Back to Technology  |  More Profiles
Watch faculty video
Explore More: Read Online Brochure

Chandra Varma

Distinguished Professor of Physics
Chandra Varma
Revolutionizing the Physics of Superconductivity
Chandra Varma is internationally known for his work in theoretical physics of collective quantum properties of matter such as superconductivity and magnetism. His lab conducts research in high-temperature superconductivity and quantum critical phenomena.

Varma was awarded the 2012 Bardeen Prize for his outstanding contributions to explaining the intriguing phenomenon of superconductivity. His theory has been verified by other researchers, which could assist in the fabrication of materials that are superconducting at room temperature and help settle a contentious, international debate on the fundamental physics of superconductivity and emergent states of matter.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Bardeen Prize (2012)
  • The Alexander von Humboldt Prize (2004)
  • University of Minnesota, Honorary Doctorate (2009)
  • Indian Physics Association, Distinguished Scholar Prize (2009)
  • Lorentz Chair, University of Leiden, Netherlands (2000)
  • Fellow, Third World Academy of Sciences (1997)
  • Distinguished service award for sustained achievement at Bell Laboratories (1985)
  • Fellow, American Physical Society (1975)


Q: What is superconductivity?
Superconductivity is a very curious quantum phenomenon. Essentially, it involves metals below a certain temperature that develop flow of current without any loss, meaning once this current starts flowing, it can live on forever. This collective behavior of particles explains that you cannot move an electron; you must move all the trillions upon trillions of electrons in a metal all together.

Therefore, it makes sense to say that superconductivity is a certain form of stiffness. A simple example of stiffness is a pen, all of which moves if you push at one end, the characteristic of a solid. In superconductors, stiffness takes the form of an inability to move a single electron, and instead you must move all the electrons coherently together. Understanding this has influenced several branches of physics.

Q: How did you get started in this line of research?
In my early work starting 25 years ago, I had hypothesized that the metallic state is governed by some fluctuations called scaled invariants in time. Scale invariants mean that if you look at something with a microscope then irrespective of the magnification of the microscope, it will look the same. In this case, the magnification we’re looking at is in time, not space. As if time has organized itself so that if you look at it over short or long periods of time, limited in time by the temperature or the inverse of the temperature, it will always look the same. This is the basic property that characterized the metallic state and which promoted superconductivity. Therefore, a large part of my research since has been concerned with the definition of time, which is my focus on superconductivity and proposing new forms of organization in solids called loop current phases.

Q: How are superconductors used today?
Superconductors are used for magnetic residency measuring devises that you find in hospitals and they are also used for special kinds of electrical switches. The large-scale use of superconductivity is not yet feasible because they are expensive and they only occur below some temperatures. But if they could be made inexpensively and at ordinary temperatures, they would revolutionize technology in regards to power transmission, energy storage, magnetic levitation, etc.

Q: What could your research mean for the future of superconductivity in everyday life?
One of the motivations of the enormous amount of research was that it could revolutionize technology. Imagine electricity flow without loss! If and when technology develops that we could make superconductors affordably, they would be instrumental for transportation via magnetic levitation and they would be exceptional for energy storage with a current flowing forever to transfer energy.

If you could drive trains which could go across the country at 200 mph consuming one hundredth of the energy automobiles take, that would be very important.

Q: What are the implications of your research?
From my point of view, the chief implication has been observing quantum mechanical behavior at normal temperatures and above, as quantum mechanics usually comes into play at very low temperatures. This is making quantum mechanics very visible in ordinary experiments, which to me is very exciting.

Q: What drives you to continue pursuing research and encouraging others’ research?
The reason one has to continue and encourage fundamental science is to my mind the same as encouraging beautiful music and beautiful art. This is what defines us as human beings; that we create beautiful things out of our minds and our imaginations and by looking at nature, and try to decipher the mysteries. That sort of thing is essential to us as interesting human beings and as a society, and a university environment encourages the freedom to think and also offers the time to think. It also keeps people like me out of mischief!

Q: What’s next for your research?
I am interested in following up the ideas on scale invariance and the metric of time with other branches of physics.

Q: What does Living the Promise mean to you?
To any scientist, Living the Promise means having some ideas on which one has worked very hard and which have been proven to be true for the long haul, the sort of ideas which will go into textbooks and be taught to undergraduates. To achieve this is to contribute to the store of human knowledge in a way that will be remembered and that’s very satisfying.

Q: Why is UC Riverside a great place to do research?
I’m working here with wonderful, young scientists. In the nine years I have been here, the University of California, Riverside has been a great place for me. Something exciting is always happening here.

Chandra Varma “Imagine electricity flow without loss! If and when technology develops that we could make superconductors affordably, they would be instrumental for transportation via magnetic levitation and they would be exceptional for energy storage with a current flowing forever to transfer energy.”

—Chandra Varma
Living The Promise Report Explore More: Read Online Brochure