Columbia Receives $10.7 million for Department of Energy Frontier Research Center

Interdisciplinary collaboration to support groundbreaking research in energy and quantum technology

Columbia University and collaborators have been awarded $10.7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a new Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC). The center, named “Programmable Quantum Materials (Pro-QM),” will focus on exploring the behavior of quantum materials with desired properties when under the influence of extremes of light, pressure, temperature, magnetic proximity, nanomechanical manipulation, electrical field, and other conditions.

“When funding of this magnitude comes along, it’s very competitive, attracting attention from the most prestigious universities and labs in the country. Only the best ideas win,” said Dmitri Basov, Higgins professor of physics and director of the program, adding that this is the second time Columbia has been named an EFRC. “This certainly validates that Columbia’s nanoscience program is one of the leading programs in the nation and, in fact, the world.”

Established by the DOE’s Office of Science in 2009, the EFRC program brings together researchers from multiple disciplines and institutions, combining them into synergistic, highly productive teams to accelerate scientific breakthroughs in energy-relevant fields needed to strengthen U.S. economic leadership and energy security. The knowledge generated by the EFRCs will lay the scientific groundwork for future advances in solar energy, nuclear energy, energy conversion and storage, electronics and computation, production of fuels and chemicals, carbon capture, and control of the earth’s subsurface.

The Columbia-led EFRC is one of 42 programs, selected by competitive peer review, collectively funded for $100 million. The team is comprised of scientists and engineers working together across the Columbia campus – from Arts and Sciences and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science – as well as outside institutions, including the Flatiron Institute, University of Washington, and Carnegie Melon University.

“Our experience and knowledge are exponentially enhanced when pooled together,” said Michal Lipson, Eugene Higgins professor of electrical engineering, who will serve at the chair of the executive committee of the Pro-QM Center. “We expect that, as a team, our research will open the door to new materials, new science directions, and completely new applications.”

“One of Columbia’s biggest strengths from the perspective of a researcher is that people work together here,” Basov said. “The sciences and engineering are strong because these two branches work hand in hand. We have very few things that separate us. Many universities don’t have this notion of shared enterprise and shared success – a desire to work together. That collaborative spirit is sort of built in here. It happens seamlessly and naturally. You don’t have to think about it.”

The award will support the development of new methods that will allow for the manipulation of material systems in real time and the mapping of behavior of these materials with a degree of precision that has not been possible.

“We can modify these materials in ways that are so versatile,” said Cory Dean, assistant professor of physics and one of the co-principle investigators for the program. “We can tune the behavior of a material, not just create it. It’s like turning a knob and seeing what happens, except that now we can turn every knob in whichever way we like and observe how the properties of a material change with each move. Up until recently, we could study the quantum behavior of materials, but now we have the ability to tune that behavior at-will. We’re working with materials we never even knew could exist. There are really an infinite number of possibilities.”

In addition to Basov, Lipson, and Dean, the Pro-QM Columbia team will include James Hone, Wang Fon-Jen professor of mechanical engineering; Andy Millis, professor of physics; Abhay Pasupathy, associate professor of physics; James Schuck, associate professor of mechanical engineering; and Xiaoyang Zhu, Howard Family professor of nanoscience.

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