Ellen Williams Returns to UMD

Distinguished University Professor Ellen D. Williams recently returned to UMD Physics and the Institute for Physical Science and Technology (IPST) after spending several years working for energy company BP and later, the U.S. Department of Energy. Prof. Williams will give a colloquium on her experiences and outlook on Tuesday, April 25 at 4pm in the lobby of the PSC.

Prof. Williams first arrived at UMD in 1981, working as a postdoctoral researcher for Prof. Bob Park after completing her doctorate in chemistry at Caltech. She joined the physics faculty in 1983, studying materials and surface physics; her specific areas of research included experimental statistical mechanics, statistical properties of nanostructures and flexible electronics. In 1991, she founded what would become the University of Maryland Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC). She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2005.

In 2010, Prof. Williams was recruited to be Chief Scientist at BP, succeeding physicist Steve Koonin. In response to climate change, BP had been exploring alternative energy sources for a decade. She accepted the job in London, and plunged into the extraordinary array of issues involved in the production of energy with minimal environmental disruption. Examples include land use decisions in the production of biofuels, management of the quantities of water involved in fossil fuel production, availability of rare earth elements for electric motors and lithium for batteries for electric vehicles. Prof. Williams oversaw a consortium of university researchers studying these and other topics in BP's Energy Sustainability Challenge. The research led to publication of Materials Critical to the Energy Industry, Water in the Energy Industry and Biomass in the Energy Industry.

Another major responsibility was heading BP’s technical advisory committee, which studies innovations upstream (getting oil and gas out of the Earth) and downstream (refining to create fuels, petrochemicals and other products). The TAC met four times a year to review all the company’s technical R&D activities. Prof. Williams notes that innovations in science over the last few decades allow for greater efficiencies and new approaches to technical problems in energy production. Supercomputers have played a significant role, whether used with seismic imaging and geophysics to determine the likely locations of oil reserves, or to model efficient means of breaking cellulosic materials into usable biofuels.

As one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of energy, the United States is keenly interested in such questions. A 2007 report published by the National Academies, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, recommended the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in the Department of Energy’s Office of Science to foster innovation toward energy efficiency and sustainability using grants on specific energy or environmental topics. ARPA-E was first funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In 2013, newly-installed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz contacted Prof. Williams, who recalled that she “could hardly contain my joy” at the prospect of leading ARPA-E.

The federal vetting process and assorted delays took several months; the congressional approval process took a year. During that time, Prof. Williams resigned from BP and worked as a senior advisor to Secretary Moniz until her appointment was confirmed; she took the helm at ARPA-E in December 2014.

Prof. Williams very much enjoyed the broad scope of sciences cultivated by ARPA-E. For example: soil depletion of agricultural land releases carbon into the atmosphere and spurs greater use of fertilizer, a major source of nitrous oxide emissions. ROOTS, or Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration, supported research to keep carbon in the ground through creative scanning and phenotyping techniques for root systems. MONITOR, or Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions, aimed to limit leaks of methane during the processing and transport of natural gas. Nimble combinations of lasers, computing, photonics and fluid dynamics yielded ultra-precise sensors of interest to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the energy industry.

Well before she joined the Department of Energy, Prof. Williams held a deep interest in government and public policy. She has served on the International Security Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of State and on JASON, an independent scientific advisory group that provides consulting services to the U.S. government on matters of defense science and technology. She chaired the National Academy of Science’s committee on Technical Issues Concerning the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty from 2009-11, and was a member of the NAS Policy and Global Affairs Committee. She is currently developing a class on the interplay of clean energy technology, policy and regulations to be offered in the Fall of 2017.

Katherine Blodgett Gebbie Honored Posthumously by Maryland Women's Hall of Fame

On March 16, 2017, the Maryland Commission for Women and the Women Legislators of the Maryland General Assembly will induct eight women into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame and will present "Women of Tomorrow" awards to five students during a 5:30 p.m. ceremony at the Miller Senate Office
Building in Annapolis.

JQI graduate student named ARCS Endowment Fellow

Zachary Eldredge, a physics graduate student at JQI and QuICS, has been awarded an Endowment Fellowship by the Achievement Awards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation. The fellowship comes with $15,000 of financial support and is renewable. "I'm very thankful to the Foundation, as well as to the university for nominating me and helping me put together my application," Eldredge says. He will be honored at an awards reception at the National Academy of Science in October.

The ARCS Foundation is a national organization dedicated to supporting STEM education in the United States. ARCS partners with more than 50 colleges and universities in 16 regional chapters across the country—including the Metropolitan Washington Chapter, through which Eldredge received his fellowship. Rather than soliciting applications, the ARCS Foundation allows its partner institutions to select some of their top students in science, engineering and medical research as candidates for the award. Since its inception in 1958, the Foundation has provided more than $100 million of financial support to thousands of scholars.

Eldredge is a third year graduate student at JQI, having earned an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Oklahoma in 2014. He currently works with JQI and QuICS Fellow Alexey Gorshkov on finding new ways to generate entanglement and use it as a quantum resource.

JQI Article


Erin Marshall|This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ed Ott Honored with Richardson Medal and Moser Lecture

Distinguished University Professor Ed Ott (ECE/Physics/IREAP) has been honored by two professional societies for his decades-long career in nonlinear science and chaos theory. The Lewis Fry Richardson Medal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) commemorates the work of Richardson, a mathematician and physicist who pioneered the science of fractal theory and weather forecasting.  Prof. Ott was cited for "...pioneering contributions in the theory of chaos with applications to the motion of tracers in fluids, kinematic dynamos, and data assimilation for weather forecasting."  

The Jürgen Moser Lecture, sponsored by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), recognizes Prof. Ott's distinguished and sustained contributions to nonlinear science, citing "seminal work in chaos theory and the dynamics of physical systems." Prof. Ott will deliver the lecture at the May 2017 SIAM Meeting on Dynamical Systems in Snowbird, Utah.

Professor Ott is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. He is the recipient of the APS Julius Edgar Lilienfield Prize for 2014. He was selected as a 2016 Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate in physics.

W.J. Carr Lecture/Physics colloquium

The W. J. Carr Lecture Series on Superconductivity and Advanced Materials was established by Dr. James L. Carr ' 89, and attracts some of the best researchers in this field each year. This year's distinguished Lecturer is Dr. Stuart Parkin, Director of the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics and Professor at the Institute of Physics of the University of Halle-Wittenberg. Parkin is a pioneer in the science and application of spintronic materials, and has made discoveries into the behavior of thin-film magnetic structures that were critical in enabling recent increases in the data density and capacity of computer hard-disk drives. For these discoveries, he was awarded the 2014 Millennium Technology Prize.

Prof. Parkin will present both a department colloquium and technical seminar. His colloquium will be presented on Tuesday February 28th at 4pm in room 1410 of the John S. Toll Physics Building.

Title: Beyond charge currents: spin and ion currents for future computing technologies

Abstract: The era of computing technologies based on charge currents is coming to an end after more than 40 years of exponential increases in computing power that have been largely based on shrinking devices in two dimensions. A new era of "Beyond charge!" will evolve over the next decade that will likely be based on several new concepts. Firstly, devices whose innate properties are derived not from the electron's charge but from spin currents and from ion currents. In some cases new functionality will arise that can extend charge based devices but in other cases fundamentally new computing paradigms will evolve. Secondly, devices will inevitably become three-dimensional: novel means of constructing devices, both from bottom-up and top-down, will become increasingly important. Thirdly, bio-inspired devices that may mimic the extremely energy efficient computation systems in the biological world are compelling. In this talk I will discuss possible spintronic and ionitronic devices and how they may lead to novel computing technologies.

Bio:  Professor Stuart Parkin's research interests include oxide thin film heterostructures, high-temperature superconductors, and, magnetic thin film structures and spintronic materials and devices for advanced sensor, memory, and logic applications. Parkin's discoveries in magneto-resistive thin film structures enabled a more than 1000 fold increase in the storage capacity of magnetic disk drives for which he was awarded the Millennium Technology Award from the Technology Academy Finland in 2014. Most recently, Parkin has proposed and demonstrated a novel storage-class memory device, "Racetrack Memory", that is an innately 3D solid-state device with the storage capacity of a disk drive but with much higher performance and reliability. Parkin's other major research interest is cognitive - bio-inspired materials - that could enable ultra-low power computing technologies. Parkin is a Fellow/Member of several Academies, including: the Royal Society (London), National Academy of Sciences (USA), National Academy of Engineering (USA), German National Academy of Science - Leopoldina, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Indian Academy of Sciences, and TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world. Parkin is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including, the American Physical Society International Prize for New Materials, the Europhysics Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Solid State Physics, and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Prize for Industrial Application of Physics. Parkin has received Honorary Doctorates from RWTH Aachen, Eindhoven University of Science and Technology, University of Regensburg, and University of Kaiserslautern. Parkin received the IEEE Daniel E. Noble Award for his work on MRAM, the IUPAP Magnetism Prize and Neel Medal for outstanding contributions to the science of magnetism, the APS David Adler Lectureship Award, the von Hippel Award from the Materials Research Society, the Swan Medal of the Institute of Physics (London), the Millennium Technology Prize and an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship − International Award for Research (2014).