Dario Amodei, Vincent Holmberg, Daniel Slichter Winners of 2012 Thesis Prize

November 15, 2012

Livermore, CA—November 15, 2012—The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation announces the 2012 Thesis Prize, given to a Hertz Fellow for the most outstanding doctoral dissertation. The Thesis Prize includes an honorarium of $5000 for each winner, and up to $1000 to acknowledge the graduate and undergraduate advisors and mentors designated by the Fellows as playing a significant role in their careers.

Each year, new graduates submit dissertations completed during the previous academic year. These are examined by the Thesis Prize Committee and judged for their overall excellence and their potential impact as applications in the real world. The Hertz Foundation Board of Directors has selected three winners from the field of 2011-2012 graduates receiving their PhDs. Winners, their advisors and mentors, and summaries of their theses include:

Dario Amodei, PhD, Princeton University—Thesis Title:  Network-Scale Electrophysiology: Measuring and Understanding the Collective Behavior of Neural Circuits – Advisor: Professor William Bialek; Undergraduate Mentor:  Professor Thomas A. Tombrello—Thesis Summary: Amodei developed novel and generally applicable methods of recording and if desired, driving the electrical behavior of almost every neuron in a small patch of tissue. Specifically, he studied the network dynamics of the 200+ cells in a 0.5 x 0.5 mm patch of retinal tissue. He developed new computational models that capture the observed network dynamics better than previously used models. These models showed strong evidence for the occurrence of critical phenomena in the neural networks – a key, longstanding but unproven theoretical prediction in the field. Amodei has strong entrepreneurial tendencies and was involved with startup, Applied Proteomics. He hopes to start his own company within the next few years.

Vincent Holmberg, University of Texas, Austin—Thesis Title:  Semiconductor Nanowires: From a Nanoscale System to a Macroscopic Material—Advisor: Professor Brian A. Korgel; Graduate Mentors: Professors, John G. Ekerdt and C. Buddie Mullins—Thesis Summary: Holmberg pioneered methods of synthesizing silicon and germanium semiconductor nanowires in bulk quantities, exploring their many, potentially important applications. Vincent is first author of a 2009 paper in Science describing some of the methods and applications. His nanowires were found to have strength-to-weight ratios exceeding Kevlar and carbon fibers. His method of synthesizing them has the potential scaling to produce kilogram quantities. He is published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, “Optical Properties of Silicon and Germanium Nanowire Fabric,” (Vincent C. Holmberg, Timothy D. Bogart, Aaron M. Chockla, Colin M. Hessel, Brian A. Korgel, J. Phys. Chem. C 2012, 116, 22486−22491, October 1, 2012)

Daniel Slichter, University of California, Berkeley—Thesis Title:  Quantum Jumps and Measurement Backaction in a Superconducting Qubit—Advisor:  Professor Irfan Siddiqi; Graduate Mentor: Dr. Rajamani Vijayaraghavan—Thesis Summary:  Slichter describes a method for the real time monitoring of quantum states, accomplished by coupling a superconducting artificial atom to a microwave cavity. This system was used to demonstrate the first high-fidelity readout of a qubit in a solid state system, including the direct observation of quantum jumps between qubit states in quantum error correction—which is badly needed if large-scale quantum computers are to become a reality. This important work was done in close collaboration with postdoc, R. Vijay, and is the subject of a recent Physical Review Letter on which they are co-authors: “Observation of Quantum Jumps in a Superconducting Artificial Atom.” (R. Vijay, D. H. Slichter, and I. Siddiqi, Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 110502 ­ Published 14 March 2011)

“These young people are representative of the extraordinary community of the Hertz Fellows,” stated Dr. Jay Davis. “It’s a privilege to witness the exceptional creativity and brilliance of these applied scientists and engineers. Our nation benefits immensely from their innovation, drive and talent.”