Robert McQueeney, professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University and senior scientist at Ames Laboratory, has been named the inaugural John and Mary Weaver Professor of Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The professorship gives special recognition and support to an outstanding faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, with preference given to scientists specializing in condensed matter physics.
“It felt pretty good to learn that I won this award, especially after being away from colleagues for a while during the pandemic,” McQueeney said. “I’m humbled and excited to know that my work is still having an impact and that my contributions are valued. I appreciate being selected and I’ll put the resources to good use.”
The award, made possible by a generous donation from John and Mary Weaver, will support McQueeney’s ongoing research and select projects through 2026.
From neutron scattering to magnets
McQueeney’s primary research is focused on neutron scattering in magnetic materials. This highly specialized niche in condensed matter physics involves the exploration and analysis of energy exchanges that occur when neutrons are scattered from magnetic samples. This research is also fundamental to applications used in crystallography, physics, physical chemistry, biophysics and materials research.
“Discovering new phenomena using neutron scattering is important because it could lead to the development of new materials or major discoveries in information technology, medicine, energy and information storage,” McQueeney said.
In addition to neutron scattering, McQueeney is involved in several projects that focus on the development and understanding of novel magnetic materials. He also leads the Magnetic Interactions and Excitations in Quantum Materials group at Ames Lab.
An achievement for Ames Lab and Iowa State—McQueeney co-founded the Center for the Advancement of Topological Semimetals (CATS) at Ames Lab. The center brings together top scientific talent from world-class institutions. They collaborate to discover and develop magnetic topological materials for use in classical and quantum computing. CATS is one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s newest Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs). McQueeney has served as the center’s director since its inception in 2018.
Mentor, researcher and award winner
McQueeney began his career at Iowa State in 2003. In 2013 he left for Tennessee, to serve as deputy associate laboratory director for neutron science at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, before returning to Ames in 2015.
Amassing an impressive body of research, McQueeney has published 140 papers in professional and scientific journals. His research has garnered more than 6,497 citations. He’s been invited to speak at nearly 100 scientific conferences, colloquiums and talks all over the globe.
McQueeney has served on dozens of national, international and university committees, taught introductory and upper-level courses and has been as a dedicated and generous mentor to many undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students.
“I don’t have a lab at Iowa State, because the neutron scattering is possible at only a few facilities in North America. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to travel with graduate and postdoctoral students to these sites,” McQueeney said. “They conduct experiments, meet with top scientists and we return home with these big datasets. Then I train them to develop mathematical models and run computer simulations to understand the data.”
McQueeney has earned numerous awards during his career. In 2019, he won a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Award for Outstanding in Achievement in Research. He received an Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Fellowship in 2016, and in 2011 he was awarded an Iowa State University Award for Mid-Career Achievement in Research.
McQueeney plans to use the funds from the John and Mary Weaver Professorship to support his research and travel to conferences where he plans to tout the productive research efforts at Ames Lab and Iowa State.
“I’d like to use some of the resources on information exchange—giving talks and bringing in high-profile researchers to the university,” McQueeney said. “I owe so much to Iowa State University and Ames Lab. Those two things together are very powerful and I look forward to using the money to make a difference for these institutions and our department.”
McQueeney earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and chemistry from the University of Connecticut, Storrs. In 1996, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia with a Ph.D. in physics.