Sandia LabNews

Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers honors atomic physicist


PROLIFIC PHYSICIST — Yuan-Yu Jau received a 2020 Professional Achievement for his work, which includes more than 40 influential, peer-reviewed papers and his book “Optically Pumped Atoms.” (Photo courtesy of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers)

Atomic physicist Yuan-Yu Jau has been honored by the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers with a 2020 Professional Achievement Award.

“Yuan-Yu is a daily advocate of science, and specifically atomic physics, in service to his community and to the United States,” said Labs Director James Peery, who nominated Yuan-Yu for the award.

His publishing record includes more than 40 high-impact, peer-reviewed papers primarily in American Physical Society journals, including American Institute of Physics, Optical Society of America and Nature portfolio. He co-authored the foundational book “Optically Pumped Atoms,” and his published work has been cited more than 2,000 times.

He received a bachelor’s degree in physics from National Taiwan University in Taiwan and a doctorate in physics from Princeton University. He credits his Princeton advisors with the broad background and experience he’s able to contribute to his work.

“Usually, researchers are either an experimentalist or a theorist. But you need both in order to get into the real-world state that brings in engineering. My advisors at Princeton trained me to do both. And, at Sandia, I can conduct both sophisticated experiments and complex modeling work for physics systems associated with atoms and photons,” Yuan-Yu said.

His recent work on electric field mapping with a record-breaking measurement represents the first demonstration of using neutrons to image and sense an electric field inside a metal box, an idea of great relevance for the nuclear deterrence community. Currently, he is working on advancing this novel neutron imaging technology for field-deployable applications. He is also leading two new projects: one to enhance the neutral-atom quantum entangling method he invented and first demonstrated in 2014, and another project to further improve highly sensitive, quasi-direct current, atomic electric-field sensing technology based on vapor cells that he achieved in 2019 for the first time in the world.

Yuan-Yu has been at Sandia since 2009 and was originally one of only a handful of foreign national interim technical staff. As a foreign national, he sometimes had to prepare research materials for other staff to present on his research, rather than being able to directly present. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2019.

“Becoming a citizen allowed me to be the spokesperson for my own research and opened up more research opportunities for me,” Yuan-Yu said.

Coming to Sandia’s New Mexico site from the east coast was also a bit of a climate surprise.

“The climate and the air are so different here. I originally had to drink what felt like gallons of water every day. I went to the supermarket for those big things of water every week,” Yuan-Yu said.

In addition to his contributions to the world of academics, Yuan-Yu strives to preserve his cultural heritage by supporting activities through the New Mexico Taiwanese/Chinese Association and passing down appreciation of the Chinese language to his children so that they can be bilingual. He also continues to mentor doctoral students, postdoctoral researchers and technologists at the Labs.

“Yuan-Yu is the most innovative scientist I have ever known — Sandia is lucky to have him working here. He is a wonderful educator,” said Yuan-Yu’s manager Shanalyn Kemme.

The Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers award supports the advancement of Asian heritage scientists and engineers in education and employment so that they can achieve their full career potential. In addition to professional development, the society also encourages members to contribute to the enhancement of the communities in which they live.

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