UW News

August 16, 2007

NSF grant helps UW continue photonics research

News and Information

A team led by Larry Dalton, a UW chemistry professor, has received an $18 million grant over five years from the National Science Foundation to continue its pioneering work in the field of photonics.

Photonics uses light to carry information, and many scientists believe it has the potential to dramatically change modern life, said Alvin Kwiram, a UW chemistry professor emeritus who recently retired as executive director of the Center on Materials and Devices for Information Technology Research.

With a little luck and a lot of hard work, maybe the Pacific Northwest could emerge as a ‘Silicon Valley’ of photonics,” Kwiram said.

Among the possible new technologies are solar cells that provide cheap and clean power wherever needed, solid-state lighting systems far more efficient and adaptable than existing light bulbs, and the ability to create cell phones the size of credit cards and computer screens as thin and flexible as a sheet of heavy paper, he said.

The national NSF research center is based at the UW but includes scientists and engineers at seven other universities. It was established with NSF funding five years ago and the new grant is its first renewal, bringing total funding to more than $35 million.

So far, center scientists have generated new organic photonic materials that are more than 10 times faster and require 100 times less power than state-of-the-art inorganic materials.

To further the center’s work, the UW has established the Institute for Advanced Materials and Technology under the direction of Alex Jen, a professor of materials science and engineering. This institute will foster development of photonics materials in bioengineering, medical imaging, computing, energy and other areas. A parallel center has also been created at Georgia Institute of Technology, a primary partner in the photonics program.

Michael Hochberg will join the UW Electrical Engineering faculty to build nanophotonics devices smaller than a human hair that could eventually find their way into computers, cell phones, communications towers, satellites and other electronics.

As part of the grant renewal, a nanophotonics steering committee will be formed to explore opportunities for creating commercial enterprises in the region based on research from the center. Already the center has ties to more than two dozen companies, including Bothell-based Lumera Corp., which was founded to commercialize the center’s work.

If you’d like to learn more about Dalton’s work, you can watch the UWTV program Optoelectronics. In it, Dalton discusses his research into the use of the next level of electro-optic materials. These materials can be used for many different functions, including next generation computing, telecommunications, transportation, energy management, medicine, home management, and entertainment. Go to