Zhu-Xi Lo

KITP Postdoctoral Scholar, Condensed Matter Physics


Liaoning Province in China
Favorite Scientific Discovery:
Poisson spot
Favorite Book or Movie: 
Mushi-Shi season 1 episode 6
Most Unusual Job: 
jigsaw puzzles and aerial silks
Six-Word Memoir: 
休说鲈鱼堪脍 “Shredded perch is not delicate enough”
This is part of a Chinese poem by Qiji Xin written during the Song dynasty. There is a story that a man named Jiying was away from home, working as a government official assisting the king during the Jin Dynasty. One day he suddenly remembers that it was the perch season in his hometown. So he resigns and returns home. “Jiying’s perch” is a term often used to describe hermits. In Qiji Xin’s poem, he wrote about the ambition of serving his country and recovering the lost territories. With the phrase, 休说鲈鱼堪脍 he wanted to say that no matter how he missed home, no matter how hard it was to reach his goal, he would not step back like Jiying did. 

How did you first become interested in science? 

How did you first become interested in science?
My interest in physics originated from a physics class back in high school, where my teacher Mr. Yuan discussed the nature of light. He followed the zigzag path of history and in particular told the story of Poisson’s spot: Poisson was a supporter of Newton’s particle theory of light and designed an experiment to disprove Fresnel’s wave theory of light. But the experimental results, to Poisson’s surprise, turned out to convince most scientists of the wave nature of light. I was deeply amazed: there is an undeniable truth in physics, however much you like/dislike it. There can be debates, fights and confusion, but in the end, people will agree with each other.

What is the question that most drives your work right now?

What are the new quantum phases of matter and how to characterize them?

How would you explain your research to a kindergartener?

You can use lego to build trains, castles, dinosaurs, and all kinds of fun things that look completely different from the original lego blocks. I study how legos of materials can stack to form new systems that can be as exotic as dinosaurs.

What are you most excited about or inspired by in science right now?

It’s a bit unrelated to my field but I’m really amazed by how AlphaFold 2 made a huge progress toward solving the protein folding problem in biology. I’m looking forward to the day when AI can play an incomparable role in physics research.

What is a common misconception about your research or your field?

Misconception: Condensed matter physics = material science.
It’s not. Condensed matter physics (CMP) studies the macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic physical properties of matter, especially systems of many constituents coupled to each other through strong interactions. It’s a fundamental branch of theoretical physics that can involve beautiful mathematical structures. There are also many CMP results that have far-reaching influences on high energy theory, such as the Anderson-Higgs Mechanism, the Nambu-Goldstone mode of spontaneous symmetry breaking and more recently the Sachdev-Ye-Kitaev model, to name a few.

Which scientist, dead or alive, would you most like to have lunch with and why?

John Archibald Wheeler. He was the inventor of the “It from bit” doctrine: all physical things have information-theoretical origins.

What advice would you give to women who are interested in pursuing a career in theoretical and mathematical physics?

Congratulations, you have discovered a career that will fascinate you for a lifetime! You will never be bored. Three small suggestions: Trust yourself. Dive into the new, messy fields. Stay out of your comfort zone and move one more step forward.

What attracted you to doing your postdoc at KITP?

It’s certainly because KITP and UCSB have the best collection of condensed matter theorists. Another important reason is the year-round programs at KITP and the chances to talk to scientists from all over the world in person. Huge bonus: KITP also has the best staff and cookies!