chan Research Group, Chan strives to advance the synthesis and characterization of novel quantum materials.

“In my laboratory, we grow single crystals of solid-state materials so we can directly measure the physical properties,” Chan said. “In addition to diffraction techniques, we work extensively with collaborators all over the world to learn about the physics of new materials. The key is synthesis of novel quantum materials, critical to understanding the function of emergent materials. The combination of chemistry, physics and materials science insights is synergistic and necessary to advance the field and can impact sustainability, energy and quantum information science.”

Chan and Baumbach first met when both were invited to give a talk at the Fundamentals of Quantum Materials Winter School and Workshop at the University of Maryland in January 2018. Since meeting at this and other academic conferences, they have published five papers together and submitted two others.

Baumbach hopes to see his and Chan’s work inspire similar maps of electronic and magnetic properties for other structural prototypes of materials as a guide for researchers to find the most exotic materials combinations. While the team conducted this work through careful examination of the vast scientific literature, computer-driven mining of electronic databases could also be a means to usher rapid progress towards developing novel magnets, superconductors and even topological materials.  

“We hope that our manuscript will inspire further efforts to aggregate data in this way, not only for materials with structures that are related to the ThCr2Si2 structure type, but also for other structure types,” Baumbach said. “It’s not yet clear whether this simple scheme will work for other systems, but if it does it will accelerate progress towards important discoveries by avoiding brute force investigations of the chemical phase space.”

Also contributing to the research was You Lai, Ph.D., of the National Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University.

ABOUT JULIA CHAN, PH.D.

After spending two years as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory, Julia Chan (B.S. Chemistry, Baylor University; Ph.D. Chemistry, University of California at Davis) was on the faculty at Louisiana State University from 2000-2013 and University of Texas at Dallas from 2013-2021. In 2022, she returned to Baylor University along with her research group and the lab’s current research efforts is focused on synthesis, crystal growth and characterization of novel quantum materials. Chan has published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and given over 150 invited talks. She has graduated 21 Ph.D. students and has mentored over 40 undergraduates in her laboratory.

In 2020, on behalf of the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Chan was elected to the rank of AAAS Fellow of the AAAS for distinguished contributions to the field of crystal growth of highly correlated quantum materials.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation DMR-2209804, DMR-1644779 and DMR-1904361, U.S. Department of Energy DE-SC0016568 and Welch Foundation Grant AT-2056-20210327.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT THE COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments in the sciences, humanities, fine arts and social sciences, as well as 10 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.

ABOUT MAGLAB

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1644779) and the State of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.

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