Kevin Chen Receives 2016 Henry Ford II Scholar Award
Applied Physics student Kevin Chen, mentored by Professor Harry Atwater, is a recipient of the 2016 Henry Ford II Scholar Award. During his first two years at Caltech he worked on the optical and electrical components of an ultra-efficient photovoltaic module in the Atwater lab. The Henry Ford II Scholar Award is funded under an endowment provided by the Ford Motor Company Fund. The award is made annually to engineering students with the best academic record at the end of the third year of undergraduate study.
Henry Ford II Scholar Award
Engineering Nanodevices to Store Information the Quantum Way
Stevan Nadj-Perge, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, is interested in creating a device that could harness the power of entangled particles within a usable technology. A large part of his research is focused on finding ways to store and process quantum information. Quantum information is very fragile and even the smallest amount of external noise messes up quantum states. There are various schemes that tackle this problem and postpone decoherence, but the one that he is most interested in involves Majorana fermions. Relatively recently theorists figured out how to engineer these particles in the lab. Nadj-Perge explains, “it turns out that, under certain conditions, when you combine certain materials and apply high magnetic fields at very cold temperatures, electrons will form a state that looks exactly as you would expect from Majorana fermions. Furthermore, such engineered states allow you to store quantum information in a way that postpones decoherence.” [Caltech story]
Professor Atwater Receives James King Jr. Award
Harry A. Atwater, Jr., Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science as well as the Director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, is the 2016 recipient of the James King Jr. Award. The award is given annual by the Caltech Center for Diversity to an individual who stands out as a strong supporter of diversity. Professor Atwater received several nominations which recognized “his commitment to recruiting, training, and encouraging female scientists to join and thrive in his research group.” One of his nominators wrote, “He has stood up for his female students when they have faced gender-biased behavior from others, and is a true advocate for all his students.” Another nominator stated that he “is a glowing example of how supportive faculty members can be in advisory roles.” Professor Atwater’s “efforts have long term positive effects for combating gender imbalances in academia.”
Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis
In a recent New York Times article Professor Harry A. Atwater, Jr. discussed the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP). He said, “The grand prize is figuring out how to make carbon dioxide be recyclable, a renewable resource. That would be a millennial advance for society.” JCAP was established in 2010 as a U.S. Department of Energy Energy Innovation Hub that aims to find new and effective ways to produce fuels using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. “You can rest assured that the energy and catalysis problems of humanity will not have been resolved five years from now,” Professor Atwater said in the interview. But there is growing interest in the work, particularly after the recently signed Paris climate treaty that calls for sharp emissions reductions to combat global warming. “We have some wind at our back that we haven’t had until recently,” he added. [New York Times article]
Undergraduate Wins Hertz Fellowships
Applied Physics senior Paul Dieterle has been selected by the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation to receive a 2016 Hertz Fellowships. The fellows are chosen for their intellect, their ingenuity, and their potential to bring meaningful improvement to society. At Caltech, Paul has worked and studied under the guidance of Engineering and Applied Science Professors Painter and Schwab. His research focuses on the physics of superconducting quantum circuits, photon-phonon interactions, and many-body interactions. In the long term, he says, he aims to "construct integrated quantum systems to explore both fundamental and application-oriented physics." [Caltech story]
A Bright Future in Photovoltaics
Alumna Carissa Eisler discusses her passion for science and her research in Professor Harry Atwater’s group on photovoltaics—the conversion of solar energy into electrical energy using semiconducting materials. She was part of a group tasked with developing an ultrahigh-efficiency solar-cell module that involves designing solar collectors, optical components, and electronics.
Using Applied Physics to Explain How Accretion Disks Drive Astrophysical Jets
Paul M. Bellan, Professor of Applied Physics, has developed a new model explaining why astrophysical jets always originate from stars having accretion disks, the progenitors of planets. The relationship between jets and accretion disks has eluded scientists for many years and what happens to the angular momentum of accreting particles has also long been a mystery. Professor Bellan’s model explains how the disks power the jets as well as how angular momentum is removed from accreting material in the disks. The model involves peculiar inward spiraling trajectories of clumps of charged and neutral particles, and shows that the disk and jets together form an electric circuit where the disk is the battery and the jet is the load. [Read the Paper]