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2019 Advancement of Basic and Applied Science Award – Daniel E. Prober

Daniel E. Prober, Ph.D.
Professor of Applied Physics, Physics & Electrical Engineering
Director of Undergraduate Studies Yale Director of Yale-Weizmann Institute Research Collaboration

Daniel Prober earned his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1975. Subsequently, he joined Yale’s Engineering and Applied Science faculty and also became a member of the newly created Department of Applied Physics. In the decades since then, he has made pioneering contributions to the fields of nanosystems, quantum electron transport, and lower dimensional systems of atomic scale.

His work on the properties of nanowires and nanobridges was stimulated by the possibility of new superconducting detectors and by the novel prediction of electron localization and quantum interference. These experiments required wires as narrow as 50 atoms, much narrower than could be produced with the existing technologies at Yale. Dan invented a novel solution to this challenge. Resulting studies led to confirmation of the new localization theory for one-dimensional metal systems and paved the way for many future nanoscale experiments.

Dan’s group developed electron-beam writing with a microscope which enabled new quantum transport structures, especially in metal wires and rings. The electron interference effects proven in the rings were a breakthrough in visualizing the fundamental electron interference in diffusive metals, as compared to that of electrons in vacuum. His work on nanosystems included studies of superconducting hot-electron bolometers (HEBs) as heterodyne mixers and as direct detectors, including the invention of the diffusion-cooled HEB. His work in collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory provided detailed characterization of HEB performance. Dan also worked extensively on the development of superconducting tunnel junction (STJ) detectors. In collaboration with Paul Richard’s group at Berkeley, he developed the most sensitive STJ mixers to date, demonstrating a sensitivity within 25% of the quantum limit for a single-sideband mixer at 95 GHz.

Both STJ and HEB mixers have found important applications in far-IR astronomy, such as the HIFI instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory, launched in 2009. The superconducting mixer technologies that Dan played a key role in developing remain the most sensitive in the far-IR and continue to drive advancements in the field of terahertz astronomy.

Throughout his career, Dan has been a pioneer in the field of noise in mesoscopic systems, improving our understanding of the sensitivity limits of STJ direct detectors and producing the first measurements of photon-assisted shot noise and shot noise in an Andreev interferometer configuration. His interest in performing extremely high-sensitivity measurements of charge dynamics led to the co-development of the radio-frequency single electron transistor (RF-SET) in 1998. The RF-SET and its variants have found important applications in applied superconductivity ranging from sensing to quantum computing.

Dan has supervised 34 Ph.D. students and 19 postdoctoral researchers, many of whom have gone on to their own distinguished careers, and he has received accolades from IBM, NASA, and IEEE, including the 2018 IEEE Award for Continuing and Significant Contributions in the Field of Applied Superconductivity. For these reasons and more, we are proud to honor Daniel Prober as the 2019 recipient of the YSEA Award for Advancement of Basic & Applied Science.