Duncan Steel awarded 2010 APS Frank Isakson Prize

Steel was chosen for contributions to nonlinear optical spectroscopy and coherent control of semiconductor heterostructures.

Duncan Steel Enlarge
Duncan Steel

Prof. Duncan Steel, Robert J. Hiller Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Professor of Physics, Professor of Biophysics, and Research Professor in the Institute of Gerontology, was awarded the 2010 Frank Isakson Prize for Optical Effects in Solids from the American Physical Society.

Prof. Steel received this award, “For seminal contributions to nonlinear optical spectroscopy and coherent control of semiconductor heterostructures.” His research has focused on the development and application of various laser-matter interaction studies and quantum optics in fields including plasmas, optical phase conjugation, atomic and molecular spectroscopy, condensed matter physics, protein folding and quantum computing. This work has generated over 4000 citations.

Duncan Steel received the AB in Physics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972, and from the University of Michigan he received the M.S. in Electrical Science and Nuclear Science in 1973 and 1975, and the PhD in Electrical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering in 1976.

Prior to joining the faculty at U-M, he served as Senior Staff Physicist at the Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, 1975-1985, working with a number of well-known people including Ross McFarlane and Richard Lind, as well as collaborating with Paul Berman, then at NYU, on optical phase conjugation using four-wave mixing. It was at Hughes that he began to see the power of probing the third order nonlinear optical response to understand the physics of optical interactions in solids, as well as using this response to obtain fundamental quantities in the material, such as decoherence rates, and to use the optical response to control the quantum state of solids.

He joined the University of Michigan in 1985 as an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics, and Associate Research Scientist in the Institute of Gerontology. He served as Director of the Optical Science Laboratory between 1988-2007, and Director of a new program in Biophysics 2007-08.

When he started research at Michigan, Prof. Steel initiated experiments in solids, eventually focusing on understanding the nonlinear optical response of the exciton in GaAs, in collaboration with Prof. Roberto Merlin. Working first with frequency domain techniques rather than ultrafast methodologies, Hailin Wang (now a professor at University of Oregon) in his group showed that the leading term in the nonlinear optical response was due to physics, similar to collisional interactions that lead to dephasing. Other students, including Steve Cundiff (now a professor at University of Colorado) and Kyle Ferrio, went on to use time domain techniques to understand other details about the materials.

Currently, he has been collaborating with Dan Gammon at NRL, Lu Sham at UCSD, Luming Duan and Paul Berman to understand the nature of optical interactions in quantum dots and to develop them for applications to quantum computing. The first semiconductor quantum gate was demonstrated in his lab by Xiaoqin Li (Assistant Professor at University of Texas) and the first studies of the single electron spin in these systems was done by Gurudey Dutt (Assistant Professor at University of Pittsburgh) with gate operations near 200 GHz demonstrated by Erik D. Kim (post-doc at Stanford University).

Prof. Steel is a Fellow of APS, IEEE, and the Optical Society of America, and has extensive service activities in the professional community. He is editor for the Encyclopedia of Modern Optics (2003), and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In addition to graduating 36 PhD students, he has authored more than 350 published papers and book chapters.

In the area of teaching, Prof. Steel developed the full year graduate course, Applied Quantum Mechanics, to emphasize problem solving in important emerging areas in technology including nano-science, computing, and communications. He also developed the graduate level course, Quantum Optics, to teach the basics of laser physics, spectroscopy, and quantum optics.

About the Award

The Frank Isakson Prize was established in 1979 to recognize outstanding optical research that leads to breakthroughs in the condensed matter sciences, with preference given to work that has been published within the past 10 years. The prize is awarded biennially in even-numbered years as a memorial to Frank Isakson.

The Isakson Prize was presented at the APS Physics March Meeting in Portland, OR, March 15-19, 2010, at a special Ceremonial Session.

APS Physics Announcement