Published: May 28, 2020 By

Physicist Dan Dessau wins $1.6M Moore Foundation quantum systems award 

Thanks to a $1.6-million grant, CU Boulder Physics Professor Dan Dessau will spend five years striving to make breakthroughs in quantum systems technology. 

Dan Dessau

Dan Dessau

Dessau, who is also a fellow at JILA (a joint institute of CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology) is one of 20 U.S. scientists to win support from the Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) Initiative at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the foundation announced today

“The EPiQS Initiative could transform our understanding of quantum materials and make it possible to ask fundamentally new questions about how complex quantum matter organizes and behaves,” said Dusan Pejakovic, the initiative’s program officer.

The Moore Foundation launched EPiQS to give some of the field’s most creative scientists the financial resources to take the field in new directions, including those deemed higher risk or higher reward. 

As the founder of Intel, one of the largest and most influential computer chip manufacturers in the world, Gordon Moore is viewed as well positioned to understand the limitations of existing technologies and to invest in promising lines of scientific inquiry that might break through these limitations.  

This year’s awards are the second round of the initiative’s experimental investigator funding. The first round occurred in 2014 and supported 19 EPiQS investigators, including Margaret Murnane, CU Boulder distinguished professor of physics. 

This physics is at the very forefront of both science and technology, potentially leading to revolutionary applications in electronics, computing, energy technology and medical devices."

Dessau’s project is called “Spectroscopy of Quantum Materials,” a broad title that he says suggests the freedom and flexibility that the Moore Foundation gives its researchers.  

Dessau plans to spend most of his time attempting the following:

  • Improving the quantitative accuracy and resolution of the experimental technique called Angle Resolved Photoemission Spectroscopy (ARPES), or the experimental technique to observe the distribution of electrons; and 
  • Applying this technique to the study of the quantum electronic structure and dynamical properties of superconductors and other novel electronic and quantum materials.  

Dessau observes: “Though ARPES has its roots all the way back to Einstein’s 1905 explanation of the photoelectric effect for which he won the Nobel prize, it is a relatively young spectroscopic technique that is becoming increasingly powerful for the study of quantum materials, such that it is now an indispensable (but still somewhat hampered) tool.” 

Throughout his scientific career Dessau has made major contributions in both advancing cutting-edge ARPES as well as utilizing it for ground-breaking scientific studies. 

His group at CU Boulder developed the world’s first laser-ARPES instrument, which brought major advances in energy and momentum-resolution to the field, and he has made numerous contributions to our understanding of high temperature superconductors, magnetoresistive materials—materials that change the value of their electrical resistance when an external magnetic field is applied—and topological insulators—quantum materials where electronic “correlations” or interactions are especially important, but not yet understood. 

“This physics is at the very forefront of both science and technology, potentially leading to revolutionary applications in electronics, computing, energy technology and medical devices,” Dessau says. “I feel very fortunate that I have had such an interesting set of problems to study so far in my career.” 

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit or follow @MooreFound.