Distributed March 2, 2000
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Janet Kerlin

Defense Department awards $4-million grant to Brown research center

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $4-million grant to researchers from Brown University, who will collaborate with scientists at three other universities. The researchers in engineering, physics, and materials science will explore the action of atomic-level materials that may someday make using the Internet faster.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A team of three Brown professors of engineering and physics plus researchers from three other institutions has been awarded a $4-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct research into atomic level materials that may someday make using the Internet faster.

The group will conduct basic research that might benefit both the military and civilians, said Arto Nurmikko, lead investigator and director of Brown’s Center for Advanced Materials Research, where some of the research will be conducted.

The grant comes from the DOD’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), a program designed to address large topic areas – in this case a topic that requires the skills of researchers in materials science, physics and engineering.

Nurmikko’s team members from Brown are Humphrey Maris, professor of physics, and Alex Zaslavsky, associate professor in electrical engineering. The Brown researchers will cooperate with scientists from the State University of New York-Stony Brook, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Houston.

Other partners in the research are IBM, Lucent Technologies and Hewlett-Packard. Nurmikko said the companies provide the rewarding and challenging scientific problem for the university researchers who have the tools and techniques to find answers and create devices.

“There is an intense pressure to make the Internet faster. A critical element is the creation of fast electrical devices and optical switches that would be able to respond in a millionth of a blink of an eye,” Nurmikko said.

The challenge facing Nurmikko’s group is how to enhance the movement of electrons, which act like sprinters. Particles called phonons act like hurdles that slow down the electrons. Nurmikko’s team will try to create a way to make phonons spring the electrons forward. Their project is called “Phonon Enhancement of Optoelectronic and Electronic Devices.”

Brown is one of 17 academic institutions to receive one of the 20 grants, which were announced by the DOD Feb. 4, 2000. The competition drew 171 proposals.

Work on the project will begin in May and include a number of doctoral students. The awards provide long-term support for research, graduate students and the purchase of equipment supporting specific science and engineering research.

Brown’s Center for Advanced Materials Research is an independent academic unit that makes it possible to work on projects across departmental and institutional lines. The center also provides multimillion-dollar facilities for use by researchers and students in engineering and the physical sciences.