DOE Physicists at Work
Profiles of representative DOE-sponsored physicists
doing research at universities and national laboratories
Compiled by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information
Roller coasters have taken Alessandra Lanzara on the ride of her life. The Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley first became interested in the world of physics while attending a high school-sponsored field trip in her native country, Italy.
"My teacher organized a field trip to the local amusement park as a fun way to learn about fundamental physics in our everyday life," says Dr. Lanzara. "Initially, I was excited about being able to spend an entire school day at the amusement park. At the end of the day however, I was actually more enthusiastic about the physics underlying the roller coasters, the rides themselves. This is when I decided that I wanted to become a physicist."
Dr. Lanzara studied physics at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, the same institution renowned physicists Enrico Fermi and Emilio Segrè studied and conducted ground-breaking research. "I felt so honored to be studying and maybe sitting in the same place," says Dr. Lanzara. "This, together with the dedication and enthusiasm of our professors, made me fall more in love every day with the world of physics."
Now smitten, the young Alessandra began the process of choosing her specialty area of research. "I knew I wanted to do something special and I knew I wanted to do something that could have a clear impact in the everyday world where we live," says Dr. Lanzara. "What could be more fundamental and essential than the search for new materials? After all, each new era of mankind's technological development has been based on the discovery and mastery of new materials."
It quickly became clear that her path would be condensed matter physics. "My fascination for this field increased when I got to know the world of high temperature superconductors' - new materials that can carry electricity without resistance or loss," says Dr. Lanzara.
"Can you imagine a world like this? Where we don't have to pay anymore for electricity; where trains can travel as fast as airplanes?"
Fascinated by this topic, she decided to dedicate one year to learn more, and to join a research group. Within this year, Dr. Lanzara completed her master thesis, recognized as one of the most outstanding theses in any scientific field throughout the University. "This is how I started my adventure in the world of research, a world that I immediately loved," says Dr. Lanzara.
In 1999 she received her PhD from La Sapienza. During those years, she collaborated and traveled extensively to experimental facilities in Japan and France, getting her first exposure to the international world of physics. In 1999, driven by the desire to learn new experimental tools that would enable deeper insight into the properties of materials, Dr. Lanzara traveled to Stanford University for postdoctoral research. Her work at Stanford was recognized by the scientific community and she was awarded the McMillan prize in 2002, the highest prize a young experimentalist in condensed matter physics can receive.
In July 2002, Dr. Lanzara was appointed Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Materials Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "I feel privileged to have the opportunity to continue my work at a world-leading institution that has distinguished itself in physics over the years," says Dr. Lanzara. "In addition, it allows me to communicate my enthusiasm for the subject to the next generation of scientists. In particular, I really hope I can have an impact on encouraging more women to pursue scientific careers."
Today, her research group conducts experiments in condensed matter physics with a primary focus on trying to understand the behavior of electrons in novel materials. In particular, Dr. Lanzara wants to understand how electrons move, how they interact within each other and with other excitations in solids, and how these interactions can lead to novel magnetic and electrical properties, such as superconductivity.
"The focus of our research is on the study of high temperature superconductors, novel magnetic materials useful for recording industry and carbon-based materials," says Dr. Lanzara. "Carbon-based compounds are exciting systems, not only because of the various ways in which carbon atoms can synthesize, but also for the versatility of applications in which we can use these materials today - from hydrogen storage, source of clean energy as solar cell, longer lasting batteries, and so much more."
The experimental techniques used in Dr. Lanzara's research group are based on photoemission spectroscopy, which is based on the photoelectric effect, whose physical law Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering. Within the past decade, photoemission spectroscopy has become one of the leading experimental techniques to investigate the behavior of electrons in solids. In addition to performing conventional photoemission experiments, Dr. Lanzara's research group is extending this powerful technique into the "time and spin" domain to gain a new window on the dynamics of the electronics interaction in solids. To study the spin dynamics in materials, the goup has developed a novel setup for spin resolved photoemission spectroscopy, the only apparatus of its kind currently available in the world.
Dr. Lanzara’s articles accessed via OSTI: