Office Hours with... Eduardo da Silva Neto
Eduardo da Silva Neto’s love affair with science started in childhood, as a kid growing up in Brazil.
It has stayed with him his whole life, whether he was tinkering with his dad’s electrical equipment in the family garage or devising experiments to learn how electrons act in the quantum world.
An assistant professor of physics, da Silva Neto investigates the realm of quantum materials and how they relate to the basic laws of physics. We caught up with him for the latest edition of Office Hours, a Q&A series that introduces new members of the Yale faculty to the broader university community.
|Title||Assistant professor of physics, faculty member of the Energy Sciences Institute|
|Research interest||Quantum materials, condensed matter physics, strongly correlated electron systems, and superconductors|
|Prior institution||University of California-Davis|
|Started at Yale||2020|
How did science first enter your life?
I come from a family of academics. My mother was a professor of psychology, my father was a professor of electrical engineering. I have a sister who is a professor of economics, and another sister who was a professor as well. From an early age, I talked with my father about science, especially physics and electricity. I always tended to do school projects about electricity, building circuits or making dioramas that incorporated electricity.
What books influenced you the most back then?
I read a lot as a kid. I was influenced very much by Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.” But sometimes it’s the lesser-known books that get to you. There was a book called “Giants of Physics,” filled with biographies of physics pioneers: Einstein, Newton, Planck, Feynman. I have this memory of being 13 or 14, and just walking around everywhere with this book.
How do you describe your work to non-academics?
With great difficulty! Everyone’s familiar with the idea that if you have electrical current running through a copper wire, it warms up. That means some of the energy is being diffused. I look at the same concept, but with quantum materials and superconductors where energy is instead conserved.
Most people hear about quantum materials in relation to quantum computing research. What is their significance beyond that?
Quantum materials might eventually make their way into being a cornerstone of quantum computers, but they’re also a window into understanding the fundamental laws of physics. But before you can get to the fundamental physics, you have to understand chemistry and materials science.
Where is your latest research taking you?
What I’m most excited about right now is studying a family of iron-based superconductors. We’re figuring out the effects of symmetry breaking — in this case, how an electron all of a sudden decides by itself that left-right is a better direction to travel than backward-forward.
One of your passions is cinema. How often do movies accurately portray the pursuit of scientific research?
I can think of several good examples: “Contact,” with Jodie Foster; “Arrival,” with Amy Adams; and also “And the Band Played On,” about the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. I like films that understand the grind of science, that discovery comes from persistence and looking at what’s not expected and digging into details.
What is a hobby or passion of yours that might surprise people?
For a few years I was very interested in pool. I spent many hours playing pool and reading books about it — my friend and I would go to a local bar and play until 4, 5 a.m. Recently, I was invited to play and, let’s just say, it’s not like riding a bicycle.