By: Don Mock firstname.lastname@example.org
Graphene and buckyballs (both unusual forms of carbon) are just two of the substances that fascinate the University of Florida’s Art Hebard, a Distinguished Professor of Physics. Over a long career in condensed matter physics, it is the unusual physical phenomena that appear under conditions of restricted dimensions and at interfaces that have attracted his particular interest. Hebard’s studies of the magnetic and superconducting properties of such substances may lead to revised physical theories that in turn suggest new observations. Such a research cycle eventually can further progress toward practical applications such as high-efficiency photovoltaics, room-temperature superconductors, or nanoscale integrated circuits.
After doctoral and post-doctoral work at Stanford, Hebard spent 23 years at the prestigious Bell Labs in New Jersey. But by the mid-1990s, the breakup of the Bell System and impending sale of the labs to Lucent Technologies meant big changes were on the horizon. Hebard received attractive offers from Columbia and Florida. A slip and fall on an icy sidewalk helped tip the balance in UF’s favor – that, and Florida’s talented and diverse faculty supported by skilled machine-shop staff and a state-of-the-art helium recovery facility.
After moving to Florida in 1996, Hebard made good use of that machine shop with the fabrication of SHIVA (Sample Handling In a VAcuum), which looks somewhat like its multi-armed Hindu namesake. SHIVA is used to observe the optical, electrical, and magnetic properties of thin films after deposition without exposing the samples to the corroding effects of the atmosphere. Four generations of graduate students, now employed in academic and industrial jobs, have earned PhDs based on SHIVA investigations of thin magnetic films. This work builds on related earlier discoveries that were recognized by the American Physical Society’s award to Hebard and collaborators of the 2015 Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Physics Prize “for discovery and pioneering investigations of the superconductor-insulator transition, a paradigm for quantum phase transitions.”
Asked if the transition from industry to academia was difficult, Hebard says the ability to work with young people in the university environment removed many of the bumps in the road. “Teaching keeps you fresh, which helps with your research.” He likes to remind his graduate students “if you know what you’re doing tomorrow, you aren’t doing research.” The students he attracts to his research program are of high quality, and they come with diverse skill sets. “At Florida, a typical physics major may be just as comfortable disassembling a car’s transmission as in manipulating Schrödinger’s equation.” These wide-ranging talents come in quite handy in the lab and can help lead to the next great discovery.