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Michel Gingras

Professor and Canada Research Chair in Condensed Matter Physics & Statistical Mechanics

photograph of Michel GingrasOffice: PHY 364

Phone: (519) 888-4567 ext. 35697


Research interests

  • Condensed matter theory
  • Statistical mechanics

Present research activities

My interests span several areas of statistical mechanics and condensed matter physics. I hold the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in statistical mechanics and condensed matter physics at the University of Waterloo and was awarded a Steacie Fellowship from NSERC for my work in this area. I was awarded a 2012 Killam Fellowship, the 2001 Herzberg Medal (CAP) and the 2009 Brockhouse Medal (CAP). I am a associate member of the Quantum Materials Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

My main current interests are in the area of random disordered systems and problems pertaining to frustrated classical and quantum magnetic systems. I often collaborate with experimentalists, either trying to understand their results or to think of new experiments to test theoretical ideas.

The number of students and post-docs in my group varies with time between 3-4 graduate students and a couple of post-docs. I will be interested in taking graduate students starting Fall 2008.

Research areas

(a) Random Disorder in Condensed Matter Physics: All real materials contain a certain amount of frozen (quenched) random disorder such as impurities or vacancies. Other materials, such as amorphous metallic glasses, are completely random. The main questions of interest in this area of research are: how does the presence of weak random disorder affect the thermodynamic properties of real materials, what type of phases do they exhibit, and what are their low-temperature physical properties? Sometimes a small amount of disorder can have dramatic effects on the thermodynamic behaviour of a material. For example, there is now strong experimental and theoretical evidence that weak disorder leads to novel and exotic types of superconducting vortex-glass phases in the mixed state of high-temperature cuprate superconductors. The study via numerical and analytical methods of the effects of random disorder on magnetic, superconducting and molecular systems constitutes one of my main research interests. Students and post-docs working in the quantum matters group have access to a dedicated computing serial farm for numerical studies.

(b) Frustrated Antiferromagnets: Frustration arises when a magnetic system cannot minimize its total classical ground state energy by minimizing the energy of each pair of spin-spin interaction individually. For example, this arises for antiferromagnetically coupled spins on triangular and face-centered cubic lattices. The phenomenon of frustration is an ubiquitous one in condensed matter physics. It arises in magnetic systems, molecular crystals, superconducting Josephson junction arrays. There is an enormous amount of current research devoted to the study of strongly frustrated antiferromagnets since it has been suggested that these could exhibit novel non-Néel ground states with zero staggered sublattice magnetization. However, intriguing experimental results find that a large portion of the materials studied show a magnetic spin-freezing transition similar to what is found in highly disordered magnetic materials, The origin of this spin-freezing constitutes a major puzzle in this field: is the freezing intrinsic to the idealized pure material, or is it driven by the weak amount of random impurities at the 1% level? Also, what is the combined effect of random disorder and quantum fluctuations in these systems? Which one of random disorder or quantum fluctuations "wins"? These are some of the questions that I am interested in this exciting topical research area. In the past few years, I have been quite active in understanding a new class of magnetic systems known as spin ices. These constitute a novel type of systems where the behavior of the magnetic moments is akin to that of the frozen-in proton disorder in the common phase of water ice, hence the name spin ice. They display a plethora of interesting behaviors. Most interestingly, it has proved possible to make close contact between theory and experiments on spin ice systems.

Selected publications

University of Waterloo

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