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  • Early Career Scientists Honored for Photonics Research
Oct 2011
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2011 — A physicist who made a breakthrough in the field of superconducting detectors and a scientist working on the development of nanophotonic devices for optical communications and on-chip biosensing are two of eight photonics-related researchers to each receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from President Barack Obama. They each will be given a research grant lasting up to five years at a ceremony today in Washington.

Benjamin Mazin, assistant professor in the department of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, received a PECASE for his contributions to the development of ultrasensitive low-temperature detector arrays that provide energy resolution and arrival timing for photons from x-rays to the near-infrared. Mazin uses technology called microwave kinetic inductance detectors for astronomy in the near-infrared, optical, ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths. He hopes to detect Earth-like planets around nearby stars, as well as apply the technology to many general applications in astrophysics, such as untangling the emission mechanisms of pulsars.

Assistant professor Dr. Hatice Altug of Boston University was recognized for confining and manipulating light at the nanoscale to dramatically improve biosensing. Her group is advancing the frontiers of proteomics to enable discovery of protein biomarkers for disease detection, drugs and environmental monitoring, having recently developed a prototype for a low-cost portable diagnostic platform that could be used by untrained personnel to detect blood or saliva-based protein biomarkers for selected cancers, Alzheimers, allergens and other illnesses. Altug was also cited for her innovative educational and outreach activities for students.

North Carolina State University associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, Dr. Michael J. Escuti, aims to innovate advanced optical and electrical materials to capitalize on antisotropy in mesogenic materials, and to develop nanolithography methods. His research can be applied to devices and systems in photonics, organic electronics, flat panel displays, nanoelectrics and nanomagnetics.

Lasse Jensen was selected “for addressing fundamental questions relevant to optical spectroscopy of bio- and nanosystems and for exemplary teaching efforts and the dissemination of computational tools to the chemistry community.” An assistant chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State University, Jensen is developing new theoretical and computational tools for addressing important questions relevant to the optical spectroscopy of biological and nanoscale systems. He is particularly interested in understanding how enhanced Raman spectroscopy can selectively probe a specific subsystem of a more complex system.

The work of Benjamin Lev, assistant professor of applied physics at Stanford University in California, focuses on understanding the behavior of quantum matter. His projects aim to create novel quantum mesophases — quantum liquid crystals, superglasses — through the introduction of long-range, anisotropic interactions via laser-cooled dipolar dysprosium gases to the ultracold atomic physics toolbox, and fully emergent optical lattices via multimode cavity quantum electrodynamics. His team is also harnessing newly developed quantum manipulation tools such as the cryogenic atom chip to create a novel magnetic field microscope for imaging transport and exotic magnetism in strongly correlated materials.

Dr. Aydogan Ozcan, associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, has also received the country’s highest honor for science and engineering researchers based on his work in photonics and its applications in nano- and biotechnology. Ozcan has developed powerful optical imaging and sensing architectures that can be incorporated into mobile phones. Essentially becoming mobile labs, these phones can analyze fluids to test for HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases in body fluids, or to analyze water quality following a disaster. These devices are relatively inexpensive to produce and have broad applications for improving health care in resource-poor regions.

NIST physicist Kartik Srinivasan was cited for developing measurement methods aimed at probing the nature of strong light-matter interactions in semiconductor optical cavities with unparalleled sensitivity and for developing processes to fabricate low-loss on-chip nanophotonic devices. A project leader at the Nanofabrication Research Group in the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, Srinivasan’s research includes measuring light-matter interactions in chip-based optical cavities, and efficient optical spectroscopy of single solid-state quantum emitters.

Srinivasan’s NIST colleague, physicist Jacob Taylor, was selected for his pioneering research on quantum fault tolerance and on the dynamic properties of quantum information devices, and for his commitment to providing educational and research experiences to graduate students. Taylor’s work includes understanding the fundamental and practical limits to building quantum information devices; studying novel approaches to entangling atomic, photonic and solid-state systems; and exploring potential applications of quantum information systems to metrology and measurement science.

These recipients are among 94 researchers who were honored by the US government. The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected by 16 federal departments and agencies for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.

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The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
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