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Making Universal Connections at the Nanoscale

New Assistant Professor Nayana Shah studies quantum condensed matter physics to find more universal truths.

Date: 4/12/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Photos By: Kim Burdett
Nayana Shah in the Department of Physics has studied and done research around the world. Originally from India, she received her PhD from Rutgers University in New Jersey and spent three years doing postdoctoral research in Switzerland and Germany. She continued her research at the University of Illinois before arriving at Cincinnati in September 2009 as a new assistant professor.

“I really enjoyed being in various places and experiencing different academic environments,” Shah says. “One of the things I value the most about U.S. universities is their international atmosphere which makes for a tolerant, balanced and healthy approach to science and academic life.”

Her broad exposure has enhanced her interactions with students, colleagues and collaborators. It also helps that regardless of nationality, they all speak the same language: science.

Nayana Shah.
Assistant Professor of Physics Nayana Shah

That universal element is what attracted Shah to the field of physics. As the science of nature, she looks at physics as a way of finding universal truths.

“My inherently scientific approach and artistic inclination blend and lend naturally to the pursuit of physics,” she says. Among other things, she likes to write, draw, sing, cook, go walking and be immersed in nature.

As a theoretical physicist, Shah conducts research in the field of quantum condensed matter physics.

“Technological innovation, discovery of new materials, and a multitude of experimental probes is what drives this field,” she says. “What happens when the temperature of a metal approaches absolute zero? Will the resistance diverge, saturate or go to zero?”

No one knew the answer to these questions until Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovered superconductivity—a new phase of matter—after liquefying helium to attain low enough temperatures.

In the last few years, Shah’s research has focused on answering a similar set of questions when one or more dimensions of a superconducting material are reduced down to few nanometers. 

“By using a carbon nanotube as a template, it has now become possible to make superconducting nanowires,” she says.

Shah has collaborated with experimentalists to understand the essence of superconductivity in the nanowires. She has also investigated quantum phase transitions—changes in the phase of matter tuned not by varying temperature, but some other physical parameter—which are particularly interesting in nanoscale superconductors.

Shah says she’s excited to start her professorship at the University of Cincinnati.

“I already feel at home not only in my department and the university, but also in a city with many green spaces and a vibrant, friendly atmosphere—especially because I have already had opportunities to share my enthusiasm for science and research with the larger community beyond campus,” she says.

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