Dr. Thomas Vojta, assistant professor of physics at the University of Missouri-Rolla, recently received a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation for his research into superconductivity.
The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious award for new faculty members. The CAREER program recognizes and supports the early career development of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. Recipients are selected on the basis of creative career development plans that effectively integrate research and teaching.
Vojta will receive $400,000 from NSF over a five-year period to study "Quantum Phase Transitions in Electronic Systems."
One important application of this research is superconductivity, or the ability to transfer electricity without any loss. Until recently, materials had to be cooled to temperatures below -400 degrees Fahrenheit, very close to absolute zero, in order to be superconducting. In the past 20 years, however, researchers have been able to produce materials which show the same effect at much warmer temperatures, but no one has yet been able to determine why it works.
"Changing the chemical composition a little or introducing a few defects can cause dramatic changes in the behavior of these materials," Vojta says. These changes are similar to the abrupt transformation of water from liquid to a solid when ice forms as its temperature drops below freezing. Vojta studies the way such changes, which are called quantum phase transitions, affect superconductivity and why.
By studying the quantum phase transitions in superconductor materials, Vojta hopes to explain why certain combinations of materials allow superconductivity to occur at higher temperatures. Once that is known, researchers may be able to produce results with even higher temperatures, leading to great technological advances in superconductivity.
Vojta joined the UMR faculty in January 2002. Prior to his current position, Vojta served as Heisenberg Fellow and visiting scholar at Wolfson College and in the department of theoretical physics of the University of Oxford in Great Britain.
Vojta received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chemnitz in Germany in 1994 and a master of science degree in physics from the Technological University of Dresden, Germany, in 1991. His research interests include quantum and classical phase transitions, critical behavior, superconductivity and transport in disordered materials.