Oleg Starykh, professor of physics and astronomy, has been elected a fellow of the 2020 Class of Fellows for the American Physical Society (APS). The APS Fellowship Program recognizes members who have made exceptional contributions to the physics enterprise in physics research, important applications of physics, leadership in or service to physics, or significant contributions to physics education. Each year, no more than one half of one percent of the Society membership is recognized by their peers for election to the status of fellow in the American Physical Society.
“It means so much to be recognized as a fellow, and it implies the recognition of my research by my peers and colleagues in the U.S. and, more generally, worldwide. I appreciate it greatly,” Starykh said. The specific citation from the APS is for Starykh’s “work on the theory of quasi-one-dimensional quantum magnets and the magnetization physics of frustrated antiferromagnets,” which refers to the research Starykh has carried out during the past 15 years, which coincides with his career in the department and at the University of Utah. “Being named a fellow reflects positively on a productive and transformative stretch of my scientific career associated with my moving to Utah and joining the U in 2004,” he said.
His main research area, and the one recognized by the fellowship, is known as quantum magnetism. It deals with magnetic properties of numerous materials and theoretical models inspired by them. The primary goal of his research is to understand the quantum dynamics of microscopic magnetic moments (known as spins), which are present in essentially every material around us and on specific kinds of magnetic materials, known as frustrated antiferromagnets, in which microscopic quantum spins never settle in any one particular rigid pattern (as they do, for example, in the macroscopic magnets that populate the doors of our refrigerators and are known as ferromagnets) but continue their quantum “dance” down to the absolute zero of temperature. The practical side of this research, known as spintronics, seeks to create and control quantum motion of spins, with the goal of replacing basic electron current based devices with spintronics, in which spin currents will be used to transport quantum information encoded in quantum spin-based qubits. While Starykh isn’t closely involved with this kind of research, he finds spintronics’ goals motivating and inspiring.
He became curious about physics in middle school, but it became a passion by the time he finished high school. “I just liked reading and thinking about it, and enjoyed working out physics problems,” he said. “It always amazes me how a few key notions and laws govern the diverse and immense number of natural phenomena around us. When you really understand something, it becomes a part of you. It’s a great feeling to experience.”
Starykh enjoys reading history and good science fiction. His favorite museum is the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. He likes hiking with his family in Utah deserts, mountains, and elsewhere. Like many of us during COVID, he misses traveling and visiting new places and countries.
He received a master’s degree in physics and engineering from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1988, and a Ph.D. in physics in 1991 from the Institute for High Pressure Physics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. He joined the University of Utah in 2004 as an associate professor and was promoted to professor in 2012.