Physics Prof Wins NSF Award

Posted: April 7, 2010

Kathy Aidala, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Physics, has won the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Early Career Award for her work in nanophysics. According to the NSF, the award supports “the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization.”

The grant will support Aidala’s research proposal, "Local Charge, Polarization, and Transport of Nanocrystal Quantum Dot Solid State Structures Using Scanning Probe Microscopy." Describing her research in “plastic” electronics, Aidala said, “Imagine a flexible piece of clear plastic acting like a television.” She explained that her work “has the potential to impact photovoltaics and solid state lighting, leading to more efficient and cost-effective solutions to the world’s energy problems.”

Aidala will engage students in hands-on research in her lab, and also offer a first-year seminar for science majors and interested nonmajors. This course will aim to engage students in the excitement of present-day research and to educate them on how science “happens” by reading and discussing recent popular coverage of scientific discoveries and debates.

Aidala, who joined the Mount Holyoke faculty in 2006, earned her undergraduate degree at Yale in 2001 as a double major in applied physics and psychology. She went on to graduate school in applied physics at Harvard and received her Ph.D. there in 2006. Her thesis involved imaging electron motion in magnetic fields in a two-dimensional electron gas. She continues to focus on scanning probe microscopy as a flexible technique to study a variety of nanoscale systems. She is at MIT this year working with a group of scientists who do quantum dot research.

“I am pleased and honored to have received the Early Career Award from the NSF,” Aidala said. “This will enable me to set up needed equipment at Mount Holyoke and to steer some of my research in an exciting new direction.”

Aidala is the eighth MHC professor to earn a NSF Early Career Award. Becky Wai-Ling Packard, associate professor of psychology and education; Jill Bubier, Marjorie Fisher Professor of Environmental Studies; Janice Hudgings, associate professor and chair of physics; Craig Woodard, professor of biological sciences and associate dean of faculty for science and Science Center; Rachel Fink, professor of biological sciences; Sean Decatur, former chemistry professor and associate dean of faculty for science and Science Center; and Aaron Ellison, former Marjorie Fisher Professor of Environmental Studies, have also won the award.

“These Early Career Awards are extremely difficult to get, and highly competitive. The proposal requires that investigators submit a first rate research plan and an integrated educational plan,” said dean of faculty Donal O’Shea. “The success rate is only about 15 percent, and most of the awards go to researchers in large research-intensive universities many times our size. Mount Holyoke's success rate is nothing short of astonishing.”

Related Links:

Kathy Aidala Faculty Profile

Physics at MHC