Atwater Shoots for the Stars with Dielectric Materials

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KNI faculty board member Harry Atwater serves as an advisor on the $100M Breakthrough Starshot Program.

Atwater Advises on Breakthrough Starshot Program

June 2, 2018

Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science, Harry Atwater has a penchant for setting and meeting audacious goals. In one of his latest endeavors he serves as an advisor for the Breakthrough Starshot program aimed at sending an ultra-lightweight sail to nearby stars and planets, traveling at 20% the speed of light. In this role, Atwater will help the project carryout three main objectives: "The first is to build the so-called photon engine, the laser that's capable of propelling the sail; the second is to design the sail itself; and the third is to design the payload, which will be a tiny spacecraft capable of taking images and spectral data and then beaming them back to the earth."

The Starshot program will not only enable us to reach further distances in outer space in less time, it will advance our capabilities and understanding of nanoscale materials and how they interact with light. Atwater's team is looking towards dielectric materials to build the design elements of this project - such materials are insulating and have higher reflectivity with low absorption coefficients, making them stable enough to travel across a laser's path. Researchers will be able to utilize the KNI cleanroom's newly installed UHV dielectric sputtering system to help develop certain prototypes for this effort.

To learn more about this exciting project, read Caltech's Q&A with Harry Atwater.