Wiess School of Natural Sciences
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Biochemistry & Cell Biology
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Jedediah Harris Pixley

Graduate Student
Physics and Astronomy
Research area:  Quantum phase transitions and quantum magnetism in strongly correlated matter. 

Pixley lgJed Pixley received his Bachelor of Science in Physics and Bachelor of Arts in Pure Mathematics from the University of California Santa Cruz, with highest honors in both.

Jed’s interest in math and science began in high school. “My high school calculus teacher was my first true inspiration, the first mathematician I ever met―his presence had a dramatic effect on my life. We have kept in contact and have lunch together every time I am home,” he says.  Jed’s next inspiration came in college when he began working under Professor Peter Young studying classical magnetic phase transitions in disordered systems. “Professor Young helped me reach my potential as an undergraduate and gave me an opportunity to do research in theoretical physics at a young age.”

In a broad sense, Pixley studies phase transitions that occur in condensed matter systems. This can range from melting a solid to a liquid such as ice to water, or something more exotic such as the melting of a magnet to a paramagnetic state, or even the onset of superconductivity. If the temperature in some of these systems is sufficiently low, quantum mechanics begins to play a role and the phase transition can now be driven by the interactions of particles alone not temperature, this is known as a quantum phase transition.

In particular, he has been studying Kondo destroyed quantum critical points in single impurity models and their relevance to the magnetic phase transitions seen in experiments on heavy fermion metals. His research is now turning to unconventional superconductivity in heavy fermion metals and phase transitions in insulating magnets.

“I chose Rice so that I could work for Professor Qimiao Si―one of the best physicists in the world specializing in quantum phase transitions. He has also become a mentor and a friend.”

There is no doubt that Professor Si sees Pixley as a rising star in the program. He says, “Jed is making an excellent transition from a well-rounded physics student to a creative and independent theoretical physicist. Rice is emerging as one of the leading centers worldwide in the area of quantum materials.  Jed is one of those bright students who take full advantage of the stimulating research environment we strive to provide them.”

Jed says the most surprising thing about Rice is the departmental and individual support. “I feel that my needs as a student are addressed on an individual basis. This has given me opportunities to travel and present my research all over the world, as well as attend summer schools that give me a more thorough graduate education.”

Where does Jed see himself in the future? He would like to continue his research as a postdoc in a research institution somewhere in the world, where he will continue investigating quantum phase transitions in strongly correlated matter. Eventually, he would like to be a physics professor, where he will, no doubt, have a profound influence on his students.

When not busy in the lab, Jed is very active with soccer, snowboarding, skiing, swimming, biking, and backpacking.