MANHATTAN, Kan., Aug. 30, 2012 — A planned research project that could speed up communications technology has earned physicist Matthias Kling an Early Career Research Program Award from the DoE.
Kling, an assistant professor of physics at Kansas State University, will receive $750,000 to support his research, titled "Electron Dynamics in Nanostructures in Strong Laser Fields." He was one of only 68 applicants chosen this year from a field of 850.
Currently, transoceanic optical communications information must be coded and decoded by computers, which can slow down the technology. Kling's research may build the basis for removing this bottleneck.
"What we dream about is having optical devices where electrons are really controlled by the lightwaves themselves, and we can use that to replace conventional electronics," he said.
His work will focus on two aspects: studying how electron motion and nanomaterials can be controlled, and developing ways to build devices that control electrons with the electric field of lightwaves.
For the first part of the project, Kling will explore controlling electrons in nanosystems — the first step to improving electronics. If he can do this, it may speed up electrons by a factor of 100,000, which could greatly improve communications technology.
In the project's second part, he wants not only to control the electrons but also to see them in action. To observe their motion, Kling and his team use attosecond time flashes to take pictures of them.
"By the light flash being there for only a short time, you can freeze the motion of the electrons and get a very sharp picture of the electron at the time the light illuminates it," Kling said. "By putting lots of these pictures together, we obtain a movie of electron motion across the nanostructure."
Kling performed preliminary research at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, where he helped record correlated electron motion with lightwaves and studied how to use short laser pulses to control electron motion — all fundamental to what he will apply to nanosystems in the current project.
For this new research, Kling will use ultrafast laser sources from the university's James R. Macdonald Laboratory, where he will work in a new space to be completed this summer.
The new work space will include a DoE-funded $1.3 million laser system. The university is funding the laboratory space with more than $500,000.
"The new lab space is a state-of-the-art ultrafast laser lab," said lab director Itzik Ben-Itzhak, also a physics professor at the university. "It accommodates a high-repetition-rate, intense laser system that will serve a multitude of experiments mainly focused on attosecond physics.
These experiments and the laser system require a high level of environmental control, which the new lab provides."
Other researchers with the Macdonald Laboratory group will use the space to study the interaction of ultrashort laser pulses with matter.
For more information, visit: www.ksu.edu