PULLMAN, Wash. — Research on ultrafast changes in materials and on the interaction of light and small bits of matter has earned two Washington State University physics faculty members “Early Career Awards” from the National Science Foundation. The awards were given nationally to 400 junior faculty in the sciences and engineering to recognize their commitment to integrating research and education.
Susan Dexheimer, assistant professor of physics and materials science, received a $340,000, four-year grant from NSF’s Division of Materials Research, Condensed Matter Physics Program. Her studies will investigate the underlying physics of processes important in the development and optimization of molecular-based electronic materials. Dexheimer’s work has previously been recognized by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which awarded her a grant to study carrier processes in next-generation solar-cell materials, and by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, which supported her study of dynamics in low-dimensional materials.
Dexheimer joined the faculty at WSU in 1996. She has earned two physics degrees, a bachelor’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a University of California President’s Fellow at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Calif.) and a Director’s Fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (N.M.) prior to coming to WSU.
The second award went to William Torruellas, also an assistant professor in physics and materials sciences. His $200,000, four-year award will support his investigations of the interaction of laser light and matter in confined geometries down to the single molecule level. His work will impact future optical and electronic devices involving just a few tens of atoms. Such minute geometries challenge scientists and engineers and require, according to Torruellas, a new sophistication in the understanding of the physical world. Torruellas, in collaboration with physics, electrical engineering and education faculty, is creating a new master’s degree specialization in opto-electronics. They recently received a $500,000 National Science Foundation award for the project, which is unique in the Pacific Northwest.
Prior to joining the faculty at WSU in 1996, Torruellas was a senior researcher at Raytheon and was associated with the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers. He earned his doctoral and master’s degrees at the University of Arizona and studied at the Institut Polytechnique of Grenoble (France). He has been a visiting professor in Japan, Denmark and Germany. He was a NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellow and is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

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