Moses H.W. Chan came to Penn State in 1979, and the Evan Pugh Professor of Physics immediately began a body of research work that spanned diverse topics.
He has made many important experimental contributions to the physics of materials particularly on phase transitions of simple fluids and electronic systems at reduced dimensions and confined geometry at cryogenic temperatures. His research group studied the phase transitions of atomically thin fluid films adsorbed on well-ordered surfaces and confined in nanoporous materials. He and his students confirmed that the liquid-vapor critical point of an adsorbed monolayer fluid belongs to the celebrated two-dimensional Ising model, solved by Lars Onsager. His group realized the critical Casimer effect in thick liquid helium films near the superfluid transition. Chan and his students made measurements on nanowires and found novel interplay of superconductivity and ferromagnetism. They also found dissipation-free electrical conductivity in topological protected two-dimensional heterostructures.
Chan's scientific integrity was on display in his pursuit of the supersolid state in solid helium, a long-sought-after new state of matter. Many other groups replicated Chan’s 2004 experiment of such an observation. However, Chan’s dedication to resolve some puzzling features prompted him to redesign the experiment and led him to conclude in 2012 that there is a less exotic and non-supersolid state interpretation of his 2004 and similar experiments.
For his discoveries in low temperature physics, Chan was awarded the Fritz London Memorial Prize in 1996. He was also inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. He was the founding director of the National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center established at Penn State in 2000.