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Physics professor garners German research award

Michael Stavola, a specialist in defects in semiconductors who joined the faculty after a career with Bell Laboratories, has received the Humboldt Research Award for Senior U.S. Scientists from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

It is one of the top research awards given by the German government to international scientists and engineers. Humboldt awards recognize lifetime achievement in science and are granted to international scholars who are world-renowned in their field. Each year, up to 150 awards are given.

The Senior U.S. Scientist Award provides 50,000 euros over five years to enable recipients to spend up to a year in Germany studying with scientists in their field. Stavola will work at the Technical University of Dresden, where he has a 20-year friendship with Joerg Weber, the endowed chair of semiconductor physics.

Defects give silicon and other materials the electronic properties they need to act as semiconductors. If one atom out of millions falls out of place in an otherwise perfect silicon crystal, or if a rogue atom wanders into the crystal, the resulting defect changes the electronic or optical properties of the silicon and significantly alters its semiconducting characteristics.

Fax machines, PCs, CD players, cell phones, solar cells, and a host of other electronic devices have been made possible by the understanding of semiconductor defects that has been achieved over the past five decades.

Lehigh's legacy of excellence

Lehigh is the premiere American university for research into defects in semiconductors, says Stavola, largely because of George D. Watkins, Sherman Fairchild Professor Emeritus of solid-state studies, who has been recognized for more than 40 years as the international leader in the field. Watkins has also been awarded a Humboldt Senior Scientist Award.

Also renowned for his work in the field is Beall Fowler, professor emeritus of physics, who studies defects in semiconductors and also in the oxides that are used as thin insulators in integrated circuits.

Stavola, an experimental physicist who joined the faculty in 1989, specializes in hydrogen and its interaction with impurities. He conducts fundamental studies of the atomic-scale structures and properties of defects involving hydrogen.

Only a few U.S. university groups are working in the area of defects in semiconductors, says Stavola, but the opposite is true in Germany, where the field is quite popular.

Several other Lehigh professors have received awards from the Humboldt Foundation.

Fazil Erdogan, the G. Whitney Snyder Professor Emeritus of mechanical engineering and mechanics, has received the Senior Scientist Award twice. John Chen, the Carl R. Anderson Professor of chemical engineering, has also received the Senior Scientist Award.

Two other professors—Donald Rockwell, the Paul B. Reinhold Professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics, and Himanshu Jain, Diamond chair and professor of materials science and engineering—received the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, which is given to researchers earlier in their careers.

Humboldt (1769-1859), once described as the “last universal scholar in the field of the natural sciences,” was a naturalist, author, cartographer, artist and sociologist who explored much of the Western Hemisphere, especially South America.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2004

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