Yi-Ting Hsu wins prestigious National Science Foundation award

Author: Caroline Crawford

Yi Ting Hsu

Yi-Ting Hsu, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Notre Dame, was selected for the National Science Foundation’s Early Career Development Award for her commitment to both scientific research and community outreach.

This prestigious award seeks to recognize and support “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” 

With the support of this grant for $600,000 over 5 years, Hsu hopes to efficiently identify material candidates for topological superconductors, a special kind of quantum phase of matter that can transmit electrical currents with zero resistance and, thus, zero heat. Moreover, topological superconductors have special quantum states on their surfaces called Majorana modes. Because of the unique properties of these Majorana modes, topological superconductors offer the potential for more efficient and fault-tolerant quantum computing.

Hsu explained that while scientists know a great deal theoretically about this quantum phase, the challenge is identifying which kinds of materials could exhibit this property in reality.

“The periodic table is huge, and then you can make new materials by combining a combination of different elements. So there are 10s of 1000s of materials that exist in nature or in the lab, and it is very difficult to pinpoint which of these will exhibit the special quantum phase of being a topological superconductor,” Hsu said.

Hsu plans to use a combination of mathematical theories, models, and machine learning techniques to identify materials in a database that could potentially be topological superconductors. She also hopes to derive comprehensive principles for designing more material systems exhibiting topological superconductivity.

A substantial component of Hsu’s proposal involves community outreach. Hsu plans to create a multimedia channel, either in the form of a podcast or YouTube channel, that provides simple explanations to help parents answer their toddlers’ general science-related questions.

“Toddlers ask lots of questions about the nature that they see everyday, but parents might not know how to answer their toddlers in the correct way immediately,” Hsu said. “What I’m proposing to do is to provide very short but correct explanations in toddler friendly language about how to answer popular questions that toddlers ask.”

The idea of this project stems from being a parent: She’s anticipating her son’s broadening curiosity.

“He is only one and a half right now, but I can already imagine all the questions he will begin asking pretty soon,” Hsu said. 

Hsu also plans to create a mentor-mentee program for female researchers who are, or plan to be, mothers. As a mother and scientist, Hsu personally understands the challenges faced by mothers in academia. She hopes to create support groups that will provide emotional and career support for students, postdocs, and faculty who are expecting or have children in the South Bend area. 

Hsu is excited to be conducting her research at the University of Notre Dame and appreciates the support from her colleagues and the university.

“Notre Dame is an exciting place to be,” she said.