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Professors receive research awards

Haley Herfurth

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Two UA professors, Seongsin Margaret Kim and Tim Mewes, were selected by the National Science Foundation to receive CAREER Awards totaling more than $890,000 last week.

CAREER Awards are the foundation’s awards given to young scientists who show promise in beginning their careers. Joe Benson, UA vice president for research, said the University is “extremely pleased” that both Kim and Mewes received CAREER Awards.

“CAREER awards are the most prestigious awards NSF gives to junior investigators, and we are very, very proud of both Dr. Kim and Dr. Mewes for their success in winning these awards,” Benson said. “They are the 17th and 18th recipients the University has had, and to have multiple recipients is a real honor.”

Kim, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, received a five-year, $400,000 grant to further her research program based on terahertz technology. Kim said terahertz waves are forms of electromagnetic waves, like x-rays, radio and microwaves, with the difference being that terahertz waves are harmless to humans.

“Terahertz waves have the ability to penetrate through clothing, paper and plastic, which makes them potentially promising for many applications, including next-generation airport security scanners, non-destructive testing and military or commercial applications,” Kim said. “Most importantly, terahertz has great potential for the application of next-generation biomedical imaging, since it is non-ionizing and harmless.”

Kim said she established the research of terahertz when she joined the University in 2007, with a focus in chemical and biological spectroscopy and biomedical applications, including imaging. Kim said the grant money will be used to establish experimental capabilities and help researchers better understand terahertz waves.

“By having the capability to pursue advanced research and education in the area of terahertz technology, UA will be able to place a firm footstep into one of the most exciting multidisciplinary areas of research, as well as expand future career opportunities for our graduates.”

Mewes, assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy, received a five-year, $490,000 grant to advance his research of properties of magnetic materials.

Mewes researches “spin-based electronics,” or “spintronics.” He said spintronics basically refers to using the spin of electrons as opposed to their charge for attaining improved functionality.

Mewes said spintronics is already being used to increase storage density in computer hard drives but could also lead to more improved computer functioning in the areas of computer memory and logic-performing operations.

“The future in spintronics could also lead to improved computer memories that are fast, dense and non-volatile,” Mewes said. “The non-volatility of this memory implies that one can turn the power off and back on without losing information, and also without having to wait.”

Mewes said the grant money from NSF will be used to research the magnetization dynamics and damping in magnetic nanostructures and also to support graduate students working in the field. Along with university research and graduate student support, Mewes will also provide research opportunities for local high school and undergraduate students.

As a graduate student, Mewes said he spoke with Peter Grünberg, who later went on to win the Nobel Prize for physics in 2007. Mewes said while Grünberg did not necessarily inspire him to become involved in the research of spintronics, both Grünberg’s research and that of his partner Albert Fert helped inspire the entire field of spintronics.

Kim said she finds inspiration in being able to help people “improve their future, especially their health.” She is driven by the research of technology to better improve medical imaging. Kim also said she hopes to be an inspiration to female engineering students at UA.

“I felt very fortunate to be awarded this prestigious NSF CAREER grant and also very grateful to all who have supported and helped me get it,” Kim said. “But then came the realization that the scientific hard work was about to begin.”

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Professors receive research awards