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Release: Feb. 13, 2001

UI professor receives $449,000 grant for electronics research

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa researcher has received a three-year, $449,000 grant from HRL Laboratories, LLC for an experimental study that may lead to a new generation of electronics. Thomas Boggess, professor in the College of Liberal Arts department of physics and astronomy and in the College of Engineering department of electrical and computer engineering, will conduct the research as part of a multimillion dollar consortium funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The project, which is led by HRL, also includes researchers from the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Los Angeles, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Boggess, who is also a researcher in the UI Optical Science and Technology Center, says that his research is intended to lay the foundation for new high-performance electronic devices. Such devices would utilize a fundamental property of electrons that, until now, has been untapped.

"Modern electronics is based on the control of electronic charge in semiconductors. Our research, and that of several other groups across the country, will focus on developing a new paradigm that relies not only on control of the charge, but also the electron spin," he says. According to Boggess, spin is the intrinsic angular momentum associated with elementary particles such as electrons, while angular momentum is a physical property associated with either spinning or orbiting objects. "If one can learn to manipulate the spins of electrons in semiconductors, new technologies, including high-speed nonvolatile memory and perhaps even quantum computers, may be realized," he says.

While the ultimate goal of this research program is to develop spin-sensitive semiconductor devices, Boggess says that his contribution will be to pursue more fundamental issues. For example, he will use flashes of light lasting less than a trillionth of a second to rapidly generate spin-aligned electrons in novel layered semiconductors. A second flash of light will determine how long the spin alignment persists and whether it can be sustained as the electrons travel from one semiconductor layer to the next. He notes that the resolution of such research issues is critical to the development of practical applications. Boggess’ research will be conducted in the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories building on the UI campus.