UA Physicist Earns Air Force Grant to Study Plasmonic Amplifiers
Assistant professor John Schaibley has been awarded three years of funding to study a technology that could improve transistors.

By Emily Litvack, UA Office of Research, Discovery & Innovation
Nov. 2, 2016


John Schaibley, assistant professor of physics at the University of Arizona, recently was awarded a three-year, $360,000 Air Force Office of Scientific Research, or AFOSR, Young Investigator Research Program grant to study plasmonic amplifiers. The AFOSR has awarded approximately $21 million to 58 scientists and engineers from 41 research institutions and small businesses.

Schaibley's work focuses on plasmonics with nanoscale materials, with the long-term goal of developing plasmonic amplifiers and transistors. Traditional electronic transistors are the building blocks of electronics and switch an electrical signal on and off. They are ubiquitous in computer chips and used in everything from hearing aids to phones.

Transistors based on plasmonic waves potentially could be used to build computers that are 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the computers of today, and therefore capable of solving highly computational, intensive problems — and quickly. However, there is a fundamental problem: It is very difficult to amplify or store plasmonic waves because they lose a large amount of energy by heating up the device.

To counteract this, Schaibley is developing new plasmonic amplifiers using a nanoscale active layer only a few atoms thick. Multiple plasmonic waves will interact with the electrons in the thin active layer, causing these electrons to slosh around and pump energy into a weaker plasmonic signal. The result is more energy being pumped into the signal to overcome the losses resulting in a plasmonic amplifier.

"We need much more computing power to make future transformative technologies become a reality," Schaibley said. "I'm really honored to receive the award, and very excited about pursuing the project. I'm delighted that the AFOSR is supporting this work."

The Young Investigator Research Program, or YIP, grants are awarded to U.S. researchers who recently received doctoral or equivalent degrees and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research, in order to enhance their early career development.

"I am thrilled that the AFOSR has recognized John's outstanding research with this award," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, vice president for research at the UA. "By working at the intersection of engineering, physics, materials science, optical science and chemistry, this project represents exactly the kind of innovative exploration of fundamental problems that we value so highly at the University of Arizona."

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