You have probably heard of polka dots. But how about quantum dots? 

Professor Wei Li, of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Engineering Physics department, is engaging undergraduate researchers in a complex project: how to simulate a futuristic nanoparticle with nearly unlimited potential.

“Quantum dots, or QDs, are man-made atoms,” Li explains. “They are widely used in modern nano-devices. Our research is trying to develop a computer-aided engineering tool to model and simulate QD material structures.”

Description of Research

Let’s backtrack a moment to talk about those dots. With properties that place them somewhere between a bulk semiconductor and a molecule, quantum dots are manufactured particles only a few nanometers in size, which emit brightly colored light when struck by UV light.

The color emitted depends on the size of the dot. Larger QDs produce warmer colors like orange and red, while smaller QDs produce green and blue light. These properties make quantum dots particularly interesting to engineers developing new technologies in medical imaging, printing, transistors, and solar cells, as well as scientists who work with lasers and quantum computers.

It’s clear quantum dots that have potential. Right now, however, the process of creating QDs is laborious and inefficient.

“Currently, to get the desired QD materials, industry people use a trial-and-error approach to design the material structure, which makes the fabrication very expensive and time-consuming,” says Professor Li. “A computer-aided engineering (CAE) simulator could perform the trial-and-error by computer, thus greatly reducing the R & D cost and time.” Right now, however, there is no such tool available in the market. Professor Li, by recruiting a team of undergraduate research students, is trying to change that.

Professor Li’s students will need a few fundamentals, including quantum electronics (EP 4220), partial differential equations, linear algebra, and good computer programming skills. Professor Li is also open to giving sophomores and juniors with good math skills and a strong work ethic a space on the team. But the students will gain much more from the experience. “The students will learn the key skills of scientific research and CAE software development, including literature review, programming in COMSOL and other languages, optoelectronics and photonics engineering, writing and publishing research papers, etc.” Professor Li says.

The benefits of this kind of hands-on research experience extend far beyond the skillsets gained. “Up to now,” Professor Li says, “all of the previous students in the team, have journal or conference publications or patent invention listings as coauthors or co-inventors.”

Those resume and application-boosting metrics have paid off. “Some students received REU or graduate school offers from prestigious institutions such as Duke University, UW-Madison, University of Arizona, University of Colorado and Oak Ridge National Lab,” Professor Li reports. Quantum dots may yet change the future of multiple fields, but for the Pioneers in Wei Li’s lab, this exciting technology has already changed their futures for the better.

Academic Areas of Focus

Quantum Electronics
Studying the phenomena involving light and its interactions with matter at submicroscopic levels.

Computer Simulation
To study the dynamic behavior of objects or systems in response to conditions that cannot be easily applied in real life.

Applied Mathematics
The mathematical study of general scientific concepts, principles, and phenomena.

Optoelectronics
Study and application of electronic devices and systems that generate, detect and control of light. 

Material Engineering
To study the characteristics of materials at the atomic level.

Application and Career Opportunities

Graduate schools and high-tech career opportunities in optoelectronics, semiconductor, and computer-aided engineering. 

  • Faculty

    Wei Li, Ph.D.
    Principal Investigator
    Engineering Physics
    liw@uwplatt.edu

    Professor Li's research interests include Optoelectronic devices, Fiber-optic communication systems, Quantum electronics, Quantum effects of nanoscale materials or devices, and Nanophotonics.

    Alumni

    Heather Cihak
    Previous Research Assistant (Alumni)

    Majors: Engineering Physics and Mathematics
    Research Interests: Applied Mathematics, Quantum Materials

    Conducting research an as undergraduate, especially in such an interdisciplinary field, was an incredible opportunity and invaluable experience that helped me develop the skills and confidence necessary for a successful career in academia. Currently, I am an applied mathematics Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder, which is all thanks to the exceptional start I got as an undergraduate of UW-Platteville.

    Samuel Belling
    Previous Research Assistant (Alumni)
    Last known organization: Graduate School at UW-Madison

    Major: Engineering Physics

    Tom Sabel
    Previous Research Assistant (Alumni)
    Last known organization: Engineer at Plexus Corp

    Major: Engineering Physics
    Minor: Mathematics

    Through working on multiple research projects, I was able to experience both theoretical and experimental research. I enjoyed working with faculty and students from across multiple disciplines.

Join our Research Group

We are always looking for highly motivated students. If you are interested in scientific and engineering research with a great working attitude, please contact Dr. Wei Li.

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