Douglas Natelson
Research Areas
  • Materials at Low Dimensions
  • Materials out of Equilibrium

Research Description

Prof. Natelson’s lab uses nanostructures as tools to examine open questions in condensed matter physics. One persistent topic has been the loss of quantum coherence of electrons in the solid state. At the single-atom scale, the quantum character of electrons is readily apparent via the utility of the picture of atomic and molecular orbitals. However, on the macroscopic scale, we generally do not worry about quantum interference effects when considering electrical current flowing through house wiring. The quantum corrections to classical electrical conduction are suppressed as electrons interact inelastically with their environment, and that suppression takes place over nanometer length scales at room temperature in ordinary metals. Natelson’s group performs experimental investigations of quantum effects in conduction, most recently using electronic transport in atomic-scale metal junctions to probe this physics.

Natelson is also interested in understanding nanoscale quantum systems driven far from equilibrium. While there is a qualitative understanding of much of the relevant physics, many of the most interesting questions (Where and how does energy flow between different degrees of freedom? How do dissipation and irreversibility appear?) lack quantitative data on the relevant nanometer distance scales. Combining single-molecule Raman spectroscopy and electronic transport allows access to these issues, as do measurements of noise (current fluctuations) through nanostructures.

Strongly correlated materials, in which electron-electron interactions play a major role in tipping the balance between competing phases, are also a focus. Nanostructure techniques enable studies that would be impractical in macroscopic samples (e.g., applying a large electric field at very modest voltage scales thanks to very closely spaced electrodes). Of particular interest are systems that undergo metal-insulator transitions, and so-called “bad” or “strange” metals, where it is believed that describing the low energy excitations as (quasi)particles is not a good approximation.


After graduating (summa cum laude) from Princeton University with a BSE in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Natelson obtained his Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University in 1998, with thesis research on the ultralow temperature dielectric, acoustic, and thermal properties of glasses. Following a postdoctoral appointment at Bell Laboratories, he arrived at Rice University in 2000 and established a research group focused on employing nanostructure techniques to address open questions in condensed matter physics. Natelson was a recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER award, a Sloan Foundation research fellowship, and a David and Lucille Packard fellowship, and was recognized in 2008 by Discover magazine as one of their “40 under 40”. He is a fellow of the APS and the AAAS, and he is an author of a forthcoming textbook, Nanostructures and Nanotechnology, to be published in 2015 by Cambridge University Press.

Selected Publications
  1. 1. Filinchuk, Y., Tumanov, N. A. , Ban, V., Ji, H., Wei, J., Swift, M. W., Nevidomskyy, A. H., and Natelson, D. “In situ diffraction study of catalytic hydrogenation of VO2: Stable phases and origins of metallicity”, J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 136, 8100-8109 (2014).

    2. Chen, R., Wheeler, P. J., Di Ventra, M. and Natelson, D. “Enhanced noise at high bias in atomic-scale Au break junctions”, Sci. Rep. 4, 4221 (2014).

    3. Li, Y., Doak, P., Neaton, J., Kronik, L., and Natelson, D., “Voltage tuning of vibrational mode energies in single-molecule junctions”, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. US 111, 1282-1287 (2014).

    4. Chen, R., Wheeler, P. J., and Natelson, D., “Excess noise in STM-style break junctions at room temperature”, Phys. Rev. B 85, 235455 (2012).

    5. Ji, H., Wei, J., and Natelson, D., “Modulation of the electrical properties of VO2 nanobeams using an ionic liquid as a gating medium”, Nano Lett. 12, 2988-2992 (2012).

    6. Wei, J., Ji, H., Guo, W., Nevidomskyy, A., and Natelson, D., “Hydrogen stabilization of metallic VO2 in single-crystal nanobeams”, Nature Nano. 7, 357-362 (2012).

    7. Wei, J. and Natelson, D., “Nanostructure studies of strongly correlated materials”, Nanoscale 3, 3509-3521 (2011).

    8. Ward, D. R., Corley, D. A., Tour, J. M., and Natelson, D., “Vibrational and electronic heating in nanoscale junctions”, Nature Nano. 6, 33-38 (2011).

    9. Ward, D. R., Hueser, F., Pauly, F., Cuevas, J. C., and Natelson, D., “Optical rectification and field enhancement in a plasmonic nanogap”, Nature Nano. 5, 732-736 (2010).

    10. Reyes Calvo, M., Fernández-Rossier, J., Palacios, J. J. , Jacob, D. , Natelson, D., and Untiedt, C. “The Kondo effect in ferromagnetic atomic contacts”, Nature 458, 1150-1153 (2009).

    11. Ward, D.R., Halas, N.J., Ciszek, J.W., Tour, J.M., Wu. Y., Nordlander, P., and Natelson, D., “Simultaneous measurements of electronic conduction and Raman response in molecular junctions”, Nano Lett. 8, 919-924 (2008).

    12. Lee, S., Fursina, A., Mayo, J. T., Yavuz, C., Colvin, V. L., Shvets, I. V., and Natelson, D., “Electrically-driven phase transition in magnetite nanostructures”, Nature Materials 7, 130-133 (2008).

    13. Ward, D.R., Grady, N.K., Levin, C.S., Halas, N.J., Wu, Y., Nordlander, P., and Natelson, D., “Electromigrated nanoscale gaps for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy”, Nano Lett. 7, 1396-1400 (2007).

    14. Natelson, D., Yu, L.H., Ciszek, J.W., Keane, Z.K., and Tour, J.M., “Single-molecule transistors: electron transfer in the solid state”, Chem. Phys. 324, 267-275 (2006).

    15. Keane, Z.K., Yu, L.H., and Natelson, D., “Magnetoresistance of atomic-scale electromigrated nickel nanocontacts”, Appl. Phys. Lett. 88, 062514 (2006).

    16. Yu, L.H., Keane, Z.K., Ciszek, J.W., Cheng, L., Tour, J.M., Baruah, T., Pederson, M.R., and Natelson, D., “Strong Kondo physics and anomalous gate dependence in single-molecule transistors”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 256803 (2005).

    17. Kirchner, S., Zhu, L., Si, Q., and Natelson, D., “Quantum critical Kondo effect in a quantum dot coupled to ferromagnetic leads”, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. US 102, 18824-18829 (2005).

    18. Yu, L.H., Keane, Z.K., Ciszek, J.W., Stewart, M.P., Cheng, L., Tour, J.M., and Natelson, D., “Inelastic electron tunneling via molecular vibrations in single-molecule transistors”, Phys. Rev. Lett. 93, 266802 (2004).

    19. Yu, L.H., Natelson, D. “Kondo physics in C60 single-molecule transistors”, Nano Letters 4, 79-83 (2004).

Recent Publications