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Early career distinction: Prestigious award recognizes physicist's work in electron dynamics

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- A Kansas State University professor has received a prestigious award for his research that could lead to faster electronics and affect communication technology.

Matthias Kling, assistant professor of physics, recently received the Early Career Research Program Award from the U.S. Department of Energy. Kling will receive $750,000 to support his research titled "Electron Dynamics in Nanostructures in Strong Laser Fields."

The award is very competitive -- only 68 out of 850 applicants were chosen this year, according to the Department of Energy.

Kling will perform his research in a new laboratory space being built in the university's James R. Macdonald Laboratory. His work will focus on two aspects: studying how electron motion and nanomaterials can be controlled and developing ways to build devices that control electrons with the electric field of light waves.

For the first part of the project, Kling will explore the controlling of electrons in nanosystems -- the first step to improving electronics. If he can do so, it may speed up electrons by a factor of 100,000, which can greatly improve communication technology.

Currently, communication technology across oceans is transferred by optical fibers that can transmit information at the speed of light. This information must be coded and decoded by computers, which can slow down the technology. Kling's research may build the basis to remove this bottleneck.

"What we dream about is having optical devices where electrons are really controlled by the light waves themselves and we can use that to replace conventional electronics," Kling said.

For the second part of the project, Kling wants to not only control the electrons, but see them in action as well.

To observe the motion of electrons, Kling and his research team use attosecond time flashes to take "pictures" of electrons. An attosecond is one-billionth of a billionth of a second.

"By the light flash being there for only a short time, you can freeze the motion of the electrons and get a very sharp picture of the electron at the time the light illuminates it," Kling said. "By putting lots of these pictures together, we obtain a movie of electron motion across the nanostructure."

Kling has spent a research leave at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, where he performed preliminary research on this project. He helped to record correlated electron motion with light waves and studied how to use short laser pulses to control electron motion -- all fundamental to what Kling will apply to nanosystems in the Macdonald Laboratory.

A new laser, a new laboratory space

For his research, Kling will use ultrafast laser sources from the Macdonald Laboratory and he will work in a new laboratory space being built at the lab. The space will be completed this summer.

The new space will include a new $1.3 million laser system funded by the Department of Energy. The university is providing more than $500,000 to fund the laboratory space.

"The new lab space is a state-of-the-art ultrafast laser lab," said Itzik Ben-Itzhak, university distinguished professor of physics and director of the Macdonald Laboratory. "It accommodates a high repetition rate, intense laser system that will serve a multitude of experiments mainly focused on attosecond physics. These experiments and the laser system require a high level of environmental control, which the new lab provides."

In addition to Kling, other researchers with the Macdonald Laboratory group will use the space to study the interaction of ultrashort laser pulses with matter.

"This lab and laser system will put the Macdonald Laboratory group among the leading laboratories in the world of attosecond science research," Ben-Itzhak said.

Contact: Matthias Kling
Kansas State University

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