As quickly as renowned materials chemist Robert J. Cava could be introduced, space within the main seminar room of the Physics Research Building had reduced to standing room only.
Cava’s presentation of “Superconductivity: Where we are and where we are going,” at The Ohio State University on Oct. 30 drew students, researchers and faculty members from a wide range of disciplines. The talk was the latest installment in the Distinguished Lecture Series hosted by the Institute for Materials Research (IMR).
Cava, the Russell Wellman Moore Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University, presented an overview of the field that covered not only the emergence of superconductivity, but some early experts’ expectations of its development and potential future.
Superconductivity, the transmission of electrical current with zero energy loss, recently passed its centennial. And, in that time, the lossless transmission of energy has found a variety of important uses in modern society, Cava said.
However, he explained, “nature has not yet given us the ultimate practical material that will change the world through its lossless transmission of electrical energy over long distances.”
Cava’s lecture was given from the perspective of his personal research: the discovery of new superconducting materials. He chose not to give a technical talk, but rather articulate the domains of physics, chemistry and materials science for the broader range of students and researchers in attendance.
“Communicating to a general audience is good, if you can tell the story in a way that convinces people to realize that science and research is interesting and important,” Cava said. “From a technical perspective, you hope that somebody goes home and thinks about what you have said and then, somehow, it triggers some thought relevant to their own research.”
Cava is the former Chair of the Chemistry Department and former Director of the Materials Institute at Princeton University. His research in new materials emphasizes the relationships between chemistry, crystal structure, and electronic and magnetic properties.
“He is a pioneer and world-renowned leader in a lot of the important discoveries in condensed-matter physics, chemistry and materials research, including high-Tc superconductors, topological materials, magnetic oxide, and many other materials,” said Fengyuan Yang, professor in the Department of Physics, in his introduction of Cava.
After earning his Ph.D. in Ceramics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, he was a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in Solid State Chemistry at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Before going to Princeton University in 1997, Cava worked at Bell Labs for 17 years, where he was a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff.
He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Ceramic Society, and the Neutron Scattering Society of America, and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a Foreign Member of The Royal Society of London. His work has garnered numerous honors, and he has more than 60,000 citations.
Students in attendance were quick to follow Cava’s talk with questions. That intense interest was taken as a good sign by IMR Executive Director Steven Ringel, Distinguished University Professor and Neal A. Smith Professor of Electrical Engineering, who called Cava’s lecture on superconductivity a “tour de force.”
“It is always good for the young people to see what happens when you sustain your career and path, and are able to have long-term impact,” he said. “And it is great to see somebody so well known connect with graduate students, who are more than likely very aware of his extensive publication record and list of accomplishments. He’s like a celebrity to them.”
The Institute for Materials Research is an interdisciplinary institute that works across colleges and departments at The Ohio State University to facilitate, promote and coordinate research and infrastructure related to the science and engineering of materials.
Story by Mike Huson, IMR Public Relations Coordinator