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On being appointed as a Distinguished Professor – Can-Ming Hu’s journey in science

Can-Ming Hu talks about being appointed a Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba and his journey in science.

September 26, 2023 — 

We had the honor to talk with Can-Ming Hu, a professor at the department of physics and astronomy at the Faculty of Science who has recently been appointed as a UM Distinguished Professor. The University of Manitoba bestows the title of “Distinguished Professor” upon academic faculty who have showcased exceptional excellence in research, scholarly endeavors, creative contributions, professional service and teaching. Join us and learn more about Hu’s journey in science.

Could you please talk about the key accomplishments and contributions in your field that led to your appointment as a Distinguished Professor? What have you been particularly proud of during your career?

First and foremost, I would like to express my profound gratitude for being appointed as a Distinguished Professor. I am truly humbled by this honor and deeply appreciative of Dean Brian Mark and his office for considering me worthy of this nomination. It comes as a delightful surprise to me that the nomination was successful, as I view myself as just one of the many professors at this university who have a genuine passion for research. We all strive to make distinct contributions in our unique ways, making it challenging to make direct comparisons.

Nonetheless, I am genuinely thrilled that the esteemed individuals serving on the Selection Committee recognize the value of the work carried out by my research group. I would like to dedicate this prestigious honor to the dedicated members of my group, my invaluable collaborators and all those who have offered their unwavering encouragement and support.

As a condensed matter physicist specializing in magnetism since 2005, our group has achieved significant milestones over the past decade. Around 2012, driven by curiosity and the willingness to take calculated risks despite limited resources, I embarked on a journey to explore new frontiers in magnetism, specifically focusing on the strong coupling between microwaves and magnetic materials. In physics, the word “strong coupling” means energy dynamically oscillates between different systems over multiple cycles. This not only held immense scientific interest but also promised significant implications for the advancement of information and communication technologies. Notably, at that time, the exploration of this theme in the magnetism community was akin to uncharted territory. (One pioneer, Prof. Joe Artman at MIT, conducted a strong coupling experiment back in 1953. However, his pioneering work remained largely unnoticed until one of my students stumbled upon it in 2021 and brought it back into the spotlight.)

Also unbeknownst to me in 2012, simultaneously, three other world-leading groups, well-funded at institutions like TU Munich, the University of Tokyo and Yale University, were embarking on similar investigations. A few years later, our independent discoveries, along with those from distinguished institutions, were published in the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters. These achievements garnered global attention and gave rise to what is now known as “cavity spintronics” or “cavity magnonics.”

Subsequently, this field has experienced exponential growth, evolving into an exciting frontier that bridges some of the most cutting-edge disciplines in modern physics, including quantum information and quantum optics, with one of the oldest sciences known to humanity—magnetism. This daring venture would not have been feasible without the dedication and talent of our courageous students. In 2015, UM News showcased two exceptionally bright individuals from our team: Dr. Lihui Bai, who has since become a full professor at Shandong University and Dr. Michael Harder, now an instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Their collaborative efforts resulted in our paper published in 2015, which has since been cited over 400 times. That news article also elaborates on the significance and impact of our research in advancing the field of cavity spintronics.

Since then, our research group has continued to flourish, nurturing a cadre of brilliant postdoctoral fellows and students. Notable among them are Dr. Yipu Wang, currently a full professor at Zhejiang University, Dr. Bimu Yao, now an associate professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr. Yongsheng Gui, a research associate of my group and Ms. Ying Yang, a promising PhD student set to graduate this fall. Notably, half a year before her graduation, she received an enticing postdoctoral fellowship offer from Argonne National Laboratory.

These exceptional individuals have played pivotal roles in pushing the boundaries of our field even further. Several of their remarkable contributions have been featured by UMToday. See “The University of Manitoba interacts with world-renowned researchers” and “UM researchers create ‘Romulan Cloaking Device’“.

Throughout my tenure at UofM, one of my most fulfilling experiences has been the ability to attract and mentor a host of exceptionally talented young researchers and students. Many of these individuals have gone on to establish successful independent careers in academia, which I take immense pride in.

In my professional journey, I was honored to receive the IEEE Magnetics Society Distinguished Lecturer Award in 2018. Over the course of 12 months and by invitation from some of the world’s most renowned universities, including Yale, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, the University of Paris-Saclay, TU Munich, Peking, Fudan, HKUST and many more, I had the privilege of delivering 53 lectures on Cavity Spintronics across the globe. This opportunity not only allowed me to disseminate knowledge but in essence, I became an ambassador for the University of Manitoba that year, effectively showcasing the remarkable capabilities of our students and research endeavors. For those who may not have been aware of the exceptional potential of Manitoba students before my visits, they undoubtedly left with a positive impression of the caliber of talent we cultivate.

How do you see your role in mentoring and inspiring the next generation of scientists within the Faculty of Science?

My primary role as a physicist and a physics educator, which I enjoy taking, is to cultivate original ideas and guide my students toward curiosity-driven scientific adventure into uncharted territory, free from the pressures of chasing trends or competing in crowded fields.    

Science is about the laws of nature, I believe the best way to become a scientist is by adhering to the essence of science: objectivity, coherence and unwavering honesty in research. I speak for the value of avoiding shortcuts and communicating about science only when we possess a deep understanding of every word we use. I was fortunate to have exceptional mentors during my studies in China, Japan and Germany who exemplified this path. I strive to inspire and support young scientists to follow the same principles.

Could you discuss some of your notable research collaborations, both within the university and with external partners? How have these collaborations influenced your research?

During my 2005 job interview, I identified two significant research strengths at UofM. In the Faculty of Science, Allan Morrish (Distinguished Professor 1984) garnered international recognition for magnetism and magnetic materials research. Meanwhile, in the Faculty of Engineering, Lot Shafai (Distinguished Professor 2002) had elevated UofM’s status in the field of microwave technologies.

Upon establishing my group at UofM, I made a strategic shift from semiconductor research to magnetism, opting for microwave spectroscopy over infrared spectroscopy. These transitions required forging new collaborations both within the university and with external partners, which drove our work forward.

In the field of physics, Allan’s legacy in magnetism is carried on by Johan van Lierop, Bob Stamps, Jacob Burgess and Jesko Sirker. I’m proud to have collaborated with each of them via joint publications, gaining valuable insights beyond my knowledge.

In the ECE department, Lot Shafai, Greg Bridges and James Dietrich have become invaluable resources for my students in all things related to microwaves. Our close collaborations with these esteemed scientists and engineers on campus are a fortunate asset for both my students and me.

I’ve also been fortunate to collaborate on various joint projects with Stephen Pistorius, Fuji Jian, Digvir Jayas, Jiuyong Xie (all from UofM) and external experts like Hong Guo (McGill) and Ke Wu (EPM), which have expanded our research horizons. The list of our international collaborators across the US, Germany, Japan and China, including former mentors, old friends and former students, is too long to be provided here.

Can you share your vision for the future of science education and research within the university? Are there any emerging fields or interdisciplinary approaches that you believe will play a significant role in shaping the future of science?

In 1936, Albert Einstein delivered a speech at the State University of New York at Albany during the tercentenary celebration of higher education in America. The world, universities and science education have all undergone profound transformations since that time. However, I believe that the fundamental principles, core values and significant challenges of high-quality science education remain unchanged, echoing Einstein’s insightful observations:

“Behind every achievement exists the motivation which is at the foundation of it and which in turn is strengthened and nourished by the accomplishment of the undertaking. Here there are the greatest differences and they are of greatest importance to the educational value of the school. The same work may owe its origin to fear and compulsion, ambitious desire for authority and distinction, or loving interest in the object and a desire for truth and understanding and thus to that divine curiosity which every healthy child possesses, but which so often is weakened early. The educational influence which is exercised upon the pupil by the accomplishment of one and the same work may be widely different, depending upon whether fear of hurt, egoistic passion, or desire for pleasure and satisfaction is at the bottom of this work.”

Mentoring graduate students has taught me that imparting scientific knowledge is straightforward, but instilling the importance of genuine motivation in studying science is challenging. I continually strive to enhance my skills in this aspect by voracious reading and by drawing inspiration from esteemed educators in my field, including my friends Profs. Bret Heinrich (SFU), Mark Freeman (UofA), Hong Guo (McGill), Burkhard Hillebrandt (Kaiserslautern) and Chia-Ling Chien (JHU).

Regarding emerging fields and interdisciplinary approaches, I believe that Generative Artificial Intelligence (genAI) and Quantum technology are two major waves poised to have a profound impact on shaping the future of science. The world will undergo a significant transformation if these two emerging technologies converge.

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