Life in the Bulovic ONE Lab: energized collaboration

  1. Vladimir Bulovic discusses a research paper with Geoffrey Supran and Yasu Shirasaki.
    Vladimir Bulovic discusses a research paper with Geoffrey Supran and Yasu Shirasaki.
  2. Vladimir Bulovic discusses a research paper with Geoffrey Supran and Yasu Shirasaki.
    Vladimir Bulovic discusses a research paper with Geoffrey Supran and Yasu Shirasaki.

Vladmir Bulović’s ONE Lab, continued

Could you talk about the balance between engineering and science; how the research in your group dips into physics and chemistry as well as electrical and mechanical engineering. Despite this breadth, you have a clear idea of your needs in your research — sometimes outside your expertise yet required for the ideas which you envision. Can you describe how you build your research program (and group) to enable new things and how you determine how to stick with something in one case and go in a new direction in another case?

Vladimir Bulović:
“The research we pursue crosses the disciplines of electrical engineering, materials science, and applied physics. We are “Large-area Nanotechnologists” developing practical devices/structures from physical insights discovered at the nanoscale. Our work demonstrates that nanoscale materials such as molecules, polymers, and nanocrystal quantum dots can be assembled into large area functional optoelectronic devices that surpass the performance of today’s state-of-the-art. We combine insights into physical processes within nanostructured devices, with advances in thin film processing of nanostructured material sets, to launch new technologies, and glimpse into the polaron and exciton dynamics that govern the optoelectronics of the nanoscale.

Pursuit of new nanoscale technologies requires us to develop deep physical understandings into the workings of the nano-scale and then apply them by a scalable process to devices which you can hold in your hand. In going from the nano to the macro world, one will encounter a multitude of challenges, many of which would be a delight to deeply investigate. Presented with such a large number of research opportunities a researcher quickly recognizes that the hardest choice they have to make is to decide what not to do, and hence to select only a handful of deep problems to address. For my group the most exciting next problem to choose is the one that combines a field of research we have never pursued before, but a field that would benefit from infusion of nanoscale electronics and opto-electronics insights.

For example, just before I joined MIT I learned of the luminescent quantum dot materials developed at MIT by chemistry professor Moungi Bawendi. Folowing initial works of Moungi I recognized that these brightly glowing nanoparticles could be combined with the organic thin film structures to form light-emitting devices of high color quality and high performance efficiency for new types of displays and lightbulbs. We spent the ensuing 11 years jointly inventing a series of new QD-LED technologies, forming QD Vision in 2005, which has within the last year started selling the first QD-Optic-enhanced lightbulbs of high efficiency and high color quality.

Soon after my arrival to MIT, partnership with chemistry professor Tim Swager exposed my group to the workings of luminescent chemo-sensors, based on Tim’s remarkably stable polymeric thin films. Bringing in the optoelectronics insights we asked, what if you could turn such sensing layer into a lasing medium? Laser is an amplifier, and any chemosensing event in this film could be magnified. Indeed, within a few months of the conception of the idea we demonstrated the lasing chemosensing film, showing that it is many times more sensitive to detecting TNT expolosives as compared to the best state-of-the-art technology. Patent from this work has been since licensed by ICx Nomadics that develops sensor planforms for homeland security.

Many other examples could be cited: Recent demonstrations of printed-MEMS technology that can greatly simplify MEMS fabrication and cost; Use of molecules in FLASH memories for enhanced charge storage; Transparent solar cells that look like windows, or alternatively recent demonstration of lightweight solar cells on paper; or more exotically our first demonstration of strong coupling of light and matter in electrically powered structures, and the demonstration of intra-cavity exciton-polariton-assisted lasing for future high speed optical links.

The broad spectrum of our pursuits introduced us to partner groups in chemistry, chemical engineering, physics, materials science, and mechanical engineering departments, as well as of course our many colleagues in EECS. My students are often in a position of being ambassadors between different disciplines, demonstrating research that bridges the fields. And, with each new project we show the technical benefit of reaching beyond my comfort zone of EECS.”

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