Physicist Awarded NSF CAREER Award

Claudia Mewes
Claudia Mewes received a $500,000 CAREER Award from the NSF.

From the January 2015 Desktop News | Dr. Claudia Mewes, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and UA’s Center for Materials for Information Technology, has received a $500,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The CAREER Award is NSF’s most prestigious recognition of top-performing young scientists beginning their careers.

Mewes’s research focuses on theoretical condensed matter physics, more specifically spintronics, which aims to use the electron spin in addition to its electric charge to develop highly functional and energy-efficient devices. As devices have decreased in size, researchers have found that the properties of the materials used to make those devices change, causing them not to function as predicted. Mewes’s NSF-funded project will combine different theories to close the gap between materials design and device performance with the ultimate goal of finding materials that work best in those environments.

“Today, we mostly use the charge of electrons in our computers,” Mewes said. “The charge is used to store information and perform logic operations. But an electron also has a quantum mechanical property, called spin, which one can use to make devices more functional and more energy-efficient. For the next generation of spintronic devices, we really need a better fundamental understanding of the involved magnetic properties within small devices. This grant allows me to look at not only materials, but also at the complicated interplay of different material parameters and their modifications in devices on these small length scales. I think the project can help the whole research area to proceed further because I think a better fundamental understanding is of paramount importance for a widespread adoption of spintronic technologies.”

As with all CAREER grants, Mewes’s project also includes an educational component. Inspired by her work with Women in Physics and Astronomy, a UA-based group, which Mewes together with physics and astronomy faculty Dawn Williams and Preethi Nair organize to encourage women pursuing careers in science, Mewes proposed hosting events for female high school students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Mewes hopes to host a large group of high school students at the University annually for a day of hands-on experiments and discussion. She also plans to partner with Science in Motion physics specialist Julie Covin and Physics Teacher Education Coalition’s teacher-in-residence Penni Wallace for these events.

“I think a lot of young girls don’t think about careers in science because they don’t typically see women in science,” Mewes said. “I also think if they had role models and could see women doing work in those disciplines, they might consider working in science themselves.”