Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, September 27, 2000
New advanced materials laboratory honors Geballe, brings together diverse disciplines


Magnet or catalyst? Stanford's newest Independent Laboratory is both. The Theodore H. Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials (LAM) brings together researchers from diverse disciplines to conceive and create advanced materials. The lab is named for Ted Geballe, professor emeritus in the departments of Applied Physics and Materials Science and Engineering, in recognition of his inspirational leadership in materials research.

"His vision has been the one that's guided us to where we are today," Malcolm Beasley, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, told attendees at the Aug. 23 dedication of the new lab. "Ted believes deeply that new and advanced materials lead to new science and new technologies, and that's what this laboratory's all about."

"I'm sure we'll be coming up with a lot of new advanced and advancing materials, which are bound to open new insights into nature," Geballe said. "I have hopes [the research] will even lead to new technologies which will help solve the problems of the 10 billion or so people who will be inhabiting the Earth during this new century."

LAM was born from the efforts of Stanford's materials science community to renovate the McCullough Building on campus using funds from the National Science Foundation. The new lab comes at a time when federal budget cuts in fields critical for continued technological advancement -- physics, math, materials science, chemistry and engineering -- are creating shortfalls in the knowledge and skills necessary to support new products and services.

Stanford has fared well despite federal cuts. The National Research Council ranks programs about every five years, Materials Science and Engineering department chair Bruce Clemens said in a phone interview. The council ranked Stanford's materials science and engineering program No. 6 in its most recent evaluation, Clemens said.

The new lab will encompass research and development from theory to fabrication and performance. It will address the technology gap by supporting the fundamental understanding, development and application of advanced materials.

The materials research equivalent of Stanford's interdisciplinary Bio-X initiative, LAM will host about 220 students and faculty from seven departments: Applied Physics, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Physics.

"This broad interdisciplinary structure is certainly our great strength," said physics Professor Alexander Fetter, LAM's first director. Not well known beyond Stanford's scientific community, the university's Independent Laboratories facilitate research into new areas of inquiry. Examples such as the Edward L. Ginzton Laboratory and the W. W. Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory (HEPL) are models for spurring the cross-fertilization of thought necessary to foster innovation. Their multidisciplinary approach to research transcends traditional boundaries of departments and programs.

"Just as Ted is an example to all of us as a person, a scientist and a colleague, I look forward to the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials as an example of interdisciplinary research and collaboration," said Charles Kruger, vice provost and dean of research and graduate policy.

Geballe earned two chemistry degrees from the University of California-Berkeley -- a baccalaureate in 1941 and a doctorate in 1949 under the guidance of Nobel Prize winner William Francis Giauque. Between degrees, Geballe served in the U.S. Army in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines. He spent 16 years at Bell Laboratories researching semiconductors and superconductors and in 1970 won the Oliver E. Buckley Solid State Physics Prize of the American Physical Society for experiments that "challenged theoretical understanding and opened up the technology of high-field superconductors."

After joining the Stanford faculty in 1968, Geballe focused much of his attention on materials with extreme properties. He held the Theodore and Sydney Rosenberg Professorship in Applied Physics, served as chair of the Department of Applied Physics and directed the Center for Materials Research. He was a Guggenheim Fellow at the Cavendish Laboratory in England, member of the Solid State Physics Delegation to the People's Republic of China and recipient of the Bernd Matthias Memorial and Von Hippel awards, both for his superconductor research. He is author or co-author of more than 400 scientific publications, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Geballe's prolific achievements have transcended traditional academic boundaries. Researchers hope the new lab's interdisciplinary environment will spur similar productivity. Cross-disciplinary collaborations at Stanford already have led to innovations such as infrared-sensitive films in night-vision goggles, thin films in medical imaging equipment, high-purity lithium niobate crystals for lasers and the first successful high-temperature superconductors in thin-film form. Ultimately, they may spawn materials for efficient power lines, small electric motors for nonpolluting cars, new generations of supercomputers and numerous other medical, household and industrial applications.

Current LAM research tackles many difficult topics. Investigators in one arena aim to elucidate the physics of superconductors, semiconductors, metals and other highly correlated electron systems. Researchers in another area are trying to create materials for writing, reading and storing information in a magnetic medium. Other workers focus on creating semiconducting polymers for lasers, light-emitting diodes and solar cells. Still others are making lubricants for computer hard drives, insulating layers for silicon chips, optical materials for holographic data storage and fast signal processing, organic molecules for new drugs and biodiagnostic devices to test the effects and side-effects of pharmaceuticals before their administration to patients. Also key is the development of nanostructures, such as the microelectromechanical systems (known in the field simply as MEMS) that activate airbags. Working at the level of individual atoms and molecules, engineers use nanotechnology to build materials and structures from the bottom up and devices as small as human cells. Nanotechnology may bear fruit in applications as diverse as drug delivery, water purification, energy conversion, biochemical detection, transportation and national security.

Sounds more like science fiction than real research? It's not, but when researchers boldly go where no one has gone before, problems may arise that require two (or more) heads. Vulcan mind-melds may work in Star Trek, but how can great minds get together in real life?

To encourage spontaneous interaction, LAM's designers borrowed a mantra from real estate agents: Location, location, location.

"One of the most important things about cutting-edge scientific research is working at the boundaries of different disciplines, and if you work at the boundaries, you have to interact with those other disciplines," said chemical engineering Professor Curtis Frank. "The new lab will bring people together."

At Ground Zero for the Silicon Valley, the Theodore H. Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials sits among buildings named for technology giants such as Bill Gates and David Packard. It is located in the renovated McCullough Building and the newly built McCullough Annex, which will be renamed the Moore Building in October for Intel cofounder Gordon Moore of "Moore's Law" fame. (Moore's Law states that the number of transistors that can be packed onto a microprocessor doubles every 18 to 24 months.)

For many researchers, the lab is a manifestation of a dream. And they could not be happier with naming it after the man whose vision and life inspired it. "I know from my own experience and from what many of you tell me that there are certain things we do deeply appreciate about [the new lab] -- how light it is, how bright, how much energy there is, how youthful the atmosphere is, how optimistic it is," Beasley said. "That's Ted, even at 80 years old."

Ted and Sissy Geballe with the lab's unofficial sign, created by Professor Aharon Kapitulnik. In Kabbalah (ancient Jewish mysticism), each letter in a word can be assigned a numeric value. Kapitulnik wrote 'Theodore Geballe' in Hebrew and added up the value. Then he wrote 'materials research' and did the same. The values added up to exactly the same number. This equivalence, Kapitulnik said, meant materials research was Geballe's destiny.
photo: Dawn Levy