Physics Spotlight

December 2016
Photo of Professor Tigran Sedrakyan

Tigran Sedrakyan

Ph.D., Yerevan Physics Institute

We have chosen Professor Sedrakyan to participate in this month's Professor Spotlight. This is due to the fact that he is one of our new faculty members and we thought this would be a great way to get to know him. Professor Sedrakyan specializes in Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics. Please take a moment to review Professor Sedrakyan's website here.

What is your professional background? What did you major in and where? Where did you go to graduate school and for what? How can your educational background help you teach and mentor students at UMass?

I am a theoretical condensed matter physicist. I majored in theoretical physics at the Yerevan State University (YSU) and received Ph.D. from Yerevan Physics Institute (YerPhI). During my Ph.D. studies (and right after) I spent some time working at various European and US research centers. Most recently I was a joint research fellow at the W. I. Fine Theoretical Physics Institute at the University of Minnesota and the Joint Quantum Institute, University of Maryland. I think my background will help me to guide students, not just towards answering the questions we ask them today, but to answer the questions we have not yet imagined.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school? How did you decide which grad school to go to? What advice would you have for a student who wants to go to graduate school?

I made a decision to go to the graduate school rather early, and my goal was to get accepted to YerPhI, an institute with the reputation of being one of the best research centers. My undergraduate diploma work at YSU was based on an actual research that resulted in a publication coauthored by me, a friend of mine who was a PhD student, and my advisor. At that point I had a research experience and knew for sure what I wanted in my future career. My advice for a student considering graduate studies would be to know his/her preferences, strengths and qualifications in advance by participating in various research projects and interacting with as many researchers as possible. This will be a good basis to choose the "right" field, which is one of the most important decisions one makes.

What is your advice for a student who wants to go to industry?

My understanding is that Physics majors are considered to be "good catches" in various industries as they are believed to have analytical problem solving skills, programming abilities, and capabilities in experimental techniques, design and development. For a student who wants to go to industry I would recommend to choose the right industry and to focus on developing particular skills that are needed for the job. Obviously, the particular skills required for example in finances (e.g stock market prediction) and in semiconductor industry (e.g. device development) can be quite different, but physicists are supposed to know how to challenge themselves and learn new things.

Briefly, explain your research:

Effects of correlations in quantum systems with large number of particles often times give raise to the emergent behavior of the system. Typical examples of which are "quasiparticle excitations". This is one of the notions that make quantum condensed matter systems so fascinating. It turns out that in some situations, these quasiparticles can transmute their statistics. An example of transmutation is a system of bosons that act like fermions. This is an example of a topologically ordered state of matter.

Generally, topologically ordered states support fractionalization of excitations and lead to unconventional quantum phase transitions that are beyond conventional description based on braking of symmetries. These states have been the subject of my research lately.

Here is an article on the JQI website about our recent research:

What class in the undergraduate curriculum is closest to your research?

Statistical Physics, Quantum Mechanics, and E&M.

Do you take undergraduates in your research group? What type of work do they do? Have you published any papers with undergraduates?

I am considering involving undergraduate students in my research. The projects I am thinking about involve computation and possibly computer simulations in problems related to quantum condensed matter and statistical physics but do not require knowledge of advanced topics like quantum field theory.

What class(es) will you be teaching next semester? Is it related to your research? If so, in what way?

Next semester I will be teaching special topics in Solid State Physics – Quantum Many-Body Condensed Matter Physics, which is a graduate, research-level course that is directly related to my research. This course covers some aspects of quantum field theory in condensed matter physics and introduces topological states of matter.

What do you do outside of physics? Do you have a hobby?

My hobby would definitely have to be soccer. I like both playing soccer and also following the games.

How was your first semester here at UMass?

My first semester was great for me. Although I can't speak for my students, they hopefully had a good time as well.