Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Applied Physics

News & Events


Clues to Solar Cell Efficiency Found at Atomic Level


Marco Bernardi, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, has teamed up with physics colleague Professor David Hsieh, to offers new insight into a promising solar cell material called perovskites. "Despite being a relatively new technology, perovskite solar cells are now almost as efficient as solar cell materials that have been around for decades. But we still don't know why perovskite solar cells work so well," says Professor Bernardi, [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Marco Bernardi David Hsieh

Exact Optical Frequencies on Demand


Professor Kerry J. Vahala and colleagues have developed a prototype of a miniature device that synthesizes frequencies on demand with about 1 Hertz accuracy. It combines a frequency comb developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with a "fine-toothed" frequency comb developed at Caltech. To create the finely spaced comb teeth, the Caltech resonator must be about 100 times larger than the NIST device. Its larger size can potentially make this comb very power hungry. "Too much power in a small space can damage any electronics to which the resonator is connected," Professor Vahala says. "Also, in the future, these synthesizer devices could operate on battery power in smartphone-sized devices where they cannot draw much power." But the Caltech comb can generate specific frequencies with minimal amounts of power. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Kerry Vahala

Building the Starshot Sail


Professor Harry A. Atwater, Jr. is an advisor to a multi-disciplinary $100-million project aimed at designing a spacecraft that can be launched to planets surrounding other stars and reach them within our lifetime. The Breakthrough Starshot Program has three big technical challenges: The first is to build the so-called photon engine, the laser that's capable of propelling the sail; the second is to design the sail itself; and the third is to design the payload, which will be a tiny spacecraft capable of taking images and spectral data and then beaming them back to the earth. Professor Atwater’s role is to help the program define pathways to making a viable lightsail that's compatible with the other objectives of the whole program. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Harry Atwater

Quantum and non-linear forces yield peculiar thermal expansion in silicon


Most materials expand when heated. At temperatures below room temperature, silicon shows the opposite behavior, shrinking as it is heated. Even at room temperature the normal thermal expansion of silicon is rather small. A team led by Professor Brent Fultz wanted to know why, and found that the unusual property is the result of quantum effects coupled by the nonlinear forces between atoms in silicon. [Read the paper]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Brent Fultz Dennis Kim

No Motor, No Battery, No Problem


Chiara Daraio, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics, and colleagues have developed robots capable of self-propulsion without using any motors, servos, or power supply. Instead, these first-of-their-kind devices paddle through water as the material they are constructed from deforms with temperature changes. "Combining simple motions together, we were able to embed programming into the material to carry out a sequence of complex behaviors," says Caltech postdoctoral scholar Osama R. Bilal, who is co-first author of the PNAS paper is titled "Harnessing bistability for directional propulsion of soft, untethered robots." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Chiara Daraio MCE APh postdocs Osama Bilal

Solving Pieces of the Genetic Puzzle


Postdoctoral scholar Nathan Belliveau working in the laboratory of Professor Rob Phillips has applied a method called Sort-Seq to mutate small pieces of noncoding regions in E. coli and determined which regions contain binding sites. Binding sites are the locations where specialized proteins that are involved in transcription—the first step in the process of gene expression—attach to DNA. "Humans have such a wide variety of cells—muscle cells, neurons, photoreceptors, blood cells, to name a few," says Professor Phillips. "They all have the same DNA, so how do they each turn out so differently? The answer lies in the fact that genes can be regulated—turned on or off, dialed up and dialed down—differently in different tissues. Until now, there have been no general principles to help us understand how this regulation was encoded." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Rob Phillips APh postdocs Nathan Belliveau

Engineered Metasurfaces Replace Adhesive Tape in Specialized Microscope


The latest advance in a new type of optics aimed at improving microscopy started with a game of tennis three years ago between Mooseok Jang a graduate of Professor Changhuei Yang's lab and Yu Horie working with Professor Andrei Faraon. "The hope is that our work will prompt further interest in this area of optics and make this type of microscopy and its advantages feasible for practical, everyday use—not just as a proof of concept," says Josh Brake, a graduate student in Yang's lab who continues to work on the project with Faraon and Yang. [Caltech story]

Tags: EE research highlights Changhuei Yang MedE alumni Andrei Faraon Mooseok Jang APh Yu Horie Josh Brake

Building Blocks to Create Metamaterials


Chiara Daraio, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics, and colleagues have created a method to systematically design metamaterials using principles of quantum mechanics. "Before our work, there was no single, systematic way to design metamaterials that control mechanical waves for different applications," Professor Daraio says. "Instead, people often optimized a design to fulfill a specific purpose, or tried out new designs based on something they saw in nature, and then studied what properties would arise from repeated patterns." [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Chiara Daraio MCE APh

Two Holograms in One Surface


Andrei Faraon, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, graduate student Seyedeh Mahsa Kamali, and colleagues have figured out a way to encode more than one holographic image in a single surface without any loss of resolution. The team developed silicon oxide and aluminum surfaces studded with tens of millions of tiny silicon posts, each just hundreds of nanometers tall. Each nanopost reflects light differently due to variations in its shape and size, and based on the angle of incoming light. [Caltech story]

Tags: research highlights Andrei Faraon APh Seyedeh Mahsa Kamali

The Microscopic Origin of Efficiency Droop in LEDs


Marco Bernardi, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, and his colleagues’ semiconductor research has shown that the coupling between electrons and thermal vibrations may be sapping energy from Light-emitting diodes—or LEDs. "Our work shows for the first time that the ever-present interaction between electrons with lattice vibrations can, by itself, explain why excited electrons can leak out of the active layer and account for inefficiencies in GaN LEDs," Professor Bernardi says. [Caltech story]

Tags: APhMS research highlights Marco Bernardi