Professor of physics will use U.S. Department of Defense fellowship to study the quantum world in search of new states of matter.
Zwierlein and other fellows each will receive up to $3 million over a five-year fellowship term. Zwierlein aims to “uncover the rules by which ensembles of atoms and molecules organize under the laws of quantum mechanics,” he explains. To do so, he will use a system that uses ultracold gases of atoms and molecules as stand-ins for electrons in condensed matter or neutrons and protons in nuclear matter. With this “quantum emulator,” Zwierlein’s research group hopes to gain insights into a much wider range of physical systems.
“The award provides me with the unique opportunity to go into truly unchartered territory in the quantum world, not driven by deadlines and milestones but, in the best sense of fundamental research, by curiosity,” says Zwierlein, who is the inaugural Thomas A. Frank (1977) Professor of Physics. “With luck, we may stumble upon new states of matter with extraordinary properties that we did not even anticipate.”
The highly competitive fellowship, formerly known as the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship, aims to advance transformative, university-based fundamental research. It is named in honor of Vannevar Bush PhD 1916 (1890-1974), a professor, and dean of engineering at MIT, as well as vice president, chair of the MIT Corporation, and honorary chair. A scientist and engineer nicknamed “The General of Physics,” he organized and led American science and technology during World War II. Bush also served as the director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development and founded a large defense and electronics company.
Selected by a panel of experts from among more than 250 white papers, this year’s awardees will join 55 current fellows conducting DoD-related research in areas that include materials science, cognitive neuroscience, quantum information sciences, and applied mathematics.
“The Department of Defense is the home of big ideas for unique problem sets,” said Bindu Nair, deputy director for basic research in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “The Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship reflects the department’s commitment to support paradigm-shifting research that explores the unknown, engages outstanding scientists and engineers on these challenges, and helps to define and transform our research agendas of the future.”