Kerry J. Vahala, assistant professor of applied physics and a specialist in quantum electronics and lasers at the California Institute of Technology, has been chosen as the first recipient of the Richard P. Feynman-Hughes Fellowship.
Sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Hughes Aircraft Co., the fellowship is named after the late Richard P. Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his theory of quantum electrodynamics and was also a Caltech faculty member and consultant to Hughes. Accompanied by a stipend of $30,000, the fellowship is designed to provide research support to a young faculty member in Caltech's Division of Engineering and Applied Science. Candidates are nominated by faculty of the division, and final selection is made by the division chairman and a Hughes executive involved with the program.
Vahala, 31, has focused his research on the quantum mechanical limits of semiconductor lasers and has developed a theory on laser noise. He has attempted to create materials and devices having atomic-scale sizes and features, which can then be used both to improve the performance of existing electronic devices and to create entirely new classes of devices.
Vahala says he intends to use the stipend to further fund his research, which will enable his group to "enhance capabilities of lower dimensional quantum-well physics." He first detailed his findings of this branch of physics in Applied Physics Letters (45:950-2, 1984). One of the projects that Vahala is now working on concerns studies regarding intensity noise that is below the standard quantum limit.
Among the physicist's other honors are an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, and an Outstanding Teaching Award from Caltech. Vahala earned his B.S. in 1980, his M.S. in 1981, and his Ph.D. in 1985, all from Caltech.