Two Pitt Researchers to Get $2.7 Million For Department of Defense Work

Issue Date: 
April 7, 2008

High-density electronics of the future and more effective diplomacy are among the possible outcomes of a combined $2.7 million that two University of Pittsburgh researchers will receive as part of collaborative projects for the U.S. Department of Defense. The Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program—which supports basic research of interest to the defense department—will devote $200 million over the next five years to 34 multi-institutional projects, three of which involve Pitt.

Pitt professor Jeremy Levy in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the School of Arts and Sciences was awarded $1.1 million as part of a five-year, $6.5 million project to investigate future applications of electron spin, which may allow for faster and less power-consuming information technology. Michael Lewis, a professor in the School of Information Sciences, will receive a total of nearly $1.5 million for two MURI projects totaling $13.75 million: One will evaluate the feasibility of a decentralized military communication system; another is meant to help military negotiators better cooperate with people of different cultures.

Levy will collaborate with researchers from four other universities to apply electron spin to organic semiconductors and other materials in an attempt to create devices that can store and transfer information with more density but by using less power. Electron spin—the interaction between spinning electrons and magnetic materials—is used in today’s computer hard drives and allows highly sensitive sensors to probe the drive’s minute magnetic domains. As a result, hard drives are smaller and maintain higher information density.

Levy and his colleagues want to extend these spin-based electronic effects in new ways and with new materials. Levy will use state-of-the-art optical and scanning probe techniques to investigate the properties of materials fabricated by his colleagues at the University of Iowa, the University of California at Berkeley, and New York University. Theoretical support will come from researchers at Iowa and the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Lewis will receive almost $600,000 from MURI to create methods for observing how cultural differences influence negotiation. Lewis specializes in human interaction with and through computers and machines, including virtual environments, human error, negotiation, and e-commerce. His work for MURI is part of a $6.25 million project to understand the dynamics of cooperation and negotiation—and the factors that lead to success or disaster. He will work with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Michigan, Georgetown University, and the University of Southern California.

Lewis also will receive nearly $1 million as part of a $7.5 million project involving researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, and George Mason University to study the benefits and pitfalls of a decentralized military information network.

The competitive MURI program received 104 proposals in 18 topics. The selected projects include 64 universities, which will receive a total of $19.7 million in fiscal year 2008.