Meet Columbia’s First Schwinger Fellow

February 19, 2024

Last spring, Columbia’s Physics Department received a $900,000 gift from the Schwinger Foundation, a group honoring the legacy of Columbia alum and 1965 Nobel Laureate in Physics Julian Schwinger (CC’36, GSAS’39). The gift supports, in perpetuity, research conducted by talented graduate students in physics. The Physics Department recently named the first Schwinger Fellow: Ilya Komissarov, a 6th-year physics PhD student chosen for his outstanding interdisciplinary theoretical research.

Schwinger conducted foundational work on quantum and classical field theory, nuclear physics, and many-body physics; the methods he developed underpin theoretical physics as it is practiced today. Komissarov, who is working with assistant professor of physics Raquel Queiroz, is exploring the quantum behavior of electrons in what are known as topological materials—a unique class of condensed matter that is insulating in the middle but can conduct electricity along its edges. To explore these materials, researchers must treat electrons as quantum mechanical objects, meaning as interacting waves rather than particles. 

Ellen Neff from the Columbia Quantum Initiative recently conducted an interview with Komissarov in which he explains his research and excitement about topological materials. Read the full interview on the Columbia Quantum Initiative Website here