Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Continuing an upward trend of University of Iowa faculty securing prestigious early-career grants, four investigators from the Departments of Physics and Astronomy and Computer Science have been awarded notable grant awards to advance their careers.

DeRoo, Hoadley advance space instrumentation with Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowships in Astrophysics for Early Career Researchers

Casey DeRoo and Keri Hoadley, both assistant professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, each received a Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship in Astrophysics for Early Career Researchers. The NASA fellowship provides each researcher with $500,000 over two years to support their research in space-based instrumentation. 


Hoadley’s research is two-pronged. She will design and ultimately prototype a mirror-based vacuum ultraviolet polarizer, which will allow researchers to access polarized light from space below 120-nanometer wavelength. Polarizing light at such a low wavelength is crucial to building optics for NASA’s future Habitable World Observatory (HWO), the agency’s next flagship astrophysics mission after the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. 

“Our vacuum ultraviolet polarizer project is meant to help set up our lab to propose to NASA for one or more follow-up technology programs, including adapting this polarizer for use in vacuum systems, duplicating it and measuring its efficiency to measure additional flavors of polarized UV light, quantifying the polarization effects introduced by UV optical components that may be used on HWO, and building an astronomical instrument to measure the polarization of UV from around massive stars and throughout star-forming regions,” said Hoadley.

In addition, Hoadley and her team will build a facility to align, calibrate, and integrate small space telescopes before flight, using a vacuum chamber and wavelengths of light typically only accessible in space, which could help the university win future small satellite and suborbital missions from NASA. 

DeRoo will work to advance diffraction gratings made with electron beams that pattern structures on a nanometer scale.  Like a prism, diffraction gratings spread out and direct light coming from stars and galaxies, allowing researchers to deduce things like the temperature, density, or composition of an astronomical object.

The fellowship will allow DeRoo to upgrade the university’s Raith Voyager tool, a specialized fabrication tool hosted by OVPR’s Materials Analysis, Testing and Fabrication (MATFab) facility.

“These upgrades will let us perform algorithmic patterning, which uses computer code to quickly generate the patterns to be manufactured,” DeRoo said. “This is a major innovation that should enable us to make more complex grating shapes as well as make gratings more quickly.” DeRoo added that the enhancements mean his team may be able to make diffraction gratings that allow space instrument designs that are distinctly different from those launched to date.

“For faculty who develop space-based instruments, the Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship is on par with the prestige of an NSF CAREER or Department of Energy Early Career award,” said Mary Hall Reno, professor and department chair. “Our track record with the program elevates our status as a destination university for astrophysics and space physics missions.”

Uppu pursues building blocks quantum computing with NSF CAREER Award

Ravitej Uppu, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, received a 5-year NSF CAREER award of $550,000 to conduct research aimed at amplifying the power of quantum computing and making its application more practical. 

Uppu and his team will explore the properties of light-matter interactions at the level of a single photon interacting with a single molecule, enabling them to generate efficient and high-quality multiphoton entangled states of light. Multiphoton entangled states, in which photons become inextricably linked, are necessary for photons to serve as practical quantum interconnects, transmitting information between quantum computing units, akin to classical cluster computers. 

In our pursuit of secure communication, exploiting quantum properties of light is the final frontier,” said Uppu. “However, unavoidable losses that occur in optical fiber links between users can easily nullify the secure link. Our research on multiphoton entangled states is a key building block for implementing ‘quantum repeaters’ that can overcome this challenge.”

Jiang tackles real-world data issues with NSF CAREER Award

Peng Jiang, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, received an NSF CAREER Award that will provide $548,944 over five years to develop tools to support the use of sampling-based algorithms. Sampling-based algorithms reduce computing costs by processing only a random selection of a dataset, which has made them increasingly popular, but the method still faces limited efficiency. Jiang will develop a suite of tools that simplify the implementation of sampling-based algorithms and improve their efficacy across wide range of computing and big data applications.

A simple example of a real-world application is subgraph matching,” Jiang said. “For example, one might be interested in finding a group of people with certain connections in a social network. The use of sampling-based algorithms can significantly accelerate this process.”

In addition to providing undergraduate students the opportunity to engage with this research, Jiang also plans for the project to enhance projects in computer science courses.