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WSU physicists write with light, turn crystal into an electrical circuit

Matt McCluskey
Matt McCluskey

Washington State University physicists have found a way to write an electrical circuit into a crystal, opening up the possibility of transparent, three-dimensional electronics that, like an Etch A Sketch, can be erased and reconfigured.

The work, to appear in the on-line journal Scientific Reports, serves as a proof of concept for a phenomenon that WSU researchers first discovered by accident four years ago.

“It opens up a new type of electronics where you can define a circuit optically and then erase it and define a new one,” said Matt McCluskey, a WSU professor of physics and materials science. “It’s exciting that it’s reconfigurable. It’s also transparent. There are certain applications where it would be neat to have a circuit that is on a window or something like that, where it actually is invisible electronics.”

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New physics, astronomy chair starts Feb. 1

Brian Saam

Brian Saam, an expert in experimental atomic physics, will become professor and chair of the Washington State University Department of Physics and Astronomy on Feb. 1. He has conducted research and taught introductory and advanced courses for 17 years at the University of Utah, where he was associate chair of his department and associate dean of the College of Science.

He succeeds interim chair Sukanta Bose, professor of physics, and former chair Matthew McCluskey, professor of physics, who will return to their teaching and research activities.

“My number one priority as chair will be maintaining the size and academic reach of the department while keeping a strategic eye toward areas where we can grow the breadth of our research,” he said.

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$1.1 million award funds solar technology advances

Kelvin Lynn
Kelvin Lynn

Washington State University researchers have received a $1.1 million U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative cooperative award to improve the performance and lower the cost of solar materials for the multibillion dollar industry.

Working in collaboration with researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and industry partner Nious Technologies, Inc., WSU researchers will improve the performance of cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar material. They will improve its feedstock, or the raw crystal needed to make solar cells, with the goal of reducing costs and making it more competitive with popular silicon-based technology.

“A robust CdTe feedstock manufacturing technology and high quality CdTe materials will be available to the solar industry that could disrupt the current thin-film solar energy supply chain,” said Kelvin Lynn, Regents professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and Department of Physics and Astronomy. “The overall outcome will positively impact American solar energy manufacturing sector by boosting technology competiveness.”

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Undergrad helps develop method to detect water on Mars

A Washington State University undergraduate has helped develop a new method for detecting water on Mars. Her findings appear in Nature Communications, one of the most influential general science journals.

Kellie Wall, 21, of Port Orchard, Wash., looked for evidence that water influenced crystal formation in basalt, the dark volcanic rock that covers most of eastern Washington and Oregon. She then compared this with volcanic rock observations made by the rover Curiosity on Mars’ Gale Crater.

The project was funded by the WSU College of Arts and Sciences’ Grants for Undergraduate Scholars and by the NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Scholarship in Science and Engineering.

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New planetarium system unique in Inland Northwest

Michael Allen
Michael Allen

The constellations are shining brighter at the Washington State University Planetarium thanks to a new digital projection system.

“It is kind of like the Google Earth of the stars,” said Michael Allen, planetarium director and senior instructor of physics and astronomy. “There is really nothing else like this in the Inland Northwest.”

Mounted at the far end of the circular room, the system uses a high end digital projector, specially cut mirrors and Stellarium, a free open source software that projects a realistic sky in three dimensions, just like you would see standing in the backyard on a clear night.

The planetarium’s fall series kicked off Sept. 19 with “Maiden Voyage,” a show about the highlights of the fall sky and the digital projection system’s new features. The series will include four more shows, each running twice, through Dec. 7.

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