The Catholic University of America

Feb. 2, 2009

CUA Professor Earns $400,000 National Science Foundation Grant
Award Funds Research That Could Transform Computer Technology

John Philip, assistant professor of physics

John Philip, a CUA assistant professor of physics and research scientist at the university's Vitreous State Laboratory, has been awarded a prestigious $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation.

His mission now: to make an impact on a new field called spin electronics, which has a strong potential to transform present-day computer technology. Spin electronics or "spintronics" seeks to exploit the spin state of electrons as a means to carry, manipulate and store information. Conventional electronic circuits use only the positive or negative charge of an electron, but these tiny particles also have a spin direction (up or down).

Philip is the fourth Catholic University faculty member to receive the award in the past two years. Winning the five-year grant is a significant accomplishment since only about 10 percent of those who present proposals for the grant succeed in getting it.

CAREER grants are the NSF's most prestigious awards for professors who are in the early stages of their career, and the grant is intended to spur them to long-term leadership in their scientific fields.

"The National Science Foundation says the CAREER award is intended to support 'junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.' This is a perfect description of Professor Philip," says L.R. Poos, dean of CUA's School of Arts and Sciences.

Present-day laptops and cell phones already employ spintronics to store information in their hard drives, but using electron spin states to process information would be a dramatic improvement in computing. In current electronic gadgets, the processor that is central to these devices is made up of silicon, which can only process information using the electron's charge; it cannot store or manipulate electron spin direction.

Philip is studying whether that situation can be altered: Can the silicon in computer/electronic device processors be made to recognize the spin direction of electrons? If so, computer chips that recognize both electronic charge and spins could simultaneously process and store information. That would tremendously increase the speed of computers and decrease the amount of energy needed to run them.

"It is very difficult to transport and manipulate spins efficiently into silicon channels using current approaches," Philip says, but CUA is well positioned to look into new alternative approaches, which is the theme of his NSF CAREER proposal.

The university possesses two key pieces of nanotechnology equipment: an electron-beam lithography system (which enables Philip to fabricate nano-scale features such as microscopic transistors) and a molecular-beam epitaxy system (which creates an ultra-clean vacuum chamber in which to create novel nano-scale devices).

As part of the education commitment associated with his grant, Philip will not only create new CUA nanotechnology courses, he will also provide hands-on nanotechnology training to D.C. public high school teachers and D.C.-area high school students.

As he did last summer, Philip will hold a two-day workshop for high school teachers and a weeklong workshop for D.C.-area high school students this coming summer.

The three other CUA professors who received CAREER awards in the past two years are Lu Sun, associate professor of civil engineering; Otto Wilson, assistant professor of biomedical engineering; and John Judge, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy at 202-319-5600.