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  • Physicists to Honor McCombe
Feb 2008
BUFFALO, N.Y., Feb. 29, 2008 -- Some of the biggest names in condensed matter physics, including two Nobel laureates, will converge in western New York March 6-8 to celebrate the scientific contributions -- and the birthday -- of Bruce D. McCombe, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a distinguished professor of physics at the University of Buffalo (UB).

"Magnetic Excitations in Semiconductors: Bridges to the Next Decade," a two-day scientific conference at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center in Amherst, is being held to honor McCombe and the scientific collaborations he has organized over the years at UB and around the globe.

More than 20 speakers will speak on topics including quantum computation, spintronics, nanotubes, photonic crystals and magnetism. Nobel laureates who will attend include Horst Störmer, professor of physics and applied physics at Columbia University, and Klaus von Klitzing, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Physics in Stuttgart, Germany.
Bruce D. McCombe, PhD (Photo courtesy University of Buffalo)
The symposium will kick off on March 6 with a free, public lecture, "Putting Spin into Electronics: Vision for the Future" by Igor Zutic, assistant professor of physics at UB. It will be attended by leading scientists including many of McCombe's colleagues or former students and postdoctoral researchers.

The event will highlight the achievements of McCombe and his colleagues at UB, who have long been a major force in semiconductor physics, the field that has brought the world everything from transistor radios to the information technology revolution.

Along with UB colleagues Athos Petrou and Bernard Weinstein, McCombe helped establish semiconductor physics as a particular emphasis in the UB physics department, an expertise that continues to this day and helps to recruit young and established theorists and experimentalists to UB, the university said in a statement.

"Bruce has been a pioneer in the physics of two-dimensional electron systems, a field that emerged in the 1960s that had enormous impact on electronics and photonics, and also led to very fundamental discoveries," said Störmer, the 1998 Nobel laureate in physics and a close friend of McCombe's. "Bruce has been influential in all aspects of this progress, from basic research to actual devices. He is able to combine his very productive research work with several important administrative and managerial duties and -- in spite of it -- has never lost his exquisitely dry sense of humor."

Colleagues say that sense of humor, combined with his gift for establishing efficient research groups across disciplines, institutions and even continents, has allowed him to achieve a strong record of scientific success and collaboration, the university said. McCombe's contributions range from verifying theoretically predicted spin effects in semiconductors as far back as the late 1960s to researching the quantized electronic states of "quasi-2-D" systems realized in silicon metal-oxide semiconductor devices and in narrow "sandwiches" of compound semiconductor materials called quantum wells from the mid-1970s through the 1990s.

He has also studied and designed new materials and structures that have the "right" properties for ultimately developing spintronic devices and the electronic and vibrational properties of quantum dots and nanoparticles.

Spintronics is expected to lead to dramatic improvements in electronic systems and devices, including faster processing speeds with less power consumption; nonvolatility, where turning off the power doesn't "turn off" the information; and possibly the development of quantum computers.

"But neither spintronics nor semiconductors were on McCombe's mind while he was growing up in the small New England town of Sanford, Maine, the son of a US postal worker and a secretary-accountant," the university said. "In high school, he planned to be a chemical engineer, but that changed forever when he got to Bowdoin College and took his first physics course."

Satish K. Tripathi, UB's provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said, "One of the many remarkable things about Bruce is that throughout his career he has been an integral force in defining, stretching and redefining the field of magnetic excitations in semiconductor heterostructures. His body of work reads as a chronology of disciplinary breakthroughs spanning from fundamental research in spin-dependent phenomena in semiconductors to the development of new spintronic technologies that have the potential to replace silicon-based electronics and/or enable quantum computing. This chronology is further highlighted by the many doctoral and postdoctoral students who are now, in their own right, acclaimed faculty and researchers."

As dean of UB's College of Arts and Sciences, McCombe is an active researcher and a key figure in the evolution of the field, Tripathi said. "His research and administrative acumen, coupled with his keen sense of humor and unique approach to life, have truly made him a great colleague."

After completing his doctorate in physics at Brown University, McCombe worked in the Solid State Div. and the Electronics Technology Div. at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and later as director of that division.

"During that stint, he realized he could not do the job and continue his scientific research," the university said. "So NRL's loss became UB's gain."

On UB's faculty since 1982, McCombe has also held numberous administrative posts: physics department chair, co-director of the Center for Electronic and Electro-Optic Materials, deputy director at the New York State Institute for Superconductivity, associate dean for research and sponsored programs for the College of Arts and Sciences, vice provost for graduate education, dean of the Graduate School and director of the Center for Advanced Photonic and Electronic Materials. He subsequently formed and directed UB's Center for Spin Effects and Quantum Information in Nanostructures. He was named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in March 2007 after serving as interim dean since July 2006. He is also an adjunct professor of electrical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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