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AFOSR continues legacy of Nobel Prize-winning research

  • Published
  • By Molly Lachance
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research will add four winners to its illustrious list following the Nobel Foundation's announcements of the 2014 laureates for Physics and Chemistry on Oct. 7 and 8.

AFOSR has contributed basic research funding to 78 Nobel laureates over the past 60 years.  On average, these laureates receive AFOSR funding 17 years prior to winning their Nobel awards.

The 2014 Physics Nobel was shared between University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) professor Shuji Nakamura, and Japanese scientists Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano, "...for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources," said the Nobel Foundation.

AFOSR, a technology directorate of the Air Force Research Laboratory charged with executing the Air Force's fundamental research mission, began its relationship with Nakamura in the early 1990s as part of an AFOSR and AFRL initiative on nitride-based semiconductors. AFOSR's roughly $2 million investment resulted in a roadmap and vision for nitride applications, including blue lasers. The initiative also helped Nakamura transfer from his then Japanese employer to his current position at UCSB.

During this time period, Nakamura collaborated on several grants funded by AFOSR's Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD), and participated in its Windows on Science Program (WOS),  an invitational program for prominent international scientists to visit and collaborate with scientists at AFRL. 

The Nobel Foundation also awarded Stanford University professor Dr. William Moerner the 2014 Nobel Chemistry prize along with two other chemists "...for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy." This breakthrough has enabled the study of single molecules in ongoing chemical reactions in living cells, which was once believed to be impossible. 

AFOSR began working with Moerner in 1995 through its organic chemistry portfolio. Using this funding, he was one of the first to achieve photo-refractivity from polymeric materials, creating a new class of materials able to amplify images and split laser beams.

While this breakthrough was a positive result of AFOSR's funding, Moerner subsequently narrowed his focus to single molecule spectroscopy, which was outside the scope of his AFOSR grants, but was what ultimately led to his Nobel.