For her work in studying how matter absorbs light, Diana Qiu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science at Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science, has won the prestigious Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering.
Qiu is among 20 innovative early-career scientists and engineers to receive the fellowship. She will receive $875,000 over five years to pursue her research.
Qiu’s research, which focuses on excitons, could advance the fields of solar energy, quantum computing, and optoelectronics. Created by the absorption of light, excitons are a combination of an electron and a hole, which is a positively charged empty state caused by the absence of an electron. This electron-hole combination carries energy.
“Anytime you want to understand the absorption of light, you have to understand excitons,” Qiu said. “And the next frontier is really to understand what the dynamics associated with the exciton are.”
There are certain fundamental questions about excitons that are too complicated for the current methods of study. For instance, how far and how fast can excitons transport energy? What environmental interactions and energy scales determine the exciton lifecycle? And how can exciton populations be designed to modulate the properties of materials?
Qiu’s project focuses on developing new ways to study the exciton and get a better understanding of its properties and behaviors. That includes understanding its light-matter interactions, and revealing the fundamental science of excitons at all energies and timescales.
“The goal of this project is to develop new theories that let us calculate exciton dynamics and the exciton’s response to light,” she said. “And that lets us predict both what’s going to happen in an experiment and understand what’s going on at the microscopic level when you measure something in an experiment.”
Qiu aims to better understand such specifics as the amount of energy from sunlight that a particular exciton is absorbing, how far that exciton will move, and then how long it will take for it to break apart into an electron and hole again. Those and other details, she said, could pave the way for a new generation of technological developments in optoelectronics, energy harvesting and transport, and quantum information.
Udo Schwarz, department chair and professor of mechanical engineering & materials science (MEMS), said Qiu’s research could have a major impact on numerous fields, and the Packard Fellowship is well-deserved.
“The MEMS Department is proud of all of the achievements of their junior faculty, which demonstrate their high level of accomplishments,” he said. “Out of the variety of recent good news, however, receiving a Packard Foundation Fellowship is especially significant and we are delighted to learn about this honor.”
The Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering is among the nation’s largest nongovernmental fellowships, designed to allow maximum flexibility in how the funding is used. Since 1988, this program has supported the blue-sky thinking of scientists and engineers whose research over time has led to new discoveries that improve people’s lives and enhance our understanding of the universe.