Subir Sachdev

Harvard University

Election Year: 2014
Primary Section: 13, Physics
Secondary Section: 33, Applied Physical Sciences
Membership Type: Member


Subir Sachdev is a condensed matter physicist well known for his research on quantum phase transitions and its application to a variety of quantum materials, such as the high temperature superconductors. His research seeks to illuminate the boundary between the everyday world we live in - in which many but not all phenomena can be explained through classical physics - and the subatomic world of quantum physics. These two worlds come together at a "quantum phase transition”, where there is a change in the macroscopic character of the quantum state describing a many-particle system, and manifestations of quantum entanglement appear naturally at long distances. His book Quantum Phase Transitions (Cambridge University Press, 1999 and 2011) has formed the basis of much subsequent research. More recently he pioneered the application of string theory to the study of quantum phase transitions in systems of ultracold bosons, and to the “strange metal” state found in many modern materials. Sachdev was educated in India before attending MIT and Harvard where he obtained his Ph.D. degree in theoretical physics. He held professional positions at Bell Labs (1985–1987) and at Yale University (1987–2005), where he was a Professor of Physics, before returning to Harvard. He also holds a visiting position as the James Clerk Maxwell Chair in Theoretical Physics at the Perimeter Institute. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, fellow of the American Physical Society and has been awarded several honors, among them the Lorentz Chair, Instituut-Lorentz, Leiden University in 2012, and the Salam Distinguished Lecturer at the International Center for Theoretical Physics, Trieste in 2014.

Research Interests

Sachdev’s research develops the theory of quantum many-body physics, while keeping a close eye on experimental developments. Many of the most interesting problems are motivated by observations on the copper and iron based high temperature superconductors. These materials exhibit unusual metallic states known as the “pseudogap” and the “strange metal” out of which superconductivity appears as the temperature is lowered: thus we cannot address the key problem of the critical temperature of superconductivity without an understanding of these remarkable metals. By a recent analysis of scanning tunneling microscopy data, Sachdev and collaborators have argued that the pseudogap displays characteristics of quantum spin liquids, which are quantum states of electrons with long-range entanglement. The strange metal is the most common example of a state of quantum matter without particle-like (or “quasiparticle”) excitations. Sachdev has had a long-standing interest in the theory of quantum matter without quasiparticles: most recently, he has argued that holographic models, obtained from string theory, provide valuable insight into the structure of such states. Sachdev’s research also extends to other systems with non-trivial quantum many body states, including graphene structures, and ultracold atomic gases.

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