Hanna Mark '22 - Quantum Materials Lab (Summer 2019)

Hanna Mark '22 - Quantum Materials Lab (Summer 2019)

This summer, I had the opportunity to work under Professor Sara Haravifard in her Quantum Materials Lab at Duke University, in the Department of Physics.  The Haravifard group is mainly focused on investigating the emergent critical behavior in correlated electron systems, particularly, frustrated quantum spin compounds and high temperature superconductors.

Over the 10 weeks that I spent doing research, I gained hands on experience with Prof. Haravifard’s lab equipment and mainly focused on the sample preparation of potential quantum spin compounds (QSL). Specifically, I focused on the synthesis of Breathing Pyrochlores: a subclass of non-cubic material with a uniquely shaped, “pulsing” lattice that geometrically induces more antiferromagnetic frustration into the system. This process entails weighing exact amounts of base elements/base compounds, and then repeatedly sintering, grinding, and x-raying (in a PCR) the powder materials. At the end of this process, we wanted to eventually obtain pure phases of the chemical compounds we were looking for without impurities and to grow into single crystals, all of which I had been able to accomplish a few times with different materials. While there were times that the pure phases of materials were harder to achieve (due to atmospheric sensitivity, different combinations of sintering temperatures, etc.) going into the lab everyday, troubleshooting, and making a plan of how to go forwards was always an exciting thing for me to be a part of.  Towards the end of the summer, I moved onto finally making the actual crystal using optical floating zone crystal growth.

The material that I worked on over the summer tied heavily into a previous courses that I took last semester—specifically, Physics 264: “Optics and Modern Physics”.  After first learning about the theory behind the first quantum experiments and now what our lab is trying to achieve with its work, I had an amazing time doing research on the forefront of the QSL field.

In addition to the physical lab work, my opportunity this summer taught me a lot of practical research skills beyond just condensed matter physics and solid-state chemistry. With the experience of being in a lab like this, I learnt to do data analysis on the crystals I produced, learnt about relevant software, and learnt how to present my work to the rest of the lab team. I gave weekly presentations on what I had accomplished, learnt to be meticulous in documentation of lab notes, and even was able to create a new organization system for the chemical cabinet that stored many of our base compounds. Working at Duke this summer, I got a taste of a balancing a daily research workload and learnt a lot about extremely theoretical materials with fantastically unique properties.