Postdoc wins German fellowship, opens lab

Postdoctoral fellow Wolfram Pernice is decamping to Germany at the end of the month after being awarded the prestigious Emmy Noether fellowship. The fellowship provides five year’s worth of funding for Pernice’s research, which focuses on the intersection of optics and mechanics
Postdoctoral fellow Wolfram Pernice is decamping to Germany at the end of the month after being awarded the prestigious Emmy Noether fellowship. The fellowship provides five year’s worth of funding for Pernice’s research, which focuses on the intersection of optics and mechanics Photo by Nick Defiesta.

A Yale researcher has won an Emmy — but not the normal kind.

Wolfram Pernice, a postdoctorate fellow at the School of Engineering, was awarded the prestigious Emmy Noether fellowship this July for his research on integrated optical mechanics in the Tang Lab at Yale. Presented and funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaf — the German equivalent of the National Science Foundation, a government organization that provides billions in science research funding — the fellowship will provide five years of funding for Pernice to start his own laboratory in Germany starting this October.

“Instead of spending his early faculty years working tentatively while trying to raise funds, this award will allow [Pernice] to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders,” assistant engineering professor Minjoo Lee said. “These awards are great for young innovators, and I’m thrilled to see him recognized in this way. He seems to be one of the rare people who is equally comfortable doing cutting-edge computational and experimental research.”

The Emmy Noether fellowship is awarded to exceptional postdoctoral students who have spent at least a year researching outside Germany and requires that winners spend significant time after the fellowship conducting additional research in the country. Pernice, who first came to Yale from Germany three-and-a-half years ago, said that he will funnel the award money into equipment and personnel for his new lab.

Pernice said he received the fellowship due in part to his research at Yale, where he has focused on the intersection of optics (the study of light) and mechanics (the study of motion). In fact, the lab’s work in this area has led to the creation of a new field known as integrated optical mechanics.

Chi Xiong GRD ’12, who works with Pernice in the Tang Lab, said one of the lab’s goals is to replace electrons in technological devices with photons, allowing more-sensitive light to be used in place of electricity.

“The benefit [of this work] is that [computers] can have a very fast communication speed while using much less power,” Xiong said. “[At this speed] you can download an HD movie in two or three seconds.”

In addition to integrated optic mechanics, Lee said the Tang Lab is one of the world leaders in nanomechanical systems, which he said have important applications in fields as diverse as bio-sensing and quantum computation. Pernice will continue this research when he moves to KIT, which he said is the German equivalent of MIT, and added he hopes he will be in the 85 percent of applicants that gain tenure before the end of the fellowship.

“The research is going well here, so it’s not a good time to leave,” Pernice said. “But it will be nice being on the managing side of things and having others do all the work.”

Pernice, who leaves for Germany next month, said that he hopes to return to Yale sometime around Christmas to finish the research he has left in New Haven.

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