Omar A. Ashour

Omar A. Ashour

Graduate Student Researcher

UC Berkeley

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

About Me

I am a fifth-year physics PhD student at UC Berkeley, working with Sinéad Griffin at LBL. My research lies at the interface between condensed matter theory and quantum sensing, see below for an overview.

I completed my BS at Texas A&M University in 2017, followed by two years as a Berkeley Graduate Fellow, earning my MS in applied physics from the AS&T program in 2019. My research during that period heavily focused on the classical integrability of the nonlinear Schrödinger hierarchy.

I maintain a separate website for my notes on various academic and non-academic topics. On a personal level, my hobbies include building mechanical keyboards, reading, and breaking computer RPGs by being too optimal. I live with my wife, dog, and two cats in the SF Bay Area.

  • PhD, Physics, 2025

    UC Berkeley

  • MA, Physics, 2020

    UC Berkeley

  • MS, Applied Physics (AS&T), 2019

    UC Berkeley

  • BS, Electrical Engineering/Optics, 2017

    Texas A&M University

Research Overview

Dark Matter and Collective Excitations

Despite sustained efforts, direct detection of dark matter remains elusive. Propelled by cutting-edge advances in detector sensitivity and innovative proposals employing quantum materials, the search for dark matter has recently expanded to lower masses, encompassing well-motivated theories for light and ultralight candidates. However, detecting these low-mass candidates remains a formidable challenge, requiring target materials that exhibit measurable responses with just a few meV of energy deposition from dark matter scattering or absorption.

This burgeoning realm of quantum sensing exploits exotic phenomena in quantum materials, such as topological order, strong correlations, and magnetic spin textures as new pathways to low-threshold sensors. Such sensors go beyond next-generation dark matter detectors, with applications in quantum information science and future quantum technologies.

I am interested in harnessing the interplay between topological order and collective excitations, primarily phonons and magnons, to develop new quantum sensing schemes. Such excitations can break symmetries that protect the gapless boundary states in topological insulators, thus leading to a metal-insulator transition at the boundary, which could then be detected. My work employs various analytical and computational tools, such as density functional (perturbation) theory, many-body perturbation theory, and tight binding models, to elucidate the electronic, magnetic, and excited-state properties of various quantum materials. Additionally, I often utilize models from high-energy physics to study dark matter interaction with such materials.

Current and recent projects include:

  • Studies of phonons in higher-order topological insulators and mirror Chern insulators.
  • Confined magnons in antiferromagnetic topological insulators.
  • Modeling the spin ice state in pyrochlores from first principles.