An assistant professor in the Department of Physics here at UC Santa Barbara has been awarded the Packard Fellowship for his research into discovering states of matter.

Cenke Xu, a theoretical physicist who works without a laboratory, has been garnering large amounts of national and international attention and awards for his research in the field of quantum physics.

Professor Xu was one of only 16 researchers in the United States to be awarded this distinction and the unrestricted research grant of $875,000, to be paid over five years. The Packard Fellowship has awarded over $300 million to almost 500 researchers across the country in the past 25 years. The grant is designed to have few restrictions on how the money is used, allowing the recipients flexibility in their research.

Xu stated that one of the goals of his research was to discover “new states of matter in the quantum world,” beyond those of the solid-liquid-gas triumvirate that most people are familiar with. He described the “fractional quantum Hall state,” as an example of such a discovery. In the fractional quantum Hall state, the electrons move together due to quantum mechanics and strong interaction. As such, single electrons are no longer a good description of the system as a whole. As the system progresses, the system’s “particle” begins to hold a fraction of the electron charge. This has surprised many physicists, and this phenomenon has only been found to occur in certain types of quantum systems.

However, discovery is not the only thing Xu has in mind for the new states.

“Besides classification, I am also trying to propose experimental methods to detect and probe these unconventional states in laboratories,” Xu said in a press release.

Xu also expressed his gratitude toward the university and the physics department for his nomination, saying, “I want to thank my colleagues in my department for their support in my research and teaching, and also the Office of Research for their help during my preparation for the application.”