Diana Qiu ’11 wins Packard scholarship in science and engineering

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Qiu, an assistant professor at Yale, is one of 20 scholars across the country selected for the prestigious Packard Fellowship Award in 2021.


Contributing journalist


Anjali Mangla, collaborating photographer

Diana Qiu ’11, Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, received the Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering for her work on the absorption of light by matter and the calculations of first principles in quantum mechanics.

The scholarship, awarded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, provides funding to promising early-career scientists. Each year, 50 universities in the United States are invited to nominate two early-career professors for the scholarship, and this year 20 people across the United States have been chosen as laureates. The scholarship recipients receive a grant of $ 875,000 over five years to fund their research.

“I think I really like this type of research because in a way it’s very accessible,” Qiu said. “It’s very easy to have this mental image of a material absorbing light. We all have an intuitive good sense of what absorption, reflection, transmission is, and then the idea that these macroscopic properties of the material can be understood only from the fundamental interactions of quantum mechanics at the microscopic level is very exciting for me. “

The formation of Qiu is in condensed matter theory. After graduating in 2011, she earned a doctorate at UC Berkeley and a postdoctoral degree at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory before returning to Yale as an assistant professor in January 2020.

As a computational materials scientist, Qiu studies the different ways in which materials absorb light with first principle calculations, which are based on an understanding of quantum mechanics. Her work as a theoretician also offers the opportunity to formulate new methodologies to study materials and predict their properties.

“I was involved in recruiting Professor Diana Qiu and remember that all of the faculty and people who attended her presentation on the work were very impressed with her,” said Judy Cha, Associate Professor Carol and Douglas Melamed from Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. “She was able to explain complex concepts just so that faculty members who were not in her field could understand and appreciate what she is doing. He’s a special talent, and [she is] a great scientist. She is going to be an excellent educator.

When light interacts with a material, an electron absorbs a photon, providing it with enough energy to be excited to a higher energy level. This leaves behind a positively charged “hole” in the state he previously lived in. When the negatively charged electron interacts with this hole, it produces a particle called an exciton.

Excitons are at the heart of Qiu’s research, particularly their behaviors after reaching the excited state and the process of determining the lifespans of these excitations. Understanding the answers to these questions could bring applications to fields such as photovoltaics or optoelectronics.

“The problem, as far as I know, is the timescale because simulations are usually femtoseconds, but to go with the excitons you have to cover a wide range of lifetimes and so these challenges are what it is. is trying to pick up, ”said Udo Schwarz, director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.“ It’s kind of really exceptional to see how she really wants to solve this problem completely… developing her own approaches that are needed to do that, and it really has the potential to come up with completely new ideas. ”

Qiu is particularly excited about the scholarship as it allows her to further expand her research group. Her group includes two post-docs, one graduate student, and two undergraduate students who work with her on projects related to excitons, energy and materials.

Qiu’s colleagues believe the scholarship is well deserved, citing his dedication and the high quality of his work. According to Schwarz, Qiu is the author of several articles that have earned him the respect and high esteem of his peers.

“I was so happy for her because she is one of our really promising young teachers,” said Schwarz.

Cha, who has worked with Qiu on several projects within the department, appreciates Qiu’s insight as a theorist, especially in the context of designing new materials by predicting their properties.

She was eager to collaborate with Qiu on these projects and said that Yale was very lucky to have recruited her.

“It is a great honor and distinction, not only for her but also for Yale University and for the School of Engineering and the department as well,” said Cha. “I was delighted to discover [about the fellowship], and that only reinforces my belief that she is already great and will be.

Qiu was at Ezra Stiles College as an undergraduate student.

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