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Ting Cao receives NSF Early CAREER Award

March 1, 2024

MSE Assistant Professor Ting Cao has been awarded a prestigious NSF Early CAREER Award. The grant, totaling nearly $600,000 over five years, will support Cao’s desire to better understand the quantum behaviors of van der Waals magnets.

Headshot of Ting Cao

MSE Assistant Professor Ting Cao

Being only a single atom thick, van der Waals magnets don’t interact with things like light in a standard or predictable way. Cao and his collaborators hope to use high-performance computers to develop new theoretical models to reliably predict how these materials will behave in specific conditions. Doing so would allow researchers to harness van der Waals magnets’ unique quantum properties to advance the future of semiconductors, quantum computing, clean energy and more.

“Advancements of modern technologies are largely driven by materials innovations and discovery,” said Cao. “For example, the control over linear and nonlinear optical properties through magnetism in van der Waals magnetic semiconductors can lead to the development of new optoelectronic devices, such as ultra-thin and flexible light-emitting diodes of polarized light, efficient photovoltaic devices, and new types of lasers.”

In addition to funding for research, a portion of the award will support Cao’s outreach and education efforts, which aim to spark interest and enhance education in materials science, semiconductors and quantum technology.

The first of these projects is STEM-Pals, an initiative founded by Cao’s graduate student, physics Ph.D. candidate Tharindu Fernando. The goal of STEM-Pals is to bring workshops and demonstrations to K-12 students across Washington State, providing opportunities for them to engineer solutions to tangible materials-related challenges.

The second project is aimed at improving the data science curriculum at the University of Washington to incorporate more materials engineering-specific content. Specifically, Cao plans to develop a data-science and materials modeling class series that delves into how big data, device modeling and informatics will play an instrumental role in the future of materials innovation.

“Receiving the NSF Early Career Award holds significant personal and professional implications for our computational materials science and theoretical condensed matter physics group at the University of Washington,” said Cao. “This award not only serves as a recognition of our group's cutting-edge research, but also it's a validation of our innovative approach and a catalyst for further groundbreaking discoveries in the field.”