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UNM Selected for MURI Research Funding

Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae
Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae

Mansoor Sheik-Bahae, (505) 277-2080
Steve Carr, (505) 277-1821

2004-May-26—The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced recently that 31 awards to universities, including the University of New Mexico, were awarded as part of the DoD’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. A total of 24 academic institutions will receive the grants to conduct multidisciplinary research in 22 topic areas of basic science and engineering. UNM’s proposal, titled “Consortium for Laser Cooling in Solids,” is spearheaded by Physics and Astronomy Professor Mansoor Sheik-Bahae and was selected to receive funding out of a total of 116 full proposals.

The consortium will also include collaboration with the University of Arizona and Johns Hopkins University. UNM will receive the bulk of the grant, approximately $3.4 million, over the course of the five-year grant. The grant total’s nearly $4 million.

The consortium research project grew out of a collaboration with Los Alamos National Labs more than seven years ago. Laser cooling is the process of lowering the temperature of a solid by shining laser light on it. It can be used to cool infrared or gamma ray sensors to cryogenic temperatures to increase their sensitivity. Down the road the technique may be able to cool superconductor electronics.

“We have already succeeded in cooling ultrapure glasses and crystals,” said Sheik-Bahae. “No semiconductor has ever been cooled, but we think we are getting close. They have the potential to be cooled to much lower temperatures than glass.”

Sheik-Bahae said they use lasers to chill solids, with the potential of replacing current, cumbersome cooling methods that employ cryogens such as liquid nitrogen or mechanical pumps. Laser refrigerators would eliminate the noise, unreliability and limited life-span of cryogens and mechanical coolers. The ultimate goal is to achieve laser refrigeration in a semiconductor material and demonstrate its practical use.

Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Air Force
Research Lab all got behind the project and promoted the topic to the DoD.

“They recognized the importance of the project,” said Sheik-Bahae. “As physicists and scientists, we like challenges. I think basic research, such as this, offers problems we like to solve with the added bonus that an important application is in sight.”

MURI is a program designed to address large multidisciplinary topic areas representing exceptional opportunities for future DoD applications and technology options. The awards will provide long-term support for research, graduate students and laboratory instrumentation development that supports specific science and engineering research themes vital to national defense.

The average award will be $1 million per year over a three-year period. Two additional years of funding will be possible as options to bring the total award to five years. Out-year funding is subject to satisfactory progress in the research and the availability of funding appropriations.

The University of New Mexico
Department of Physics & Astronomy
800 Yale Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM 87131
505-277-1520 fax

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