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Professor Catalin Martin Receives NSF Grant for Engineering Physics

Physics lab with equipment on lab table.

August 14, 2023

Engineering physics at a liberal arts college? Yes, please.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $192K grant to Dr. Catalin Martin, associate professor of engineering physics, to study magneto-optical properties of a new class of materials called Weyl semimetals.


What are Weyl semimetals?

They are considered massless electrons since, as conduction electrons, they are very light. This is unlike classic semiconductors such silicon and germanium. Weyl semimetals provide much larger mobility and much less dissipation, i.e. heat loss. Another distinguishing property of them is their magnetic spin. From a magnetic point of view, electrons can be seen as little magnets pointing in all directions. However, due to the lack of a mirror plane of symmetry, which is common to most other crystalline structures, the electrons in Weyl semimetals kind of separate themselves by the direction of their spin. These two particularities can be studied together or independently. “While all these properties are demonstrated theoretically, and there is significant indirect experimental evidence, we proposed and plan to use broad-band spectroscopy, combined with low temperatures and magnetic field, as a more direct probe for massless electrons and their spin properties,” said Martin about the study this grant supports.

Professor Catalin Martin wearing a green and black plaid shirt.

Dr. Catalin Martin, Engineering Physics

Hands-on Research Opportunities for Students

This research began more than one year ago, in collaboration with the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where single crystals of Weyl semimetals are being grown. The preliminary results were obtained with large participation of two of engineering physics students. Tenzin Sherpa ’23 is starting her PhD studies in Materials Science at Lehigh University and Prithivi Rana ’23 is heading for a PhD in Physics at NYU. “We have been fortunate to attract highly motivated students in our program, but these two were a bit off the chart. They would use time between classes to run to the lab and take one more measurement, and spent many weekend nights in the lab. I felt like I had two graduate students in my group, and I am very thankful to their contributions,” shared Martin.

The grant includes financial support for students to work on research in the summer for the next three years and is a great opportunity for students to acquire research skills while getting paid in the summer. During the academic year, 2-3 students have the opportunity to work in the lab with Dr. Martin and lab manager Ihor Sydoryk. This grant is testimony to the robust research opportunities available to students at Ramapo College.

To learn more about the engineering physics major, career opportunities, and student success stories, visit the Engineering Physics website.