Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Materials Science

News & Events


Startup Company Captura Receives XPRIZE Award


Caltech-based startup company Captura, which captures carbon dioxide (CO2) from ocean water to combat climate change, has been awarded $1 million from the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition. Captura was co-founded by Harry Atwater, Otis Booth Leadership Chair, Division of Engineering and Applied Science; Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science; Director, Liquid Sunlight Alliance, and Chengxiang "CX" Xiang, Research Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science. It has the potential to scale up to harvesting gigatons of carbon dioxide—that is, billions of tons—from the ocean every year. "As far as we can tell, Captura is one the very few companies that is doing carbon capture from ocean water," Xiang says. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Harry Atwater Chengxiang Xiang

Professor Goddard and Team Find the Simplest Form of a Catalyst


William A. Goddard, Charles and Mary Ferkel Professor of Chemistry, Materials Science, and Applied Physics, is part of research team which finds that an electron is the simplest form of a catalyst. A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction by lowering the barriers from reactants to products. Traditionally, most catalysts contain transition metal as the source of activity. The most recent Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan for the discovery of pure organic compounds as catalyst for asymmetric organic synthesis. Is there any catalyst simpler than small organic compounds? Yes, in an article published in the latest edition of Nature, a team of Northwestern University and Caltech discovered that an electron itself can play the role of catalyst for the process of molecular recognition. [Nature Article]

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Chaining Atoms Together Yields Quantum Storage


Engineers at Caltech have developed an approach for quantum storage that could help pave the way for the development of large-scale optical quantum networks. "The ability to build a technology reproducibly and reliably is key to its success," says graduate student Andrei Ruskuc. "In the scientific context, this let us gain unprecedented insight into microscopic interactions between ytterbium qubits and the vanadium atoms in their environment." The new system relies on nuclear spins—the angular momentum of an atom's nucleus—oscillating collectively as a spin wave. This collective oscillation effectively chains up several atoms to store information. "Based on our previous work, single ytterbium ions were known to be excellent candidates for optical quantum networks, but we needed to link them with additional atoms. We demonstrate that in this work," says Andrei Faraon, Professor of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering. [Read the paper] [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS EE research highlights MedE KNI Andrei Faraon Andrei Ruskuc

Nano-architected Material Refracts Light Backward—An Important Step Toward One Day Creating Photonic Circuits


A newly created nano-architected material exhibits a property that previously was just theoretically possible: it can refract light backward, regardless of the angle at which the light strikes the material. "Negative refraction is crucial to the future of nanophotonics, which seeks to understand and manipulate the behavior of light when it interacts with materials or solid structures at the smallest possible scales," says Julia R. Greer, Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engineering; Fletcher Jones Foundation Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights MedE MCE Harry Atwater Julia Greer Victoria Chernow Siying Peng Ryan Ng

Controlling Light with a Material Three Atoms Thick


Scientists can control light more precisely than ever with a material only three atoms thick and constructed from so-called black phosphorous. In the lab of Harry Atwater, Otis Booth Leadership Chair, Division of Engineering and Applied Science; Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science; Director, Liquid Sunlight Alliance, three layers of phosphorous atoms were used to create a material for polarizing light that is tunable, precise, and extremely thin. Black phosphorous tech could revolutionize telecommunications by vastly improving light signals sent through fiber-optic cables. The technology could also open the door to a light-based replacement for Wi-Fi, something researchers in the field refer to as Li-Fi. "Increasingly, we're going to be looking at light-wave communications in free space," Atwater says. "Lighting like this very cool-looking lamp above my desk doesn't carry any communication signal. It just provides light. But there's no reason that you couldn't sit in a future Starbucks and have your laptop taking a light signal for its wireless communication rather than a radio signal. It's not quite here yet, but when it gets here, it will be at least a hundred times faster than Wi-Fi." [Caltech story]

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Nano-Architected Material Resists Impact Better Than Kevlar


Julia R. Greer, Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics and Medical Engineering; Fletcher Jones Foundation Director of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, has developed a nano-architected material made from tiny carbon struts that is, pound for pound, more effective at stopping a projectile than Kevlar, a material commonly used in personal protective gear. "The knowledge from this work could provide design principles for ultra-lightweight impact resistant materials for use in efficient armor materials, protective coatings, and blast-resistant shields desirable in defense and space applications," says Greer. [Caltech story]

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EAS New Horizons Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Award


The Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences seeks nominations to recognize and honor individuals within the EAS community who have actively contributed to EAS’s goal to be a diverse, equitable, and inclusive engineering community. The award is available to members of the EAS community, including current students, postdoctoral scholars, staff, and faculty. Nominations are due Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and are accepted from anyone in the EAS community, EAS alumni and members of the Caltech community. Click here for full description of how to make a nomination.


Students Selected for NSF Graduate Research Fellowship


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected graduate students Komron Shayegan, Steven Bulfer, and Daniel Mukasa to receive Graduate Research Fellowships. The selection criteria used to identify NSF fellows reflect the potential of the applicant to advance knowledge and benefit society. Those selected for a fellowship will receive support for three years of graduate study in a research-based master's or doctoral program in science or engineering. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS EE honors alumni Komron Shayegan Steven Bulfer Skye Reese Noelle Unyoung Davis Daniel Mukasa

Computational Tool for Materials Physics Growing in Popularity


Marco Bernardi, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, has developed a new piece of software that makes it easier to study the behavior of electrons in materials—even materials that have been predicted but do not yet exist. The software, called Perturbo, is gaining traction among researchers. "Over the next decade, we will continue to expand the capabilities of our code, and make it the go-to for first-principles calculations of electron dynamics," Bernardi says. [Caltech story]

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New Insight into Nonlinear Optical Resonators Unlocks Door to Numerous Potential Applications


Devices known as optical parametric oscillators are among the widely used nonlinear resonators in optics; they are "nonlinear" in that there is light flowing into the system and light leaking out, but not at the same wavelengths. Though these oscillators are useful in a variety of applications, including in quantum optics experiments, the physics that underpins how their output wavelength, or spectrum, behaves is not well understood. "When you add strong nonlinearity to resonators, you enter what we call a 'rich physics regime,'" says Alireza Marandi, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics. "'Rich' in physics terms usually means complicated and hard to use, but we need nonlinearities to create useful functionalities such as switching for computing." To be able to make full use of nonlinear optical resonators, researchers want to be able to understand and model the physics that underpin how they work. Marandi and his colleagues recently uncovered a potential way to engineer those rich physics, while discovering phase transitions in the light that is generated by the resonators. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS EE research highlights KNI Alireza Marandi