BY SCOTT BROWN
Assistant Professor of Physics Yuzhe Xiao has earned the 2023 Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense. The prestigious DARPA award is only granted to about 30 promising young researchers each year and provides funding, mentoring and networking opportunities to recipients to help them develop research that addresses national security needs.
Xiao's research is focused on studying the thermal properties of nanoscale wide bandgap semiconductors like gallium nitride and silicon carbide. Semiconductors are used in a wide variety of electronics across military, business and consumer sectors. Xiao hopes his research will identify more efficient semiconductor materials and structures for use in high power electronics that can maintain performance without overheating as easily as what is used currently.
Current methods for assessing thermal properties of semiconductors are based on indirect measurements such as a material’s optical or electrical response, which can produce inaccurate results. Xiao’s ultrafast thermal-emission spectroscopy method directly measures thermal properties with enhanced accuracy. This is done by using a femtosecond laser pulse to induce ultrafast heating inside materials and then capturing the time-dependent thermal-emission spectra using an infrared spectrometer. Thermal properties of the material can then be directly inferred from the corresponding thermal-emission spectra.
Xiao joined UNT in January 2023 and applied for the award in the first month of his tenure track, but he didn’t get his hopes up since he knows most researchers don’t get funding in the first year of their postdoc careers.
“It’s kind of known that assistant professors typically don’t get their first funding until year two or three of their career, or even later,” says Xiao. “So, I was really surprised and excited to get this award in my first year.”
In addition to helping advance the design of thermally optimized high power electronic devices that are crucial for advanced military applications, Xiao’s work is expected to impact consumer electronics as well by preventing products like cell phones and laptops from overheating.
Xiao says the $500,000 award from DARPA will play a critical role in jumpstarting his research.
“It’s a big relief to me because it will provide me a very good start for my research by allowing me to buy equipment and hire research assistants,” says Xiao.