University of California, Santa Barbara Professor Emeritus Arthur Gossard will speak at the White House later this month and formally receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the nation’s highest honor for achievements related to technological progress.
The National Medal of Technology and Innovation was first awarded in 1985 in an effort to increase competitiveness and promote scientific innovation in the United States. Since its conception, 135 individuals have received this award, with 15 researchers given the honor in 2015.
Gossard graduated from Harvard University with a B.A. in physics before receiving his Ph.D. in physics from UC Berkeley. After completing his studies, Gossard moved to New Jersey and became a longtime researcher at Bell Laboratories, which is where the transistor, laser, UNIX operating system (on which Apple’s OS X is based) and the C programming language, were developed. While there, he co-discovered the fractional quantum hall effect, for which his co-workers Horst Stormer and Daniel Tsui won Nobel Prizes in Physics.
Gossard has been on faculty at UCSB since 1987, and has spearheaded great advances in molecular beam epitaxy, which is used to produce semiconductors and materials that are used in quantum computer engineering.
“We have a machine where we can put down, layer by layer, atoms, and we can build up material,” said Gossard. “In a way, it’s like 3D printing on a smaller scale, atom by atom. So there are lots of applications for these layered things that you can build up.” There are 13 such machines at UCSB, making the university one of the largest labs for this type of work.
The application of Gossard’s research includes using multi-junction solar cells, which could potentially reduce solar energy production costs while increasing the amount of energy stored in solar panels.
“The idea is, we can make solar cells that have record efficiency; that is, they will give you more power for the same amount of sunlight,” Gossard said. “By having what we call multiple junction, we stack them up so you have one solar cell for each region of the spectrum, which allows you to use the whole solar spectrum instead of bits of it. Right now, we don’t take full advantage of the whole spectrum.”
Thanks in part to Gossard’s research, it may be possible for solar panels to be reduced in size, which saves money on the real estate necessary to install the panels, and allows the materials to store a much greater amount of energy than current solar panels do.
Gossard highlighted the importance of non-STEM majors understanding the practical applications of such breakthroughs. In an effort to combat a lack of understanding, he has organized a course aimed at giving non-technical overviews of the applications of technological advances for liberal arts freshmen and sophomores.
UCSB is recognized globally for its research in physics, quantum physics and quantum computing. Gossard’s distinction on the national scale will only bring more recognition and prestige to the university’s programs, and will hopefully help foster more innovation and breakthroughs in one of technology’s most exciting fields.