Campus: CSU Long Beach -- February 18, 2004

Cal State Long Beach Physics Professor Receives $450,223 National Science Foundation CAREER Grant

Cal State Long Beach Physics Professor Mladen Barbic is making a name for himself within nanotechnology circles for his innovative concepts for microscopic magnetic-powered devices and new magnetic imaging techniques at the molecular or even atomic level.

He plans to carry on his work in a new world-class nanotechnology laboratory under development in the CSULB Physics Department and is backing up his ideas with a five-year, $450,223 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant. NSF calls it the agency's "most prestigious award for new faculty members."

The CAREER program recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. The grant also will involve undergraduate and master's students in Barbic's research.

"My lab is very much an applied physics lab," explained Barbic, a native of Croatia who earned his Ph.D. at UC San Diego and did postdoctoral work at Caltech. He joined the CSULB faculty last fall. "It's using some new or interesting or bizarre, if you will, magnetic properties of nanometer structures that can be used for something useful, whether in medicine or electronic devices.

"One of my big interests is in pushing the limits of resolution in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)," he continued. "I'm interested in novel techniques in magnetic imaging; by that I mean imaging of electron spins in magnetic structures, but beyond that is even the tougher challenge of doing measurements on what are called nuclear spins."

One of his ultimate goals is "eventually to do a single molecule or single cell high resolution imaging non-invasively. I think that's a big field that people have tried, but it's just so difficult."

He's busy getting his new lab operational. The grant begins June 1 and will fund two graduate students per year and two undergraduates during summers over five years.

"My plan is to have graduate students do research that leads to a master's thesis that's comprehensive and is going to complete a nice body of work, whereas my undergraduate students will get involved in some of what I will call quirkier ideas that are perhaps even more risky," Barbic said. "But they can afford that risk and can do something a little more crazy and it doesn't have to end up in a master's thesis-just a cool summer project that might even end up in a publication if we're successful."

He already is working with a group of graduate students, many of whom have industry work experience. "What I expect from my students are world-class master's theses with students going out and representing Cal State Long Beach well and contributing to the economy of this area. A lot of companies have a lot of positions and can't fill them because there aren't people that are really doing physics. To be honest, physics is not what you call a sexy field any more," Barbic explained. "There are still a lot of jobs in physics, especially in the local area, but it's perceived to be a difficult field to study and master."

Barbic is seeking additional funding from a variety of sources, both public and private, and is part of a larger proposal being submitted by Caltech for a major nanotechnology center. He added that the CAREER grant does not include funds for equipment, but that through collaborations with other labs and by his ingenuity and that of his students, he can construct or obtain the instrumentation needed for his work. Connecting with both academic and industrial partners will be an essential part of his lab's success, he said.

"We can certainly explore and make a niche for ourselves in a specific field that I think is novel and really be the best in the world, even if it's a very narrow field," he said. "I think it has a huge potential. I hope to instill in my students that they should be proud of what they do and that they really can be the best in the world in our niche area of research, and we can really contribute and publish in top scientific journals."

Media Contacts: Anne Ambrose, 562/985-2582, aambrose@csulb.edu
Rick Gloady, 562/985-5454, rgloady@csulb.edu


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