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ASU physicist Robert Nemanich harnesses power of diamonds

Robert Nemanich's diamond-powered transistor projects total $3 million for ASU.
ASU's Nemanich keeps signed champagne bottles when grad students get degree.
February 16, 2017

Newly selected Regents' Professor creates diamond wafers for high-power electronics to improve efficiency, functioning

ASU Physics Professor Robert Nemanich doesn’t have 99 bottles of beer on the wall; he has 75 bottles of champagne on the top of his desk.

It’s a tradition that comes from commencement whenever one of his graduate students gets their degree. So far he has seen 53 students receive their PhDs and 22 obtain their masters under his tutelage.

“It’s good to punctuate your life whenever there’s a big accomplishment,” Nemanich said. “If you don’t celebrate those victories, then it’s just another day.”

Recently, the university toasted Nemanich by naming him as one of threeASU scholars Anne Stone and Paul Westerhoff are the other two Regents’ Professors for 2016-2017. Regents' Professors for the 2016-17 academic year.

Bottles on top of desk
On shelves in the lab and his office, Regents' Professor Robert Nemanich saves the signed champagne bottle from each of his master's and doctoral graduates. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Regents’ Professor is the highest faculty honor and is conferred on full professors who have made remarkable achievements that have brought them national attention and international distinction.

“Professor Nemanich is an outstanding classroom instructor and has also been a pioneer in the development of online courses,” said Peter A. Bennett, professor and chair in ASU’s Department of Physics. He added that another form of teaching is in the mentoring of research personnel and that “here Professor Nemanich also shines.”

That summation is fitting given that Nemanich’s work focuses on the creation and use of diamond wafers instead of silicon wafers for high-power electronics, providing improved efficiency and ability to function in high-temperature applications.

“These wafers are small, lightweight and conduct heat away rather than overheating,” Nemanich said. The diamond wafers can be used for high-power grids, electronic cars, jet engines and trains.

The electronics are made in an ASU lab by electrically conducting diamond layers on the wafers. The lab-grown diamonds are fabricated at high pressure, or by plasma growth as opposed to being mined in the ground. The materials could be coal or high-purity gas sources.

Nemanich’s research projects for diamond-powered transistors have totaled close to $3 million for ASU. He has also presented more than 200 invited lectures and published more than 400 research papers, which have been cited in scientific literature more than 22,000 times, according to the university.

“His pioneering contributions have had remarkable impact in interdisciplinary materials physics,” said ASU physics and Regents’ Professor David Smith. “His research is highly regarded at both national and international levels.”

Nemanich has served as president of the Materials Research Society, one of the largest scientific societies in this country, as well as president of the International Union of Materials Research Society.

He also had a highly distinguished record of service as physics department chair at ASU from 2006 to 2013.

Accolades aside, for Nemanich the great joy of his work is forging lasting relationships with his physics, electrical engineering and material science students.

“He seems to have an intuitive understanding how to help us be successful and tailors his own method of teaching and motivating to each of us,” said Brianna Eller, who received her PhD in physics from Nemanich in 2015. “I hope that I have learned how to be a better mentor as his student in addition to learning from his wealth of knowledge.”

Nemanich said a good portion of his knowledge comes from students.

“The game is who learns more from who?” Nemanich said. “I always ask my students at the end, ‘Did you learn more from me, or did I learn more from you?’

“I usually win.”

Top photo: Recently selected Regents' Professor Robert Nemanich is at the forefront of the developing technology of using diamond wafers instead of silicon wafers for high-power electronics, providing improved efficiency and ability to function in high-temperature applications. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 
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ASU symposium examines cheating

Disciplines include psychology, sociology, politics, anthropology, archeology.
February 16, 2017

Cooperation and Conflict Symposium brings experts from around the world to discuss the many and varied forms of foul play

The guy at work who contributes squat to a team project. The one who develops alligator arms every time the check arrives. The people you’ve had for dinner 20 times who always show up empty-handed.

Does it make you feel any better that ants, bees and wasps suffer from similar company?

Arizona State University’s first Cooperation and Conflict Symposium was held Thursday, bringing scholars from around campus and the world to discuss “Solving the problem of cheating in large-scale cooperative systems.”

The symposium’s scientists peered through the lens of different disciplines to see how the problem of cheating is addressed, and how cheating is detected, controlled and eliminated.

The event was the brainchild of Athena Aktipis, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, and Michael Hechter, a Foundation Professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies. The idea for the symposium began when Aktipis and Hechter started talking about how if you look at how lots of different social organizations work — everything from groups of humans to groups of cells interacting — there are some principles and ideas that apply across all these systems.

“All of these systems have in common that social interactions are happening among the individuals that make them up,” Aktipis said. “We tend to think of social interactions as something that humans do, but it’s actually something that happens across lots of different scales of life. … Cells also have social interaction. They send signals, they respond to signals, they change their behavior and what they’re expressing based on inputs from each other. So sociality is everywhere.”

And so is cheating and the risk of being exploited. That tension exists across all systems, whether human, cell or animal.

“So the idea for the symposium was to see if we could learn about how cheating is limited by looking across lots of systems,” Aktipis said.

Assistant professor Joe Blattman
ASU School of Life Sciences assistant professor Joe Blattman explains his quantitative analysis of viruses and their roles as cheaters or parasites at the ASU Cooperation and Conflict Symposium on Thursday. Twenty speakers from the U.S. and Europe spoke to around 50 people and a live-streaming audience about solving the problem of cheating in large-scale cooperative systems. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Speakers came from across a wide array of disciplines, including a psychologist, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, immunologists, an archaeologist and an emergency medical doctor.

“We’re all over the map in terms of disciplines, but we’re all focusing on the same problem, which is how to get large-scale cooperation to be viable across multiple systems and how to limit cheating,” Aktipis said.

Are there general principles underlying cooperation?

When you go from small-scale cooperation to large-scale cooperation, cheating increases.

Vampire bats, social insects and people living pastoral lifestyles all share in times of need.

“It doesn’t always work perfectly,” Aktipis said. Cancer, for example, is multicellular cheating; it avoids cell death, monopolizes resources and shrinks the labor pool.

“What this means is you need cheater-detection systems in cellular societies,” she said.

Multicellular bodies detect cheating with an alarm system. At the cellular level, it monitors things like DNA damage. Neighborhood monitoring tracks cell adhesion and architecture. System-wide surveillance eyeballs regions with abnormal proliferation, resource use and waste production.

“As we look at one system and compare it to another … what are the general principles?” Aktipis asked.

Lee Cronk, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University, discussed coordination strategies. Walking up and down a sidewalk without bumping into anyone is a coordination strategy.

Two things interfere with cooperation, according to Cronk: free riders and problems where no one can benefit from cheating. The classic example of the latter is the prisoner’s dilemma, a game that shows why two completely "rational" individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. 

“If you can find a way to get both parties to understand,” that is the best coordination strategy, Cronk said. Coordination can happen on large scales, he said. He cited international trade as an example. “It’s happening on a planet-wide scale,” he said.

But does it eliminate cheating? No. Swindlers, gamblers and others will always cheat.

Oliver Scott Curry, an anthropologist from Oxford, discussed “Bastards, Deviants, Rebels and Scumbags: Other types of cooperation and defection.”

“The main point I want to make this morning is that there are many different types of cooperation,” Scott Curry said. “There are also many types of bad guys.”

The good news is humans are adept at detecting bastards and deviants. These are ancient problems, not new problems. One way to solve cheating is by conditional cooperation, colloquially known as “tit for tat.”

“Life is full of these types of problems,” Scott Curry said.

Regardless of field, the same fundamental problems arise that could benefit from interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Things like cells interacting are going to have different mechanisms compared to how humans interact,” Aktipis said. “But some of the fundamental interactions can be parallel, which means there’s an opportunity to learn from each other, to gain insight into the work each of us is doing. When we start getting synergies in terms of understating the fundamental architecture of how these systems work, each discipline is much more empowered to make an impact because they’re leveraging the strengths from other disciplines as well.”

Written by Emma Greguska and Scott Seckel/ASU Now

 

Top photo: University of Maryland biology professor Gerald Wilkinson asks a question to ASU's Joe Blattman following his talk about viruses and their roles as cheaters or parasites, at the ASU Cooperation and Conflict Symposium on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now