Zhu named to the US Air Force Young Investigator Program

Rice engineer receives $450,000 for research on quantum, explosive materials.

Hanyu Zhu headshot

Hanyu Zhu, William Marsh Rice Chair and assistant professor of materials science and nanoengineering (MSNE), is one of 48 scientists and engineers in the U.S. named to the 2024 Young Investigator Program of the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Zhu will receive a $450,000 grant for his proposal “Probing and Controlling the Quantum Fluctuation and Coherence of Light and Vibrational Energy Transfer in Energetic Materials”

“In materials that store high chemical energy, the stability is always a concern,” Zhu said. “If a chemical bond is accidentally broken, we would like the energy to go away as fast as possible to prevent explosion. We want to study how energy flows between chemical bonds, and whether the quantum effect plays a role in the process.”

In his Emerging Quantum and Ultrafast Materials Laboratory (EQUAL) at Rice, Zhu will use vibrational spectroscopy (a method for identifying compounds based on the vibrations of their bonds) and vibrational polaritons (quasiparticles formed by strong coupling between molecules and photons). The goal is to reduce in energetic materials the sensitivity of high-performance explosives and propellants.

Zhu is a member of the Rice Quantum Initiative. He earned his Ph.D. in engineering physics/applied physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2016 and, after two years as a postdoctoral researcher, joined the Rice faculty in 2018.

Last year, Zhu received an NSF CAREER Award for his research into quantum materials modified by terahertz quantum fluctuations, and $2.5 million in funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation and Rice to study quantum entanglement among particles in solid materials.