Back in our lab at Columbia, I started trying some simple experiments. I didn’t plan anything in detail, just did what I could with a couple of lasers and a 50 cent magnet. And I got some amazing results showing that excitons can pair with magnons!
To follow up on these preliminary data, we conducted further experiments with stronger (and more expensive) superconducting magnets at the University of Washington and mapped the magnon dispersion with collaborators at Oak Ridge.
Did you have a special “Eureka” moment?
Rather, it was a series of many small steps that eventually led to something much bigger. I felt that my initial, simple ideas were often crude, but together the team was able to bring order out of chaos.
How did you end up at Columbia?
I came to Zhu’s lab as a postdoc after earning my PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University. There I became interested in optical spectroscopy and spins in molecular phase systems – also known as liquids. At Columbia I moved to solid systems, which I think are more interesting because they are intrinsically magnetic.
I was really amazed by Zhu’s enthusiasm for research. I wanted to be part of that excitement and learn how to use it to motivate others.
What originally sparked your interest in science?
Competition with my older brother. My grandmother in Korea thought he should be the ambitious one and I could just fool around. But I knew I could do better! He was interested in STEM, so I followed him. I loved science and had great mentors along the way.
My brother ended up in finance, but I think I’ll always be in STEM. I am now looking for an academic job and hope to continue studying spins wherever I end up.
What’s next for spin research?
We still need to do some more quantitative work to pin down more details about this exciton-magnon coupling; At the moment the research is very fundamental and lays the foundation for future experiments. I would also like to do more imaging to see short wavelength magnons and how the exciton-magnon coupling strength changes with magnon wavelength.
We will need this information to build spintronic devices, which have the potential to be more efficient alternatives to electronics, and also to interface with qubits and facilitate information transfer.
Do you enjoy life in the lab?
When things work, that’s great, but maybe not the next day – I think it’s fun to constantly fail and struggle.