Prof. David Awschalom awarded defense department grant for high-risk, high-payoff research

David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor in Spintronics and Quantum Information, has been selected as a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellow, which supports bold and ambitious research that can have revolutionary outcomes.

The fellowships are awarded annually by the Department of Defense to researchers at U.S. universities to conduct high-risk, high-payoff work that can transform disciplines, create new fields or disrupt accepted theories. It supports innovative basic research as well the development of the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Awschalom, a founding member of the University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering, is a pioneer in semiconductor spintronics and quantum information engineering, performing experiments that explore photonics, electronics and semiconductor-based quantum information processing at the nanometer scale. As a Vannevar Bush Fellow, he will explore the quantum properties of two-dimensional matter as a potential foundation for quantum information processing technologies, receiving $3 million from the defense department for such research.

“I’m honored to be chosen for this fellowship, and extremely grateful for the confidence they’ve placed in our students to productively engage in an exciting new area of research,” Awschalom said. “This generous support will enable us to attract outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from various scientific disciplines to search for new quantum states in atomically engineered, two-dimensional matter. We hope to reveal their existence, investigate how they interact with each other and develop ways to control their behavior.”

The research will be done in collaboration with Jiwoong Park, professor of chemistry at UChicago; University graduate students and postdoctoral researchers; Nitin Samarth, professor of physics and the George A. and Margaret M. Downsbrough Department Head of Physics at Penn State University; and the Two-Dimensional Crystal Consortium at Penn State.

The defense department recently announced a total of 13 fellows, awarding up to $3 million to support basic research in core science and engineering disciplines that underpin future technologies such as nanoscience, applied mathematics and fluid dynamics.

The fellowship is named after Vannevar Bush, who served as the director of the Department of Defense’s Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II. In his 1945 report to the U.S. President titled “Science, The Endless Frontier,” Bush called for an expansion of government support for science, and he pressed for the creation of the National Science Foundation. Bush was concerned about how scientific research supported by the department during WWII could be sustained with a focus on peacetime goals, believing that basic research was “the pacemaker of technological progress.”