Nobel Laureate visits AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Dr. Alan J. Heeger, recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, visited the Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate on January 26, 2016, to present his work with room-temperature ultrasensitive photodetectors.

Heeger, who received the Nobel Prize for his breakthrough discovery and development of electrically-conductive plastic polymers, presented his latest research along with Dr. Xiong Gong from the University of Akron.  Their work, funded largely through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, could enable a new class of photodetectors that could be used for a wide use of military as well as commercial applications.

Contemporary photodetectors use a variety of separate materials to enable detection of wavelengths from ultraviolet to infrared, and in many cases they must be cooled to extremely low temperatures to increase sensitivity to longer wavelengths. 

Through the use of novel low bandgap semiconducting polymers, Heeger and Gong developed room-temperature operated photodetectors with a broad spectral response.  This development opens the potential for a wider range of applications, such as advanced day/night cameras, more secure communications, remote control and sensing devices, and enhanced environmental monitoring, to name just a few.

According to Dr. Tim Bunning, Chief Scientist of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, the work of Heeger and Gong is the latest example of AFRL-funded collaborative efforts with Nobel Prize winning researchers. 

"Sometimes we take it for granted, but AFRL is a powerhouse.  This is reflected by the fact that 77 Nobel Prize winners have been substantially funded by our organization, primarily through AFOSR, through the years," Bunning said.

Bunning added that the Materials and Manufacturing directorate has engaged in professional collaborations with a number of these Nobel Laureates, with many significant research efforts emerging from these partnerships.