$500,000 Grant from Simons Foundation for Charles Kane
October 16, 2012,
Volume 59, No. 08
Dr. Charles L. Kane, professor of physics in the department of physics and astronomy, in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, was awarded a five-year, $500,000 grant from the Simons Foundation as part of its inaugural class of Mathematics and the Physical Sciences (MPS) Simons Investigators.
Similar to the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Grants,” the prize comes from the nonprofit with no strings attached. It is intended to enable the researchers to undertake long-term study of fundamental questions in theoretical fields.
Dr. Kane was surprised. None of the 21 mathematicians, theoretical physicists and theoretical computer scientists who were awarded were aware he or she had been nominated by the foundation’s selection board until receiving an email detailing the terms of the grant.
“I had heard that the Simons Foundation was going to do something like this, but I didn’t know any of the details,” Dr. Kane said. “This came completely out of the blue. When I get an email that says ‘Congratulations,’ my first instinct is to delete it. I’m glad I didn’t.”
The award was in recognition for his work in the physics that govern the behavior of electrons in different kinds of materials and structures. Dr. Kane’s major contribution in this field is his theory of topological insulators, for which he shared the 2012 Oliver Buckley Prize of the American Physical Societ,y awarded for outstanding theoretical or experimental contributions to condensed matter physics and the 2011 Europhysics Prize of the European Physical Society.
“A topological insulator is an insulator in that it doesn’t conduct electricity on the inside, but it does conduct electricity in a very special way on its surface,” Dr. Kane said. “If you combine these materials with a superconductor, you can create a state that hosts an exotic particle known as a Majorana fermion, which in principle provides a route to making a kind of quantum computer.”
The grant comes with an additional $100,000 that goes to the department and University. At the end of the five years, the foundation will consider Dr. Kane’s work for an additional five years of funding.
According to the Foundation, “Charles Kane and co-workers showed, extending earlier work by Thouless and collaborators, that the electronic band structures of all crystals could be classified in terms of the momentum space topology of the electronic states, and that as a consequence there exist protected states at interfaces between topologically nontrivial crystals and topologically trivial crystals. Along with related work by Dr. Shoucheng Zhang and others, Dr. Kane’s results have created a large and vibrant research field focused on the search for and measurement of topologically nontrivial materials, including materials that are topologically nontrivial as a result of broken symmetries.”
Dr. Kane is also a winner of this year’s Dirac Medal and Prize by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, given annually to scientists who have made significant contributions to theoretical physics. It is one of the top prizes in theoretical physics internationally.
The citation is as follows: “The 2012 Dirac Medal and Prize are awarded to F. Duncan M. Haldane (Princeton University), Charles L. Kane (University of Pennsylvania) and Shou-cheng Zhang (Stanford University) in recognition of their many important contributions to condensed matter physics, including their independent work preparing and opening the field of two- and three-dimensional topological insulators. Their research and the physical implications of the concepts and theories they developed have been instrumental to exciting recent developments in this new area of experimental and theoretical condensed matter physics.”
Though not awarded to Nobel Laureates, Fields Medalists, or Wolf Foundation Prize winners, many winners of the Dirac Medal continue on to receive these esteemed prizes. Dr. Kane is the first Penn professor to receive this award.
Dr. Kane is being recognized for his contributions to condensed-matter physics, including advancing the understanding of the strange conductive qualities of topological insulators. His expertise lies in fields of mesoscopic physics, or the study of semiconductor nanostructures. Dr. Kane also focuses on the theory of quantum electronic phenomena in solids.
He received the Condensed Matter Europhysics Prize in 2010 (Almanac September 21, 2010), has been a fellow of the American Physical Society since 2006 and was an NSF Graduate Fellow, 1985-1988. He joined Penn’s faculty in 1991.