Story posted January 12, 2005
Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Madeleine Msall recently was awarded a fellowship from The Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science in support of her research on semiconductor physics. The fellowship will allow Msall to spend the 2005-2006 academic year at Hokkaido University in Saporo, Japan, where she will work with colleague Oliver Wright on a study of ultra-fast heat pulses in technologically important materials.
Msall's current research examines the conduction of heat through semiconductor materials. "When you run an electrical circuit, it generates heat," explains Msall. "As computers are improved to provide more computing power in smaller spaces, you have increasing thermal limitations - you can't get heat away from operational areas fast enough."
Improved thermal control will allow engineers to increase the efficiency of current electronic devices - including those found in computers, cell phones, and handheld technologies.
Msall's particular interest is in thermal control for optoelectronic device applications, which include all the circuit elements that take electrical signals and transform them into optical signals, or vice-versa. Optoelectronic devices include everything form the lasers used in grocery-store scanners to wireless connectors and components for future optical computers, currently under development.
Since 2001, Msall has been working in this area with researchers from four major universities, as a principle investigator in the Multi-University Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense. As part of that work, Msall studies how heat is transported through layers of semiconductor material at very low-temperatures - just two degrees above absolute zero.
During her fellowship at Hokkaido University, Msall will be working on a system that operates at room temperature, using a high-powered laser to create ultra-fast pulses of energy to heat up materials. "I'm very excited to be working with picosecond laser equipment," she said. "We hope to develop a whole new set of probes to study how materials respond to heat on the very smallest distance scales and the very fastest time scales."
Msall also will be visiting several university research labs in Japan, through a grant from the Freeman Fellowship for Faculty Research, to observe some of the cultural varieties of scientific research practices. Msall says she hopes that "a year of working in a Japanese research laboratory and talking with Japanese scientists about their scientific culture will facilitate continued growth in my thinking about scientific identity. In addition to being scientifically productive, I hope these experiences will help me better understand my experience as a female American physicist."