Physics Spotlight

August 2022
Physics Spotlight

Ke Wang

Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ke Wang was nominated by the Physics Department due to his many talents and contributions to not only the UMass Amherst campus, but also within the theoretical physics field. His research has focused on universal features of quantum criticalities in topological chains and interacting theory of Dirac electrons under weak magnetic fields, as well as, predictions of novel many-body phenomena. Recently, Ke defended his thesis and plans to continue pursuing his research interests as a prestigious Kadanoff postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. The department is very excited to see another physicist graduate embark on their next adventure and wishes Ke luck as he continues his future endeavors and research discoveries. Congratulations!

What brought you to the University of Massachusetts to continue your studies?

UMass Amherst has a very good reputation in the research of quantum physics. When I was an undergraduate student, I was very interested in quantum physics and decided to work on it.

Where did you do your undergrad? What is your degree in?

I received my bachelor’s degree from the South University of Science and Technology of China.

Who is your faculty advisor and why did you pick them?

Professor Tigran Sedrakyan is my research advisor.  He is an expert in quantum field theory and many-body physics, which I was particularly interested in.

What has been your favorite Graduate level course?

I liked Professor Sedrakyan's “Topics in Many Body Physics” a lot. This class introduces many advanced concepts in modern condensed matter physics and greatly broadened my horizon in many aspects.

What are some of your research interests?

My research interests are studying the emergent phenomena in condensed matter physics, especially for topological systems and quantum criticalities.

Has any of your research resulted in a published article?

We studied universal features of quantum criticalities in topological chains, resulting in two publications (Phys. Rev. B 101, 035410 (2020), SciPost Phys. 12, 134 (2022)).  We also established the interacting theory of Dirac electrons under a weak magnetic field and predicted a set of novel many-body phenomena with a series of papers ( Phys. Rev. B 103, 085418 (2021),  Phys. Rev. B 104, L161102 (2021),  Phys. Rev. B 105, L121114 (2022)).

What advice would you give to undergraduates considering Graduate programs?

One important point for a senior undergraduate or an early graduate student is to think and figure out what you want/need to do in graduate school. It is not an easy question and I spent a lot of time on it. When I was in my undergraduate, I had to make a difficult decision between doing math or physics as I progressed. Later, as a young graduate student, I also had no clue what areas I should enter. To help answer these questions, I went to conferences, talked with other graduate students, and most importantly asked for suggestions from professors/advisors in the physics department. I really learned a lot from them, thanks to my colleagues and advisors. It is not an quick process and can take time to figure it out, but be patient and try it.

Recently, you defended and are now a Ph.D. recipient. What are your future plans?

Physics is so deep and broad. I plan to explore it more in the next several years. I will move to UChicago as a Kadanoff postdoctoral fellow and will continue research in theoretical physics, expanding my horizon further to other subjects of condensed matter. Like strongly correlated systems, cold atoms, and non-equilibrium physics.

What skills do you think are vital to your new postdoctoral position at UChicago?

I know something about condensed matter physics and quantum field theories. This might fit into the position well, but there could be some general suggestions for graduate students who want to pursue academics and/or apply for a position such as this. The first thing is of course working with your research advisor and publishing good-quality papers. If possible, also try to collaborate with other physicists. The second thing is applying for as many positions as you can. There are many advertisements on websites so apply to positions that fit you and your goals. It does not need to be in the exact same area of your Ph.D. research. The last thing is being well-prepared for the job interview from all angles. Before the job interview, you should be clear about the position, read papers of the professor(s), and keep a simple plan of what you want to do moving forward.

What are you looking forward to the most?

I am looking forward to more research opportunities in my future postdoc career. I am very excited about the new position since I can talk with people working in theoretical physics from the Kadanoff center and start more collaborations with others working on condensed matter physics from the James Franck Institute. The graduate student careers here at UMass are great and built a solid foundation for me. Now it is a good time to climb higher in physics.

Last, but not least, do you have any other interests or hobbies that you enjoy? They can be physics or non-physics related.

I like reading textbooks and pedagogical papers on math and physics. Authors can allow me to review beautiful, deep, and dynamic theories.