Applied Physics joins the School of Engineering & Applied Science

The move, effective as of July 1, brings Yale one step closer to fulfilling its strategy for the sciences and engineering.
Collage of the Yale physics building with an abstract geometric model

In celebration and acknowledgment of their long intellectual and working history at Yale, the Department of Applied Physics (AP) and the School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS) have officially rejoined forces. As of July 1, 2020, AP is a member of SEAS, joining the school at a pivotal moment in Yale’s history, as the university carries out a set of large-scale strategic investments in science and engineering. 

The field of applied physics seeks solutions to critical problems through the study of nature’s laws and by the application of technology. That, said SEAS Dean Jeffrey Brock, makes SEAS an ideal home for the department. 

This is a great move for the School of Engineering & Applied Science, Applied Physics, and the university,” Brock said. “AP is a crucial link between physics and engineering. By bringing AP back into SEAS, that link becomes even more pronounced, and collaborations will surely be all the more fruitful and better resourced.” 

Charles Ahn, the chair and John C. Malone Professor of Applied Physics, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, and Physics, noted that the department has strengths in “multiple areas of interest to SEAS, including materials, quantum information, and optics.”

AP looks forward to partnering with SEAS departments to work together at the frontiers of engineering and applied science,” he said.

The move also brings the university one step closer to fulfilling its strategy for the sciences and engineering. The Report of the University Science Strategy Committee (USSC) noted that Yale has “great potential to be the first institution with a comprehensive university-wide research and education program in Quantum Science, Engineering and Materials.” Such a program would advance the frontiers of knowledge, train the next-generation workforce for this field, and serve as a valuable meeting ground for students and faculty.

In recent years, Applied Physics at Yale has been one of the leaders in the field of quantum computing. Faculty members Michel Devoret and Robert Schoelkopf — a team that pioneered the field of quantum computing with superconducting circuits — are the principals of Quantum Circuits Inc., a startup founded to build and sell the first practical and useful quantum computers.

Since 2010, when AP left the school as part of a restructuring, Devoret said rejoining SEAS has been a “longstanding collective wish of the department in general.”

My group is already collaborating with professors in Electrical Engineering, such as Hong Tang, so that will definitely be easier,” he said. “I think the most important element is that we’re sharing the whole infrastructure, so it’s much better to be part of the same school.” 

Sohrab Ismail-Beigi, professor of applied physics, physics, and mechanical engineering & materials science, said that the focus of AP research is fundamental science “near the border between science and engineering but somewhat on the science side of the line.” 

This is why research collaborations with SEAS faculty are potentially so beneficial, since the more engineering-oriented researchers can help transform successful basic science demonstrations into more practical real-world applied devices or inventions,” he said. And with more efficient use of resources and space for future research, teaching, and hiring, he said, even more ambitious efforts will emerge.

In recent years, faculty from SEAS and AP have collaborated on numerous research projects, including one that focuses on finding new materials for the hardware of quantum computing. Selected and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the ongoing project seeks to develop the core quantum computing and networking components that would make the uncanny world of quantum physics realistic for computing. 

Another collaboration could lead to important insights about gene regulation and the genome, as well as cancer and other diseases. The project, led by researchers in SEAS and AP, is supported by a National Science Foundation program that focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to studying chromatin and epigenetic engineering.

Other SEAS-AP collaborations have emerged out of several interdisciplinary research programs, such as the Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena, an interdisciplinary materials research center that was funded by the National Science Foundation; the Yale Quantum Institute, which facilitates the research and teaching of quantum science on campus; and the Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering, which focuses on nanoscale research and applications and brings together researchers in the physical sciences and engineering with those in the fields of medicine and biology.

The incorporation of AP into SEAS comes shortly after the announcement of plans for a new state-of-the-art building intended for quantum science, engineering, and materials research. Plans for the building were a priority outlined in the USSC Report as a way to bring together the research strengths in Physics, Applied Physics, and other SEAS departments. Because Yale’s SEAS faculty are also members of its Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), having AP joining SEAS at this critical moment will serve not only to bolster SEAS strategic efforts but also to draw its other FAS science neighbors closer to support the implementation of Yale’s priorities in science and engineering. 

The move into SEAS will allow AP to play an integral role in the development of SEAS’ new strategic vision for the future, also called for by the USSC Report. “We’re embarking on a new trajectory for SEAS,” said Brock, “one characterized by embracing our leadership role in innovation and entrepreneurship, in broad collaboration, and in how applied science can drive new developments in technology. By leveraging our strength in quantum science, engineering, and materials, SEAS can build a foundation for excellence and new models for how Yale can engage with the fundamental problems confronting society. The addition of Applied Physics to SEAS puts us in a far more competitive position to begin that process.”

The FAS and the university are extremely fortunate to have Jeff Brock at the helm of both SEAS and the FAS science division,” said FAS Dean Tamar Gendler. “His visionary commitment to the distinct way in which Yale builds bridges from engineering and applied science to science, mathematics, and data science — as well as to the social sciences, humanities, and arts — exemplifies what makes Yale so inspiring.” 

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