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Liu Awarded NSF CAREER Award

January 6, 2017

MIE/ECE Assistant Professor Yongmin Liu was awarded a $500K NSF CAREER award for "Spin Plasmonics for Ultrafast All-Optical Manipulation of Magnetization in Hybrid Metal-Ferromagnet Structures".

Source: News @ Northeastern

Northeastern assistant professor Yongmin Liu has received a $500,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, award, the agency’s most distinguished award in support of junior faculty who excel as both researchers and teachers and exhibit the potential to lead advances in their chosen academic disciplines.

Liu received the award for his research developing new ways to control the magnetic properties of recording media such as hard disk drives in computers to dramatically increase the speed at which data can be stored. Instead of using the traditional magnetic head to activate the magnetic recording materials, Liu will use light—optical laser pulses—combined with metallic nanostructures to generate the necessary magnetic field to store the data.

"The CAREER-funded work is an exciting new area for me. It forms a unique platform for me to pursue my academic goals to advance optics and photonics research...and to transform the new knowledge into ground-breaking technologies."
--Yongmin Liu assistant professor

“Using light we can increase the recording rate by two to three orders of magnitude, from gigahertz to terahertz,” said Liu, who has joint appointments in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and the  Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “The approach essentially transforms data storage for the big data era. The CAREER award provides a unique opportunity for me to further that goal by developing technologies that can lead to more efficient computation, information processing, and digital communications.”

Enterprises that will benefit from this ultrafast nanoscale optical-magnetism approach include web search engines, online retailers, and social media platforms—that is, any application calling for data storage with continually increasing capacity and speed.

Shaping future role models

The educational component of the project includes teaching students from the middle grades through the graduate level about the latest developments in disciplines ranging from materials science and optics to nanotechnology. Northeastern students will have the opportunity to apply what they learn to real-world problems via industry collaborators participating in the university’s global co-op program. “I hope to help shape future role models entering the U.S. workforce,” said Liu.

Liu came to Northeastern in 2012 with a background in optics, the branch of physics that concentrates on the genesis and properties of light, and photonics, which explores the propagation of photons, the fundamental particles of light, in applications such as solar energy harvesting, biomedical sensing, optical communications, and data storage. The CAREER project represents a broadening of his own frame of reference as well.

“The CAREER-funded work is an exciting new area for me,” he said. “It forms a unique platform for me to pursue my academic goals to advance optics and photonics research based on rationally engineered nanomaterials, to bridge the knowledge gaps between multiple disciplines, and to transform the new knowledge into ground-breaking technologies.”

Abstract Source: NSF

Nontechnical Description: Efficient computation, information processing and digital communications rely on technologies utilizing magnetic materials. Recent work has shown that optical laser pulses can be used to manipulate magnetic material properties, promising access to stored data at breakthrough speeds, significantly faster than in current computing devices. However, the fundamental mechanism of this process, as well as the limit to size of the individual memory units are not yet fully understood. This project aims to realize optical control over magnetic memory at unprecedented speed and density, using hybrid materials comprising metallic and magnetic nanostructures. The intertwined optical, thermal and magnetic effects in these materials are examined through a set of experimental and computational studies. The proposed work stands to impact society in multiple ways. Ultrafast, nanoscale optical control of magnetic materials enables data storage, memory and computational devices for applications such as web search engines and online commerce. The integrated education plan incorporates significant outreach, involving students beginning from grades 7-12 to the graduate level. Participating students are exposed to several rapidly growing fields including materials science, optics, and nanotechnology, while additionally interacting with industrial collaborators.

Technical Description: All-optical switching of magnetization has emerged as an exciting topic in modern magnetism. In addition to the requirement of fully understanding its rich physics, all-optical switching must compete with the areal densities attainable in current storage devices for it to be technologically compelling. The goal of this project is to utilize a new class of hybrid materials consisting of noble metals and ferromagnets, where the exceptional field confinement and strong optical spin of surface plasmons are leveraged to realize nanoscale ultrafast all-optical switching of magnetization. The synergistic research and education activities include: (1) achieving manipulation of out-of-plane and in-plane magnetization using optical spins of surface plasmons; (2) investigating the dynamics of different carriers and their interactions in hybrid metal-ferromagnet structures; (3) gaining new insights into the mechanism of nanoscale, ultrafast magnetization reversal; and (4) engaging students, especially those from underrepresented groups, and educating them with solid fundamentals and knowledge of cutting-edge applications. Outcomes of this project potentially enable new material systems for data storage and information processing technologies, with the advantages of high speed, high capacity, and low power consumption.