UMR physicist receives award from Research Corp.

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On May 18, 2004

Dr. Carsten A. Ullrich, assistant professor of physics at the University of Missouri-Rolla, has been named a Cottrell Scholar by Research Corp. for his efforts to better understand electromagnetic waves in the "uncharted territory" of terahertz frequency.

The award, which includes a grant of $75,000 to further research and teaching, is considered one of the most prestigious fellowships for beginning faculty in a scientific field.

Ullrich, a theoretical physicist, studies condensed-matter physics, specifically in the terahertz frequency range. In the spectrum of electromagnetic waves with frequencies measured in hertz, the terahertz lies above the gigahertz range, which is used by microwaves, cell phones and high-speed radar, and below the infrared region used by photonics and fiber optics technology.

Improved knowledge of the terahertz frequency range could open new avenues in the communications field, Ullrich says. Terahertz technology also has implications for medical and biological imaging, as well as quality control. It could be used, for example, to scan food to determine if it has spoiled.

"Terahertz technology is still uncharted territory," explains Ullrich. "We don’t yet know how to make equipment to take advantage of terahertz." Theorists like Ullrich are exploring the fundamental processes to allow the use of the untapped technology. "We want to understand how it works, why it works, what the potential problems are and how we can make them better."

Ullrich conducts his experiments by studying semiconductor structures at the nanometer (sub-molecular) scale called quantum wells. These structures, found in every computer chip and CD player, are the basis of much of modern technology. "By forcing electrons to exist in these tiny structures, they naturally behave on a terahertz time scale," Ullrich says. He can then study their behavior and properties.

Ullrich hopes to use the funds from his Cottrell Scholar award to expand his student research staff. "A large part of my research is computational in nature," Ullrich says. "Students help me with code development and running simulations."

Ullrich received bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees in physics from the University of Wurzburg, Germany, in 1988 and 1995, respectively. He received a master of science degree in physics from the State University of New York at Albany in 1990.

In 2001, Ullrich joined the UMR physics faculty. He teaches both basic and upper-level physics courses.

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On May 18, 2004. Posted in Research