Physics Assistant Professor Stefan Strauf Receives NSF CAREER Award for Quantum Research

2/1/2011

 Dr. Stefan Strauf, Assistant Professor of Physics and Engineering Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology, has been honored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the prestigious CAREER Award. One of the most competitive programs offered by the NSF, the CAREER Award supports early career development of faculty in the sciences who are most likely to become leading researchers and teachers. The awards provide a financial stipend to support research activity over the course of five years.

The objective of Dr. Strauf's awarded research is to address the problem of scalability of semiconductor quantum photonic devices, which are currently limited by the inherently random nucleation process of self-assembled quantum dots. Essentially nanoscale crystals, quantum dots possess many useful physical properties and in particular the ability to emit photons one by one resulting in quantum light emission. Quantum photonic devices are expected to become building blocks for a new generation of technologies able to process quantum information, which enables performing tasks that would be unachievable with classical computers, such as unconditionally secure transmission of information.

"Dr. Strauf's well-deserved recognition by the NSF emphasizes the potential impact of this disruptive technology breakthrough," commends Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science. "His achievement epitomizes Stevens investment in innovative nanotechnology research that will have profound implications for the national and global economy."

Dr. Strauf's research utilizes top-down fabrication approaches to create novel "vertical quantum dots" by etching them from a semiconductor wafer. These vertical quantum dots can be precisely positioned in large quantity with respect to other nanostructures such as photonic crystal cavities and waveguides. Etching can cause challenges such as non-radiative recombination, in which the quantum dots are damaged in such a way that they cannot emit sufficient light to be useful in scientific applications. Advances in etching technologies, such as the advent of inductively coupled plasma (ICP) etching, can overcome these problems and initial research shows that vertical quantum dots can be made with brightness comparable to self-assembled quantum dots. If successful, the research is transformative, since the anticipated scalable quantum photonic devices enable novel applications in on-chip quantum information processing, quantum communication, quantum lithography, and national security.

This award leverages existing NSF funding, including a recent NSF-MRI award, for which Dr. Strauf is co-PI, supporting the purchase of an ICP etcher. Work will also be carried out at Brookhaven National Lab under a granted user proposal. Graduate student researchers, supported in part by this CAREER Award, will work at both Stevens and Brookhaven's world-class facilities.

"Prof. Strauf is doing research at the forefront of physics, and this CAREER award implies that his peers in the scientific community fully recognize the high quality of his work," reports Dr. Knut Stamnes, Department Director for Physics and Engineering Physics. "He has built a first-class NanoPhotonics Laboratory at Stevens, mentors six graduate students with whom he publishes his work in letter journals, and motivates and inspires all members of our department and the Stevens nanotechnology community through his dedication, persistence, and perseverance."

As part of Stevens large effort in nanoscale research, the university offers the interdisciplinaryNanotechnology Graduate Program, in which Dr. Strauf is actively involved teaching core courses. His CAREER Award will further support the development of a Nanophysics Summer School, which will introduce nanotechnology research in physics to undergraduates as well as regional K-12 science teachers. Dr. Strauf's program intends to bridge student interest from multiple disciplines, expose students to nanoscale research, and build awareness about careers in physics and nanotechnology.