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Energy department sees powerful potential in Jungfleisch's spintronics research
Benjamin Jungfleisch in his lab

​Benjamin Jungfleisch uses laser light to probe dynamics in magnetic nanostructures — in this case, artificial spin ice made of a nickel-iron alloy — in his study of magnon spintronics.

It sounds like something you might need a bicycle for, but spintronics — a powerful and growing area of study in physics — might really have more in common with a surfboard and its ability to rule the waves.

The term spintronics refers to the study and control of electrons and the magnetic properties that govern their collective motions, the “spin” that gives them tantalizing potential for quantum computing and communication.

The more commonly known focus of electronics is on the charge of electrons. This relatively new paradigm focuses on their spin, a quantum property of electrons, which is always oriented in one of two opposite directions — up or down. That gives them great appeal for use in information transmission, matching the current binary system that uses zeros and ones to deliver all manner of data. Learning to control these properties could revolutionize the speed, storage capacity and security of our computer systems, using far less energy to do so.

That holy grail — quantum computing — is still in the future. But the fundamental research required to bring it to fruition is advancing.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday, Aug. 1 awarded a prestigious Early Career Research Award to Benjamin Jungfleisch, assistant professor of physics at the University of Delaware, for his study of magnon spintronics. The magnon is the tiniest essence — the “quanta” — of spin waves and Jungfleisch is looking at it as a “building block in the quantum toolbox.”

The award comes with at least $750,000 in research support over the next five years, according to DOE, and is a high-level signal that Jungfleisch’s work shows great promise for advances in the field.

“We are proud of Benjamin Jungfleisch and excited about his DOE Early Career Award,” said Prof. Edmund R. Nowak, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “His novel ideas and technical methods for studying the fundamental physics in magnetic hybrid systems and nanostructures will have an important impact on our understanding of how to control quantum mechanical interactions. His work holds promise to advance quantum information science in general, and could enable the ability to engineer new materials for new computing architectures and paradigms, in particular.”

He is one of 73 awardees nationwide, all selected from a large pool of university- and national laboratory-based applicants, according to DOE. Selection was based on peer review by outside scientific experts. Final details for each award are subject to final grant and contract negotiations between DOE and the awardees.

“Supporting our nation’s most talented and creative researchers in their early career years is crucial to building America’s scientific workforce and sustaining America’s culture of innovation,” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said in a prepared statement. “We congratulate these young researchers on their significant accomplishments to date and look forward to their achievements in the years ahead.”

Jungfleisch joined the faculty at UD in January 2018 after four years of post-doctoral work in the Materials Science Division at Argonne National Lab. Argonne formed a partnership with UD in 2017.

He understands the powerful implications of this work. Making progress toward quantum computing is a significant objective, for example, because that revolutionary system increases computing power and cybersecurity by orders of magnitude over what is now available. It also offers potential applications in rapid drug design and early disease detection.

But there are huge challenges to face, Jungfleisch said.

One critical need is finding a way to keep these electron spin machines working longer than is possible now.

That requires a deep understanding of the mechanisms in play and that understanding is what he expects to deliver.

Jungfleisch is looking specifically at how magnons connect with microwave photons (light particles), a light-matter interaction that produces quasiparticles called magnon-polaritons. These hybrids have new properties and possibilities. But these properties and behaviors are not well understood. He compares the difference created by this coupling to the change that happens if you take an apple and an orange and make juice. It’s a completely new substance.

He also is looking at magnon interactions with phonons (vibrations). Understanding these interactions with photons and phonons is essential to any effort to engineer desirable new materials and devices.

Jungfleisch earned his doctorate in physics at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany. His quest for understanding was sparked in part, he said, by questions that arose while he was reading Goethe’s Faust, a legendary tale of one man’s relentless, reckless pursuit of knowledge.

“I wanted to understand what holds the world together at its core,” he said. “Physics is trying to deliver the answers to those kinds of questions. I’m especially intrigued by fundamental science and its potential to transform society eventually — hopefully, for example, with these low-energy devices.”

He was drawn to UD by the community of researchers focusing on magnetism and spintronics and materials, he said, and also for access to the outstanding facilities available, including the UD Nanofabrication Facility and the Advanced Materials Characterization Lab.

“None of this would be possible without that,” he said.

 Article by Beth Miller; photo by Evan Krape

Published Aug. 1, 2019

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UD physicist Benjamin Jungfleisch has received a U.S. Department of Energy award for his research into spintronics, the study of electrons and their collective motions.

​UD physicist Benjamin Jungfleisch has received a U.S. Department of Energy award for his research into spintronics, the study of electrons and the magnetic properties that govern their collective motions.

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