Physics professor Ahn wins Packard

Charles Ahn owes Physics chairman Ramamurti Shankar an ice cream cone.

When Ahn, an assistant professor of applied physics and a fellow at Saybrook College, began the process of applying for the Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, Shankar told Ahn that he expected ice cream if his advisory work proved successful.

“An ice cream cone is my standard fee for consulting. But I am negotiating for something else, because I found out you can get ice cream in the dining hall,” Shankar said.

Upon returning from an early October conference in Japan, Ahn received a letter stating that he was one of 24 winners of the 2001 Packard Fellowship, which gives each winner $625,000 in research grants over five years.

His win allows Yale to tie Princeton for the most active Packard fellows — three — in the area of applied physics, especially notable considering Princeton has 50 faculty members in the department to Yale’s eight. Robert Grober, director of undergraduate studies of applied physics, and Robert Schoelkopf, assistant professor in applied physics and physics, are also Packard fellows.

“Yale has put more emphasis on science and engineering, and it shows that they’re succeeding,” said Douglas Stone, chairman of Applied Physics.

Ahn’s proposal concerned research on high temperature superconductors, which he said have revolutionary applications in the worlds of power technology and medicine. He was chosen from 100 candidates at 50 participating universities. Each university has its own screening process to choose the two best applicants to be considered by the Packard Fellowship Advisory Panel.

“Charles had a wonderful proposal. I read it and I loved it,” said Shankar, who has served on Yale’s committee for the past four years. “[The advisory panel] wants to fund a project where their resources will make all the difference.”

Shankar also served in what he calls the “designated consultant” role when Schoelkopf was applying for the fellowship.

The money from the fellowship will go toward lab assistants, equipment and supplies necessary for Ahn to create artificial high temperature superconductors. While the superconductors are capable of transferring energy with almost total efficiency due to their extremely low resistance, their mechanism of operation is not yet understood.

The superconductors are capable of creating large magnetic fields, such as those found in MRIs and in the levitating trains recently built in Japan. Ahn predicts that they will also eventually replace copper in cell phones, resulting in higher bandwidth communication, and that they will be used in power lines, making power transfer less wasteful. In addition, the military is interested in possible applications for spy satellites.

“There will be huge implications,” said Ahn, “The fellowship gives me the freedom to work on these kinds of problems.”

Ahn said it was a great honor to be named a Packard fellow, adding he was looking forward to meeting the other winners at the annual meeting of all active fellows that will be held at a later date.

Schoelkopf said he has found the experience of meeting people from the cutting edge of their fields very exciting.

“It’s a good way to broaden yourself,” he said.

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