Zoe Yan

2023 Regional Award Winner — Post-Doc

Zoe Yan

Current Position:
Assistant Professor, James Franck Institute and Department of Physics

The University of Chicago (previously, Princeton University)

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

Recognized for: Developing the first quantum gas microscope on single, ultracold molecules and applying this technique to explore important phenomena relevant to high-temperature superconductors and other quantum materials. Yan’s work opened a new venue to study complex quantum phenomena previously inaccessible by other instruments and holds great potential in future quantum technologies.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics; Quantum Physics; Quantum Gases

Previous Positions:

  • BS, Stanford University
  • PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Advisor: Martin Zwierlein)
  • Dicke Postdoctoral Fellow, Princeton University (Advisor: Waseem S. Bakr)

Research Summary: 

Quantum materials are an ever-evolving research field that explores the extraordinary quantum properties of materials, with the potential to revolutionize future technologies in electronics, computing, and energy. Zoe Yan, PhD, is a leading figure in this field, devising innovative techniques to control and observe quantum behavior in model systems that shed light on the mysteries of real quantum materials.

One of the major challenges in this realm arises from the complex interactions between a large number of electrons within quantum materials, for which no known mathematical tools can accurately describe their behavior. As an alternative approach, scientists construct model systems of atoms or molecules to effectively mimic the behavior of electrons in real materials. They use lasers to cool these atoms or molecules to almost absolute zero temperatures to eliminate unwanted thermal behavior, enabling experimental observations of their quantum interactions. Prior to Yan's groundbreaking work, scientists had successfully mastered these techniques for individual atoms, but molecules posed a greater challenge to cool, prepare, and image at the single particle level. Yan developed the world's first quantum gas microscope for ultracold molecules, enabling precise control, detection, and measurement of the motion and quantum interactions between molecules. This breakthrough opened up new avenues of research, as molecules offer greater tunability and increased capacity to store quantum information compared to atoms.

In addition to her work on molecules, Yan has also spearheaded the application of the quantum gas microscope technique to explore significant phenomena relevant to quantum materials such as high-temperature superconductors and quantum magnets, which have perplexed physicists for decades. Through her work, she has gained fresh insights into the underlying physical mechanisms of these materials. Furthermore, with the ability to control individual atoms using software-programmable traps called “optical tweezers”, Yan's microscope holds the potential to utilize atoms for implementing qubit gates—the computing building block in quantum computers.

Overall, Yan’s pioneering contributions have not only deepened our understanding of quantum materials, but also paved the way for future advancements in quantum computing and other cutting-edge technologies.

"Understanding the behavior of quantum particles is a key focus in modern physics. To explore these complex systems, we use ultracold molecules and atoms to create custom quantum matter in the lab."

Key Publications:

  1. L. Christakis, J.S. Rosenberg, R. Raj, S. Chi, A. Morningstar, D.A. Huse, Z.Z. Yan, W.S. Bakr. Probing Site-resolved Correlations in A Spin System of Ultracold Molecules. Nature, 2023.
  2. Z.Z. Yan, B.M. Spar, M.L. Prichard, S.Chi, H.-T. Wei, E. Ibarra-García-Padilla, K.R.A. Hazzard, W.S. Bakr. Two-dimensional Programmable Tweezer Arrays of Fermions. Physical Review Letters, 2022.
  3. J.S. Rosenberg, L. Christakis, E. Guardado-Sanchez, Z.Z. Yan, W.S. Bakr. Observation of the Hanbury Brown-Twiss Effect with Ultracold Molecules. Nature Physics, 2022.
  4. Z.Z. Yan, Y. Ni, C. Robens, M.W. Zwierlein. Bose Polarons near Quantum Criticality. Science, 2020.

Other Honors:

2022Rising Stars in Physics Workshop, Princeton University
2014Graduate Research Fellowship, National Science Foundation
2014Whiteman Fellowship, MIT Department of Physics
2014Physics Department Award for Best Undergraduate Thesis, Stanford University


In the Media:

Physics Magazine Strobing Light Shapes Atomic Array

Princeton University Princeton Scientists Measure Quantum correlations between molecules for the first time

Physical Review LettersMicrowave Manipulation of Cold Molecules