Euan McLeod Receives CAREER Grant from NSF

    Date Posted: 
    Tuesday, March 9, 2021

    Assistant Professor Euan McLeod is working to build nanoscale structures using optical tweezers in order to achieve optical properties unheard of in nature. With this project in mind, he applied to the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program and received the award in February 2021. It was no surprise McLeod was selected for the prestigious award based on his dedication to both innovative research and impactful educational pursuits, exactly what the the National Science Foundation is looking to support. The NSF describes CAREER grant receipients as "academic role models" that have a dedication to a "lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research."

    Research

    McLeod's proposal titled, "Design and Precision Assembly of Particulate-Based 3D Nanophotonic Devices" aims to build microscopic three-dimensional structures using a variety of materials with nanoscale-level precision. In fact, using "building blocks" smaller than the wavelength of light creates structures with interesting optical properties that cannot be found in nature like negative refractive indices or refractive indices near zero. To make matters more challenging, you cannot build these structure with your hands or even using any tools that can be held! A special tool called optical tweezers, which is a tightly focused laser beam, is used to create new and unseen structures. The grant will fund this research for 5-years, longer than most grants, and provides McLeod's research group with the opportunity to engage in more creative, potentially "risky" work that could have more significant impacts on the world's future technologies upon completion. 

    Education

    Assistant Prof. McLeod is excited to integrate his research into educational materials available for the Wyant College. Two role models from his days as a student inspired him in his current career. His Ph.D. advisor, Craig Arnold, and postdoctoral advisor, Aydogan Ozcan, were both early career faculty who pursued and excelled at receiving funding for their research while producing high-quality impactful works.

    McLeod's own plans for his contribution include:

    "I am planning on integrating aspects of our research into the two courses I teach: the senior undergraduate level Advanced Optics Laboratory (OPTI 471A) and the graduate level course on Nanophotonics (OPTI 567). The Advanced Optics Laboratory could include an optical tweezer system similar to what we use in our research, and the Nanophotonics course can cover some of the photonic nanostructure design aspects of our research. The associated educational resources can also be disseminated at other events, such as the Optics & Photonics Winter School & Workshop, which I am co-chairing next year. Finally, I am excited to involve more undergraduates in my research."

    In the Future

    The CAREER grant is only the start of McLeod's big plans. He says, "I aim to develop a system and method for 3D nanofabrication that is useful to many other researchers, not just in photonics, but in other areas of micro and nanotechnology. I want to make it compatible with a wide range of building block shapes, sizes, and materials." The work he is doing now will be the components powering next-generation optical microscopes, sensors, and systems. 

    With the CAREER grant McLeod's group will have the resouces needed to take these big "small" ideas and pursue them so they can make innovative impacts throughout research and technology. Congratulations, Euan!