Stig Lundqvist Conference covers cutting-edge research

Topics include topological insulators, ultra-cold atoms
Stig Lundqvist Conference covers cutting-edge research

ICTP is hosting its 5th Stig Lundqvist Conference on the Advancing Frontiers of Condensed Matter Physics from 11 July to 15 July 2011. The conference especially focuses on topological aspects of condensed matter physics, some of which were also the subject of a workshop and school held at ICTP from 27 June to 8 July. Eighty visitors are planning to attend the conference, including 23 speakers.

The conference aims to provide a venue for the exchange of ideas between scientists in different but related areas, and ample time for discussion and debate is built into the schedule.

Many of the presenters will discuss topological insulators, solids which are insulating in their bulk but have symmetry protected conductive properties at their surfaces. These materials could have interesting applications for quantum computing.

Results and views of systems with ultra-cold atoms will also be discussed. In these systems, gas atoms are cooled to a temperature in the nanokelvin range, and can then be manipulated into new lattice structures. It is envisaged that some of these realizations could also exhibit topological properties.

Erio Tosatti, the event's local organizer, said that even though the topological aspects of condensed matter still show few practical uses at present, such applications are sure to develop in the future. "Properties controlled by geometrical facts rather than quantitative facts have always been important to physics," Tosatti said. The protected nature of coherent electron propagation at the topological insulator surfaces might provide exciting possibilities to uncover the so far elusive "Majorana fermion" on one hand, and on the other hand suggest new routes towards the realization of quantum computers, another holy grail in the field.

Many of the speakers are well-known, long-established scientists, but Tosatti said the agenda also includes several "younger, fresher scientists who have jumped into the field." He hopes the mix will provide attendees from all over the world both the chance to interact with top researchers and the opportunity to connect with role models close to their own age.

This conference series was established following the death of Stig Lundqvist in 2000, through the support of many of his colleagues, notably American physicist Elias Burstein. Lundqvist was a theoretical physicist from Sweden and a longtime secretary on the Nobel committee, whom Tosatti described as both "a very enthusiastic person" and "a great friend of ICTP." He contributed to the centre's mission of bringing together scientists from the developed and developing worlds by arranging contacts with once closed communities such as the Soviet Union and China, as well as attracting to Trieste many Nobel laureates over the years.

The conference aims to continue Lundqvist's legacy by making it possible for researchers from great laboratories to share their work with people from the developing world who might not be exposed to it otherwise.

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