Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Applied Physics

News & Events


Joseph Falson Named William H. Hurt Scholar


A $75 million gift from the late William (Bill) H. Hurt has established a suite of endowed early-career professorships that brings young faculty together to collaborate, build connections across disciplines, and engage in research and teaching that has the potential to define new fields of study, develop technologies, and advance innovative solutions to address the greatest challenges of the day. Joseph Falson, Assistant Professor of Materials Science, is among four faculty members who make up the inaugural cohort of William H. Hurt Scholars. William H. Hurt Scholars receive unrestricted funding and gain a network of colleagues with whom they will interact through programming designed to catalyze new research ideas and collaborations. [Caltech story]

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Harry Atwater Receives Von Hippel Award


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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Caltech and Amazon Partner to Create New Hub of Quantum Computing


This past year, a new two-story building took shape in the northeast corner of the Caltech campus. Though modest in design, what takes place inside the structure could transform the future of computing. The building is the AWS Center for Quantum Computing, the result of a partnership between Caltech and Amazon Web Services, the cloud-computing branch of Amazon. The goal of the collaboration is to create quantum computers and related technologies that have the potential to revolutionize data security, machine learning, medicine development, sustainability practices, and more. "AWS will benefit from the ideas percolating here on campus," says Oskar Painter, John G. Braun Professor of Applied Physics and Physics and head of quantum hardware at AWS. Painter says quantum computing is still a very young technology, so it is crucial for development efforts to be directly connected to the latest research in academia. [Caltech story]

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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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Material Inspired by Chain Mail Transforms from Flexible to Rigid on Command


Engineers at Caltech and JPL have developed a material inspired by chain mail that can transform from a foldable, fluid-like state into specific solid shapes under pressure. "We wanted to make materials that can change stiffness on command," says Chiara Daraio, G. Bradford Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Physics. "We'd like to create a fabric that goes from soft and foldable to rigid and load-bearing in a controllable way." To explore what materials would work best, Daraio, together with former Caltech postdoctoral researcher Yifan Wang and former Caltech graduate student Liuchi Li (PhD '19) as co-lead authors of the Nature paper, designed a number of configurations of linked particles, from linking rings to linking cubes to linking octahedrons (which resemble two pyramids connected at the base). The materials were 3-D printed out of polymers and even metals, with help from Douglas Hofmann, principal scientist at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. These configurations were then simulated in a computer with a model from the group of José E. Andrade, the George W. Housner Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and Caltech's resident expert in the modeling of granular materials. [Caltech story]

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Joseph Falson Named Moore Fellow


Joseph Falson, Assistant Professor of Materials Science, has been named as a 2021 Fellow in Materials Synthesis by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Falson's grant will enable him to pursue methods for growing highly pure crystals of new materials. He plans to build a custom piece of equipment with an ultra-high vacuum chamber corrosive materials that also offers access to the materials so that sensitive experiments may be conducted on them. "Broadly, the field is looking for fundamentally new types of materials that show some type of complex functionality," says Falson. [Caltech story]

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Wei Gao Receives Pittsburgh Conference Achievement Award


Wei Gao, Assistant Professor of Medical Engineering, has received the Pittsburgh Conference Achievement Award (PCAA). The Pittsburgh Conference Achievement Award is given annually to a researcher who has made a significant and independent impact in the area of analytical chemistry within the first ten years after his or her doctoral degree. [Past Recipients]

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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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Graduate Students Receive KNI Catalyst Awards


Haley Bauser and Daniel Mukasa are recipients of the inaugural 2021 KNI Catalyst Award. The Kavli Nanoscience Institute established the KNI Catalyst Awards to recognize researchers in the nanoscience community who actively promote diversity, equity and/or inclusion at Caltech, JPL, or the broader scientific community. [KNI Release]

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Wei Gao Receives 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award


Wei Gao, Assistant Professor of Medical Engineering, has been selected to receive the prestigious 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award from 3M Corporation. This award recognizes outstanding new faculty who were nominated by 3M researchers and selected based on their research, experience and academic leadership. The purpose of the award is to help the faculty members achieve tenure, remain in their teaching position, and conduct research.

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