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Strubbe Recognized for Research, Teaching and Service to Department

March 9, 2020

Strubbe Recognized for Research, Teaching and Service to Department

Physics Professor David Strubbe has been named a Cottrell Scholar, winning one of only 25 of the prestigious $100,000 grants for his proposal to study the ultrafast properties of materials when they are exposed to light.

This early-career award is given to physicists, chemists or astronomers in the fourth year of their faculty appointments. Strubbe is UC Merced’s first Cottrell Scholar.

“We’ll be calculating how atoms can move around on extremely short time scales in a material,” Strubbe said. “These motions can occur when a material absorbs light, and we’ll look at how the motions can change the structure of the material.”

Strubbe developed a computational method to explain at the atomic level why sunlight degrades two organic materials that are cheaper and easier to produce than the prevalent silicon-based solar cells. The Cottrell project uses a similar technique, he said.

He’ll use this method to look at atoms in graphite and other materials made of stacked layers of atoms, and to look at defects — locations where atoms are missing or out of place in a material.

“Absorption of light can make the atoms oscillate similarly to sound waves,” he said. “We want to understand the things you could observe in experiments but not be able to see in enough detail to understand why. We’re attempting to answer the ‘why’ with our calculations. This knowledge will contribute to efforts to create new quantum technologies with these materials.”

The Research Corporation for Science Advancement chooses the Cottrell Scholars from the applications that require both research and educational proposals. Strubbe will use his award to improve his undergraduate class on condensed-matter physics by creating a Course Undergraduate Research Experience .

“We want to complement summer research experiences by enabling more students to participate earlier in their college careers, which can improve their learning, help students feel like real scientists and encourage their further studies in science,” Strubbe said. “We’ll use computers to calculate the properties of new materials, creating a dataset of new knowledge. The goal is to publish the research with the students as co-authors.”

The RCSA selection committee also wants to know how scholars contribute to their departments and institutions. Strubbe, in the Department of Physics in the School of Natural Sciences, is also the chair of graduate admissions for his department. The scholars are eligible for more funding to develop initiatives to enhance science education or promote career growth, including for the American Physical Society’s Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics which UC Merced will host in January 2021.