Zhu Receives Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship

March 29, 2017

Columbia University chemist Xiaoyang Zhu has been named a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellow by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The fellowship, formerly known as the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship, provides research awards to top-tier researchers from U.S. universities to conduct revolutionary ‘high risk, high pay-off’ research of strategic importance to the Department of Defense, said Mary J. Miller, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering. "Grants supporting the program engage the next generation of outstanding scientists and engineers in the "hard" problems that DoD needs to solve."

Each of the 13 newly named fellows of the 2017 class will receive up to $3 million over five years to support bold and ambitious “blue sky” basic research that may lead to extraordinary outcomes such as revolutionizing entire disciplines, creating entirely new fields, or disrupting accepted theories and perspectives.

Fellows conduct basic research in core science and engineering disciplines that underpin future DoD technologies, such as quantum information science, neuroscience, nanoscience, novel engineered materials, applied mathematics, statistics, and fluid dynamics. Fellows directly engage with the DoD research enterprise to share knowledge and insights with DoD civilian and military leaders, researchers in DoD laboratories, and the national security science and engineering community.

Zhu’s research is aimed at developing new design principles for future semiconductors that are defect-tolerant.

“The successes of electronic and optoelectronic technologies have required perfection, as exemplified by single crystal silicon with remarkably low defect densities,” Zhu, a professor in the chemistry department, explained. “However, this requirement cannot be met by emerging semiconductors from molecular, hybrid, or nanocrystalline materials where room-temperature and solution synthesis/processing conditions inevitably result in a high density of defects that are detrimental to their performance.” Softness and disorder have traditionally been associated with “inferior” material properties for semiconductors because they slow down charge carrier motion, he added. “However, my research turns this concept completely around and specifically takes advantage of these features to turn imperfection to perfection. Our recent discoveries on hybrid organic-inorganic lead halide perovskites have provided the first evidence of screening in turning intrinsically defective materials into defect tolerant semiconductors. The long term objective is to provide a scientific foundation to accelerate progress towards the era of ubiquitous and large-scale electronics/optoelectronics for future DOD technologies and for the society.”

Launched in 2008 as the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship, the program was renamed last year to commemorate Dr. Vannevar Bush, an American engineer and inventor who headed U.S. scientific research during World War II and later helped found the National Science Foundation. The dean of engineering at MIT, Bush later founded a large defense and electronics company. As a devoted teacher, administrator and entrepreneur, Dr. Vannevar Bush yielded creative and innovative contributions to the nation’s security. A total of only 45 scientists and engineers comprise the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellows cohort.

“Understanding nature is always critical to the future development and well-being of society,” Zhu said. “I am particularly honored and encouraged by the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship, which specifically supports the exploration of fundamental, blue-sky, and long-term research problems. This award will allow my group to explore the radical idea of obtaining ‘perfection’ from ‘imperfection’ in terms of future semiconductor materials."

—By Jessica Guenzel