NASA awards electrical engineer’s work on a tiny spectrometer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Xingjie Ni is in the process of creating a new, small-footprint, lightweight, versatile spectrometer that can be integrated into a photonic chip. Since NASA has been looking for “innovative, early-stage technology that addresses some high-priority needs of America's space program,” they have awarded him with an Early Career Faculty for Space Technology Research Grant.

Ni, the Charles H. Fetter Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering in Penn State's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, explained that a spectrometer — a powerful tool that can split light into an array of different wavelength components and measure their intensities — is widely used in many areas, such as chemical and biological sensing, material characterization, and analysis of astronomical objects. He will use a metasurface, ultrathin layer of nanostructure that can freely manipulate light, as the key element to sort light.

“We have demonstrated ultrathin flat lenses, high-resolution holograms and even an invisibility cloak using the metasurface technology,” Ni said. “Now we plan to leverage it for the creation of a fully integrated on-chip spectrometer, which will be potentially useful for portable or wearable devices to further increase their functionality.”

According to NASA, the grants from NASA's Space Technology Research Grants program are worth up to $200,000 per year with up to three years of research. They are awarded to outstanding faculty researchers early in their careers as they conduct space technology development that is a high priority to NASA.

“The support allows me to continue pursuing the idea and developing this new technology that will potentially address some high-priority needs of American’s space program,” said Ni.

To learn more about Ni’s work, visit the Nanophotonics and Optoelectronics Laboratory at Penn State.

Last Updated September 13, 2017