Science and Engineering

Grant Abstracts 2018

Purdue University

Chen-Lung Hung, Sergei Khlebnikov, Martin Kruczenski, Qi Zhou
West Lafayette, IN
$1,000,000
December 2018

 

The existence of space, time, and gravity is a mainstay of conventional wisdom.  However, a profound idea initially proposed in string theory indicates that an analog of space and time can emerge from the dynamics of strongly coupled quantum systems.  Testing this description based on emergent space-time and gravity demands new experimental capabilities to engineer a highly accessible, strongly coupled quantum material.  A primary candidate to carry out such an experimental test is an atomic quantum gas trapped in an optical lattice, formed by intersecting laser beams, and prepared near a quantum phase transition that occurs at absolute zero temperature.  A team from Purdue University will develop a quantum gas platform that creates such quantum samples with unprecedented spatiotemporal control over the system parameters.  The team will make and test predictions of the dynamical properties of the samples and test them based on emergent space-time and gravity in extreme non-equilibrium situations such as in shock waves and in conditions that mimic those of black holes.  These experiments can provide a comprehensive test on many related dynamical phenomena.  It would offer a unique opportunity to demonstrate, for the first time in a laboratory, that a strongly coupled quantum system may be described by a theory of gravity.  This project has the potential to transform research in quantum matter and impact the way we view gravity and our universe.

 

 

University of California, Berkeley

Stephen Leone, Norman Yao
Berkeley, CA
$1,000,000
December 2018

 

A central goal of modern physics is the discovery and characterization of all phases of matter allowed by nature.  Certain phases, such as solid ice or liquid water, and the associated melting transition between them, are described by classical physics, while others, including the formation of superfluids and superconductors are intrinsically quantum mechanical.  The key difference between them is the idea of “many-body entanglement,” which describes a specific type of quantum mechanical correlation.  A pair of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley proposes to experimentally realize two novel types of quantum matter that only occur outside the traditional venue of thermal equilibrium.  These two non-equilibrium quantum phases can only be stabilized in the presence of a strong periodic external driving force.  In addition, they will utilize a new technique, ultrafast X-ray spectroscopy, to probe these non-equilibrium states of matter with unprecedented temporal resolution.  Experiments will be carried out to realize an example of an interacting topological phase stabilized by laser driving, as well as a disorder-free pre-thermal time crystal in diamond.  In the process, the researchers will address several outstanding scientific questions facing the field of non-equilibrium quantum matter: whether such matter is only stable in the presence of disorder, i.e., random impurities, defects, or dislocations, and whether, due to the interplay between symmetry and topology, one can observe different material properties at the lattice scale.  Realizing new strongly-interacting, non equilibrium phases in driven laboratory experiments will open the door to a new forum for understanding and classifying quantum matter.

 

 

University of California, Santa Barbara

Andrea Young
Santa Barbara, CA
$1,000,000
December 2018

 

Nonabelian states of matter in two dimensional systems host emergent excitations with fundamentally different quantum statistics than those found in our three-dimensional world.  A young investigator at the University of California, Santa Barbara proposes to build and deploy a scanning probe tool—the Ultra-Low Temperature Magneto-Thermal Microscope (ULT-MTM)—designed to facilitate discovery of nonabelian ground states.  The new instrument integrates an ultra-sensitive scanning superconducting sensor in a superfluid helium-4 immersion cell, providing nanoscale thermal and magnetic imaging at millikelvin temperatures.  The ULT-MTM probe will be used to find signatures of nonabelian order in van der Waals heterostructures, consisting of layered stacks of atomically thin two-dimensional materials in which a wide variety of promising candidate states have been identified.  These experiments will provide unprecedentedly detailed information about the microscopic structure of many-body quantum states, while paving the way for breakthroughs in quantum information science that harness the long-predicted decoherence protection of quantum bits based on braiding of nonabelian quasiparticles.

 

 

University of Colorado, Boulder

Dan Dessau, Gang Cao, Josef Michl, Charles Musgrave, Sean Shaheen
Boulder, CO
$1,000,000
December 2018

 

Room-temperature superconductivity is a goal that could deliver powerful magnets (levitating trains), exquisitely sensitive magnetic-field sensors (MRI machines), lossless power transmission lines, quantum computing, and more.  The critical processes needed for superconductivity are (a) the formation of Cooper pairs of electrons and (b) the condensation of these pairs into the superconducting state.  Organic (carbon-based) superconductors hold great promise for obtaining room-temperature superconductivity because of the huge diversity of compounds that might enable strong Cooper pairing on individual molecules.  This field took a major leap forward this past year with the observation of the onset of Cooper pairing at 120 K – a factor of four increase in temperature from the previous record superconducting temperature for an organic material and 40% of the way to room temperature.  This result unveiled a major direction forward for achieving true high temperature superconductivity – increasing the intermolecular coupling strengths to entice the condensation of pairs existing on individual molecules.  This project brings together a team of physicists, chemists, and engineers with a diverse set of knowledge, toolsets, and ideas aimed at achieving this goal.

 

 

Arizona State University

Anne K. Jones, Peter R. Buseck, Moreno Meneghetti, Tarakeshwar Pilarisetty, Scott G. Sayres, Timothy C. Steimle
Tempe, AZ
$1,000,000
June 2018

 

The focus of the research project is the creation, characterization, and application of molecules and materials consisting of charge-stabilized carbon chains.  There has been lively disagreement for over a century as to whether the simplest carbon allotrope, carbyne, a linear chain of sp-hybridized carbon, occurs in the condensed state.  Based on recent experimental and theoretical reports, we hypothesized that a new class of molecules and materials related to carbyne, called pseudocarbynes, exists.  They consist of carbon chains stabilized by small metal clusters along and adjacent to the length of the chain.  They are expected to have important chemical, optical, and magnetic properties that arise from synergistic interactions between the carbon chain and metal clusters.  The project consists of integrated experimental and theoretical research to: 1) define the variety of pseudocarbynes that can be produced; 2) determine their formation mechanisms; and 3) characterize the synergistic metal-carbon interactions of pseudocarbynes and define their connections to chemical, electrical, optical, and physical properties.  The last goal will include evaluating pseudocarbynes as reagents and catalysts for driving chemical reactions.  The new class of carbon-rich molecules and materials represented by pseudocarbynes has the potential of opening an unexplored realm of chemistry, with all its interesting applications and implications.

Colorado State University

Kristen Buchanan, Mario Marconi, Carmen Menoni, Jorge Rocca
Fort Collins, CO
$1,000,000
June 2018

 

Today’s electronic devices still rely primarily on electrical charges to transmit signals.  As device sizes continue to shrink further into the nanoscale we are approaching the limits of what can be done using conventional approaches.  The spin of an electron offers a potential way past this scientific and design barrier.  Spin can be exploited simply by using it as an additional degree of freedom in a flowing electrical current.  But, even more revolutionary ideas are possible if we broaden the idea of spin transmission to include the transmission of signals using waves in a magnetic material that are known as spin waves or magnons.  Spin waves can travel through metals and insulators, and because there are many different ways to manipulate spin waves – local magnetic fields, spin orbit torques, anisotropies, spin textures, exchange bias, heat, and more – truly new paradigms for information transmission and processing are possible.  Magnon-based devices can also provide information transfer with no Joule heating and hence will enable breakthroughs in energy-efficiency.  To achieve this potential, new experiments are needed to test and refine ideas at nanometer length scales.  The Colorado State University team will investigate vital scientific questions surrounding the generation and channeling of spin waves at nanoscale wavelengths, and they will construct novel imaging instrumentation using a soft X-ray laser.  If successful, these advances will create a new paradigm for computing at the nanoscale and take the field of magnetics research in a promising new direction.

University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Margaret McFall-Ngai, Anthony Amend, Nicole Hynson, Camilo Mora, Craig Nelson, Joanne Yew
Honolulu, HI
$1,000,000
June 2018

 

The discovery of the vast impact of the microbial world represents the greatest change in our view of the form and function of the biosphere since Darwin developed his theory of evolution.  This technology-enabled revolution has thus far focused principally upon defining circumscribed microbiomes, such as those of the human body.  However, all microbiomes are nested within a broader environmental context and rely on the interactions among the components for health of the whole.  These abundant and diverse microbes represent a nearly untapped natural resource whose potential contributions to health, food production, and habitat restoration constitute the next great opportunity for biological sciences.  This project will address fundamental gaps in our basic understanding of environmental microbial communities with the goal of defining the compositions and functions that support healthy hosts and environments.  Taking advantage of the highly diverse, yet compact landscape of Hawaiʻi’s habitats, this program will explore the microbiome dynamics of an entire mountain-to-sea watershed.  The team of researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa will use a multidisciplinary strategy that integrates field observation, laboratory experimentation, and mathematical modeling, which will ultimately lead to future work in defining and engineering critical biotic and abiotic features that foster ecosystem microbiomes contributing to human and environmental health.  The efforts of the team will focus on establishing the Keck Environmental Microbiome Observatory (KEMO), the first comprehensive view of natural interdependent microbiomes to be developed by the biology community.  The long-term goal is to use tractable Hawaiian environments as models for large scale ecosystems worldwide.

University of San Diego

Rae M. Robertson-Anderson, Moumita Das, Jennifer L. Ross, Michael J. Rust
San Diego, CA
$1,000,000
June 2018

 

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of San Diego, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Chicago, and the Rochester Institute of Technology proposes to create a revolutionary class of autonomous materials that can harness energy-driven, biological ratchets to perform user-defined motion and work.  The frontier of materials research is to engineer “intelligent” materials that can sense, decide, and move to create active work.  While biology has already engineered such autonomous systems by using cascading chemical reactions and energy-utilizing molecular components, humans currently have no capability to build similar non-equilibrium, multi-component systems.  The team will take a unique route to addressing this need: the programmed coupling of biopolymer networks derived from the cytoskeleton with the robust timekeeping of circadian oscillator proteins to create biomaterials that can rhythmically alter their mechanical properties.  Guided by predictive mathematical modeling, the team will engineer a suite of tunable materials that can autonomously stiffen and soften through rhythmic crosslinking.  Beyond the practical goal of creating a new platform of smart biomaterials, this work will elucidate the fundamental principles underlying dynamically self-regulating biomolecular networks.  By fusing the information processing and signaling capabilities of circadian clocks with the mechanical tunability and versatility of the cytoskeleton, this revolutionary approach to materials engineering has the potential to create an entirely new class of autonomously active materials that can not only intelligently respond to external signals, but also anticipate future demands.

Washington State University

David Y. Lee
Pullman, WA
$700,000
June 2018

 

A young investigator at Washington State University will develop a novel experimental approach to isolate and identify short-lived intermediate species in fundamental chemical reactions.  The game-changing idea is to directly transpose the reaction environment from gas phase to an inert and cold surface while preserving the free-molecule chemical structures and unperturbed energy states of all the reactants, intermediates, and products.  This is, in principle, made possible via precise alignment of a scanning tunneling microscope with a molecular beam and a tunable laser beam, so that the reactants can be excited to dissociate into selective product channels on surface while the entire reaction process is being monitored by the STM.  The cold and inert surface will effectively absorb all the translational, vibrational, and rotational energies of the intermediates and extend their lifetimes for high-resolution imaging.  As a proof-of-concept study, the roaming CH3 radicals from UV photodissociation of acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) will be experimentally isolated and observed using this new method.  The foundational knowledge gained here, including the necessary instrumentation and detailed operation procedures, will allow future scientists to provide solid experimental evidence about reaction mechanisms and, in turn, to better shape modern theoretical models.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Ying-Tsong Lin, Daniel P. Zitterbart, Paul Matthias, John N. Kemp
Tempe, AZ
$1,000,000
June 2018

 

Sound is one of the most efficient tools available for exploring the ocean’s opaque interior, and many oceanographic advances have been made possible with underwater acoustic technologies.  The team will develop a new scientific instrument which will push the frontiers of ocean science.  It is a real-time 3D “acoustic telescope” formed by six phased hydrophone arrays capable of directionally isolating acoustic sources and equipped with a satellite communication system for real-time data transmission.  This instrument will enable a variety of remote deep-water explorations by listening to ambient sound generated by biological, geophysical, and meteorological events, as well as oceanographic and anthropogenic processes and activities.  The scientific goal is to provide a more complete, even holistic understanding of oceanic environmental processes by integrating underwater soundscape parameters with other oceanographic and meteorological measurements.  This first-of-its-kind instrument will lead to an unprecedented integrated acoustic view of the ocean by resolving sound source 3D positions to increase the breadth of data rather than only detecting their presence.  The potential transformative impacts include enabling (1) the imaging of diversified soundscape observations (basin-scale ocean acoustic holography), (2) inference of marine life environments and interactions (soundscape ecology), and (3) remote acoustic sensing of oceanographic, geological, and seismological processes.  Technical challenges include the development of: (1) acoustic data and information processing for high-volume and high-speed data telemetry; (2) acoustic feature recognition; and, (3) robust mooring engineering design and operations for minimal mechanical vibration noise.

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