Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Applied Physics

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Highlights

Harry Atwater Elected Optica Fellow

11-08-21

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, has been elected as Optica Fellow. Since 1959, over 2,800 members have joined the ranks of Fellow. These members have served with distinction in the advancement of optics and photonics through distinguished contributions to education, research, engineering, business and society. [Elected Fellows]

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Harry Atwater Receives Von Hippel Award

11-02-21

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, received the 2021 Von Hippel Award, the Materials Research Society’s (MRS) highest honor. Atwater is being recognized “for fundamental research in light-matter interactions—particularly nanophotonics, plasmonics, photonic metamaterials, and solar energy conversion—and numerous applications of photon control of materials illustrating the value of fundamental research to technologies that improve the quality of life.” The Von Hippel Award recognizes those qualities most prized by materials scientists and engineers—brilliance and originality of intellect, combined with vision that transcends the boundaries of conventional scientific disciplines, as exemplified by the life of Arthur von Hippel. [MRS story]

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Controlling Light with a Material Three Atoms Thick

10-22-21

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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New EAS Division Chair Announced

04-15-21

Harry A. Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science and director of the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (LiSA), has been selected as the new chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. On July 1, he will begin his five-year term, taking over the Otis Booth Leadership Chair from current division chair Guruswami (Ravi) Ravichandran, the John E. Goode, Jr., Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. After more than three decades at Caltech, Atwater says he's looking forward to the opportunity to serve the Institute in a new way. "I'm excited to be able to pay back or pay forward all of the investments that Caltech has made in me," he says. "I'm excited to try to do what I can to catalyze research initiatives that my colleagues are excited to lead, and to make the division as strong and distinctive as possible." [Caltech story]

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Collecting Hot Carriers: New Process Harvests Excited Quasiparticles

08-12-20

Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science; Director, Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, has developed a way to eke more energy out of solar power by collecting freshly charged particles before they have an opportunity to cool off. This fundamental research could one day help scientists harvest energy from the sun more efficiently than by the natural photosynthesis used by plants. "If hot carriers, transporting more energy, could be captured, we would be able to wring three to four times as much energy from solar power," says Atwater. [Caltech story]

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Caltech Mourns Passing of Manuel "Manny" Soriaga

07-19-19

Manuel P. Soriaga, Research Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, passed away on July 17, 2019. As a principal investigator in Caltech's Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), Soriaga studied electrochemical reactions that make artificial photosynthesis possible. "Manny’s accomplishments as a surface scientist were peerless and of the highest quality, and he made essential and indispensable contributions to JCAP’s mission," says Professor Harry Atwater. "All who knew him well will also remember with fondness the warmth and humor that he brought to his work and life." [Caltech story]

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Professor Atwater Receives IEEE Cherry Award

06-20-19

Harry A. Atwater, Jr., Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science; Director, Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, has received the 2019 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) William Cherry Award. Professor Atwater was recognized for his "many and outstanding contributions to photovoltaic science and technology.” The award recognizes those who have devoted a part of their professional life to the advancement of the science and technology of photovoltaic energy conversion. [Caltech story]

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Levitating Objects with Light

03-18-19

Ognjen Ilic, postdoctoral scholar in Professor Harry Atwater’s laboratory, and colleagues have designed a way to levitate and propel objects using only light, by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects' surfaces. "We have come up with a method that could levitate macroscopic objects," says Professor Atwater, who is also the director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. "There is an audaciously interesting application to use this technique as a means for propulsion of a new generation of spacecraft. We're a long way from actually doing that, but we are in the process of testing out the principles." [Caltech story]

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Caltech Startup Aims to Make Solar Panels More Efficient

10-18-18

Translational technology developed in Professor Harry A. Atwater’s laboratory seeks to improve the efficiency of solar panels by tweaking the architecture of the metal-grid layout of individual cells. The new startup company—ETC Solar, LLC—which is marketing the technology, took first place at the DOE's 2018 Cleantech University Prize national collegiate business plan competition in Houston. "To have been selected as a winner is a huge point of validation for the concept, both the innovation and also the impact," says Professor Atwater, who is also a co-founder of ETC Solar along with Thomas Russell, and Rebecca Saive. "It has helped us to make contacts with potential industrial partners and private equity investors," [Caltech story]

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Building the Starshot Sail

06-04-18

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]

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