SF State physics professor and students win $400K grant

Dr. Weining Man holds two models of Isotropic Disordered Photonic Band Gap Structures in her laboratory on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. Dr. Man was recently awarded a 400k grant by the National Science Foundation. Photo Ryan Leibrich / Xpress

Dr. Weining Man holds two models of Isotropic Disordered Photonic Band Gap Structures in her laboratory on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. Dr. Man was recently awarded a 400k grant by the National Science Foundation. Photo Ryan Leibrich / Xpress

For the last four years, Weining Man, an SF State physics professor, along with her research team of students, dedicated nights and weekends in their lab to find new ways to manipulate light. Their discovery is now nationally recognized.

Man received a $400,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation in July for her discovery in optic materials.

“This is the largest grant we’ve gotten for this project, we’ve gotten smaller ones, but this a big deal for the project,” Man said.

Man has been working on this research for 10 years, which began as her Ph.D. thesis at Princeton University.

The experiment showed a new way to control the flow of light. Models were designed on a computer then printed using a 3-D printer from plastic. With the creation of channels in the models, photons could be controlled and steered following the path. Light could be steered in curves and bends. It is an unprecedented way to steer light.

The NSF grant is highly competitive, only top researchers nationally are granted the small number of grants in this type of physics, according to SF State Dean of Science and Engineering Sheldon Axler.

“The grant demonstrates Weining’s standing in her field, not just at SF State, but at universities across the U.S. and internationally,” said Ron Marzke, associate chair of the physics and astronomy department.

Man’s journey to reach SF State was a long one.

At 15, she traveled more than 1,000 miles to attend a four-year university, Jilin University in Changchun, China.

“I fell in love with physics in the 8th grade,” said China-born Man.

By 27, Man had received her Ph.D. from Princeton. After Princeton, Man wanted to teach, and it was her interview with Dean Axler that steered Man’s decision to teach at SF State.

“He said, you can work at Princeton, but even if you are not there, those students will still go on to be successful. Here, you will have a chance to make a real difference in student’s lives,” Man said.

And that’s the most rewarding part of her job, said Man, the opportunity to collaborate and work closely with students.

“Our faculty, such as Dr. Man, make a real difference in students’ lives by getting our students involved in exciting research projects,” Axler said.

The next step will be to use the NSF funding to take the models to a scale of 500 nanometers. This will take the work to real world application capabilities. Upon completion, the science could be used to create more effective solar energy panels, as well as used in the field of telecommunications.

One-third of the grant will go to the University to help with overhead, said Marzke, making it not just great publicity but a great financial gain to the school.

“She pitches in more than we even expect. She is very hopeful of the work of the department. She’s an outstanding teacher,” Marzke said.

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