Q&A with Yachin Ivry

Meet the Zuckerman Faculty Scholar Yachin Ivry at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, studying “Nano and Quantum Functional Structures

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“I enjoy guiding my students and my team to a place where no one’s gone before. I’m leading a team into the unknown – we have to create something valuable out of the darkness.  There is no guidebook for this.”

Dr. Yachin Ivry is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Solid-State Institute of Research at the Technion. He is an expert in nano-functional materials, investigating the interplay between superconductivity and the insulating nature of ferroelectrics . His research could provide insights into the emergence of cooperative phenomena in electronic materials and potentially lead to the development of novel devices such as low-power computers.

Prior to returning to Israel, Dr. Ivry spent three years at MIT as a post-doctoral scholar. He earned his PhD from the University of Cambridge, UK.  Recognized as someone who enjoys developing new ideas, Ivry’s scientific activity has earned him prestigious prizes and awards including the Horev Fellowship, the British Council Chevening Award, the Klein Prize, and a Nokia Fellowship.

Please describe your current research, the focus of your lab, and the practical implications of your research

Our research lies at the junction between science and technology, specifically between physics and engineering.  We work with systems that comprise many-body interactions. This is different than the typical case in nature, where we talk about two-body interactions. The earth and the sun, for example. Even if we talk about larger systems, such as a galaxy or the solar system, the system can be described by means of many two-body interactions.  There are always pairs of two. You can think of this for humans as well- two parents in the family.  In some unique systems there is a collective interaction. An example of this would be a kibbutz, a collective interaction of people, or a minyan, a collective for prayer. If there are only nine people, each person is on their own. Similarly, you cannot have a kibbutz of two people. But when there is a large enough number of people, the system suddenly changes and you have a kibbutz, or a quorum for prayer. We research systems with collective interaction between electrons and strive to understand the origin of this collective behavior and utilize this unique behavior for novel technologies.

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We are all addicted to data and consume huge amounts of it. That data needs to be processed and stored somewhere, such as the cloud, which is a real place! There are huge computer farms in the North Pole because these computers consume high levels of electricity and need to be kept cool. The current technology of semiconductors was good for laptops but as we centralize information to data centers, we have to change the concept because they consume too much energy. We are trying to replace it with technology that will enable us to process and store data with much less power and in a more energy efficient way than we do today.

Our lab is multidisciplinary – we process materials with very high precision. We have atomic-scale precision of the materials which we can manipulate by making a small estimation for voltage or energy. This will create a large response, because all the electrons respond in a collective manner,  and is much more energy efficient. This interaction is basic physics. We can model these systems in the lab – like the kibbutz or minyan – and discover new behaviors in nature.  The next important step is that we can make nano devices and quantum devices in the lab that are important for communication, computing, and imaging.  We recently created a device which we patented that can detect a single photon of light fast and efficiently. NASA is using similar devices for its exploration to Mars.

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What do you enjoy most about your research? 

I enjoy guiding my students and my team to a place no one’s gone before.  I’m leading a team into the unknown, and we have to create something valuable out of the darkness. It’s experimentally driven – there is no guidebook for this.

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What inspired you to pursue this area of research?  

I always liked physics because its curiosity driven and very interesting to me. I enjoy the meeting with nature and understanding what’s going on around us. Yet, what’s true for science today can be wrong ten years from now. I wanted to do something practical, not just solve problems. The intellectual understanding of collective behavior has scientific merit, not just for today, but with new technology that may only be realized in the coming decade. This is why I found the fields of materials science and engineering very appealing.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Zuckerman Faculty Scholars Program?

What we do is possible thanks to the one-of-a-kind advanced instrumentation built especially for our lab, and we appreciate the funding we received from the Zuckerman Institute.  These are very expensive devices, one-of-a-kind in the world. We participated in the R&D to make these devices that were customized by the world’s leading companies that make them. There are no other sister instruments.

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Where do you hope your research will have the greatest impact? 

There are two specific electrical insulators in nature, and the best conductors appear in nature that exhibit collective electron behavior. Most materials don’t do that. We invented new materials in the lab that serve as a shield from magnetic fields and we can put them anywhere. Sometimes it is difficult to work with them, but we managed to do it.  We can create detectors for single photons of light; quantum materials that are very flexible and sensitive for magnetic sensors and are superconductors. These nano and quantum materials have civilian and military applications, like detectors for underground fighting, searching for tunnels, etc.  If a country is equipped with quantum computers and quantum communication capabilities it is highly unlikely that these systems could be hacked.

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