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Department of Defense awards CSULB with nano-technology research grant

Plasmonics, phase transition and semiconductor quantum dots are just a few words that two Cal State Long Beach professors use on a day-to-day basis.

Yohannes Abate and Shahab Derakhshan, who teach physics and chemistry, respectively, will be able to continue their research of nano-optics and crystal structure determination with a three-year $589,999 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

As part of the grant, the professors will receive a broadband laser – the first and only of its kind integrated with a near-field microscope to be owned by anyone around the world.

Abate is the principle investigator of nano-optics, the study of extremely small particles that can only be detected with laser-based microscopes, experiments at CSULB.

He began conducting research at CSULB three years ago and built a state-of-the-art lab in the Hall of Science. Together with his students, they use advanced microscopy techniques to condense a laser beam through a series of mirrors that reach a small focus point to record plasmons in action.

After several months of research, Abate and Derakhshan submitted a proposal of their research to the DoD.

“Our proposed research plan [aimed] to provide fundamental understanding of some interesting physical phenomena in materials,” Derakhshan said.

The proposal was geared toward giving the DoD something they were highly interested in and in turn receiving funding to continue to learning about these and other novel materials.
Abate said the funding news was quite surprising. After waiting several months to hear from the DoD, he said he felt honored to have received the grant.

“I have been exceptionally privileged to have Shahab as collaborator,” Abate said.

The grant will provide new equipment and more financing for student researchers. It will also give CSULB the opportunity to be first to own such a broadband light source coupled with a near-field microscope.

“No one in the nation, not even in the world, has such equipment,” Abate said.

The laser emits all of the visible and near infrared light spectrum that will allow Abate and his students to see things they have not been able to see before.

“It is like having a piece of the sun,” said Abate. “The kinds of things you can ‘see’ are limited by what kind of light you have.”

Having the new broadband laser, as well as the original lasers in the lab, will help CSULB researchers to be one step ahead of new discoveries.

For Abate, it is especially important for students to get the experience of real research.

“One of the beauties of this country is if you work hard, you almost always will get the opportunity to work even harder,” Abate said.

Abate said students who have the opportunity to work in the lab will be privileged and more experienced than those who simply try to earn a degree without doing the research.

Sarah Grefe, a sophomore physics graduate student, said she enjoys conducting research in the lab because it is all “cutting edge.” As one of Abate’s students, she said that all of his hard work is for the love of science.

She decided to work for Abate because his work in nano-optics is what she plans to pursue.

“He is very motivated himself, and he expects the same from us,” Grefe said.

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