LAWRENCE – How light interacts with matter is one of the grand challenges of atomic, molecular and optical research. A Kansas and Nebraska consortium led by university researchers has received a three-year, $6 million award to understand ultrafast molecular processes on the order of a millionth of a billionth second, or one femtosecond. The award is divided equally between the two states.
The project, Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures, is part of the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR). Kristin Bowman-James, project director of Kansas NSF EPSCoR and a university distinguished professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas, and her counterpart at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UN-L), Fred Choobineh, professor of industrial and management systems engineering, are the lead principal investigators responsible for project oversight.
Research activities in the two states involve 30 people and are led by Anthony Starace, professor of physics at UN-L, and Itzik Ben-Itzhak, university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University.
“We’re extremely excited about the project,” Bowman-James said. ”This is a tremendous opportunity to build on EPSCoR-funded linkages between KU and Kansas State by partnering with researchers in Nebraska. NSF support for multidisciplinary, multi-institutional projects such as this is absolutely crucial for understanding highly complex scientific processes, and we are very grateful for their commitment.”
During the project, physicists, chemists and electrical engineers will develop scientific, technological, experimental and theoretical tools to both understand these very fast processes and, even more challenging, to control them. These tools can ultimately be applied to laser technology, solar energy capture, nanotechnology and even optogenetics (studying light sensitive neurons in the nervous system). Education, outreach and workforce development activities will involve partnerships with small colleges in Nebraska, summer workshops for high school physics teachers and a host of programs for students.
The Kansas-Nebraska consortium is one of three funded this summer by NSF. The others are Louisiana-Mississippi and Arkansas-Missouri. Collectively, these three awards involve researchers from about 20 universities in the six states and will result in science and engineering research, education and outreach to accelerate progress on nationally important scientific challenges.
Photo: Diocles Extreme Light Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Image courtesy of the Communications Department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.