2018 Simon Prize Winner: Zhaoyi Li

Dr. Zhaoyi Li, a former Solid State Physics student in Prof. Nanfang Yu's group, is the recipient of this year's Robert Simon Memorial Prize in recognition of his outstanding dissertation.

Dissertation: Functional Metasurfaces towards Applications: Optical Modulation, Integrated Photonics, and Biomolecular Sensing

Dr. Li received his B.S. in Materials Physics from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 2011. After graduation, he joined the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia University and received his M.S. Degree in Materials Science in May 2012. In 2013, he joined Professor Nanfang Yu’s group, where his research focused on exploring the physics and applications of two-dimensional metamaterials, called “metasurfaces”.

Zhaoyi received his Ph.D. degree in 2017 and his dissertation was entitled “Functional Metasurfaces towards Applications: Optical Modulation, Integrated Photonics, and Biomolecular Sensing”. He explored strongly correlated perovskites as a new platform for active photonic devices, and demonstrated large, non-volatile and electrical modulation of light over an unprecedented broadband spectrum from the visible to the mid-infrared. He conducted original studies on using metasurfaces to control guided waves, and demonstrated a few novel device functionalities including waveguide mode conversion, on-chip polarization rotation, and highly asymmetric power flow in waveguides. Such metasurface-based devices have substantially reduced footprints and broadband performance compared to conventional photonic integrated devices. He also developed new biosensing platforms by integrating graphene into metasurfaces, realizing, for the first time, simultaneous high-sensitivity and high-specificity detection of protein biomolecules, and breaking the record for high-sensitivity detection of blood sugar.

Working together with colleagues and collaborators, he published four first author papers in journals including Nature Nanotechnology, Advanced Materials, and Nature Communications. He is currently working on metasurface lenses as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard.

History of the Prize

The Robert Simon Memorial Prize is awarded annually by the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics to the graduate student who has completed the most outstanding dissertation. Should no graduate student’s dissertation qualify in any given year, the prize may be awarded to either the most outstanding student who has completed a master of science degree in the Department or to the most outstanding graduating senior in the Department. The Department chair in consultation with the Department faculty selects the awardee.

Robert Simon (December 25, 1919–February 11, 2001) received a B.A. degree cum laude in classics from the City College of New York in 1941, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and an M.A. in mathematics from Columbia University in 1949. Between 1941 and 1944, Mr. Simon was a lieutenant in the United States Armed Forces serving in England, France, and Italy. He participated in the D-Day operation as a navigator for a plane that dropped paratroopers in the vicinity of Omaha Beach. General Dwight Eisenhower personally shook his hand and wished him well the night before the D-Day assault.

Mr. Simon, who was born and lived in New York City, spent a lifetime making valuable contributions to the field of computer science. Starting in 1953, he worked for 15 years at Sperry's Univac Division in various capacities including marketing, planning, systems engineering, systems programming, and information services. He also spent a year working at the Fairchild Engine Division as director of the Engineering Computer Group. He personally directed the establishment of several company computer centers at sites throughout the United States. Between 1969 and 1973, he was a partner with American Science Associates, a venture capital firm. Mr. Simon was a founder and vice president of Intech Capital Corporation and served on its board from 1972 to 1981 and a founder and member of the board of Leasing Technologies International, Inc. from 1983 until his retirement in 1995.

The prize was established in 2001 by Dr. Jane Faggen with additional support from friends and relatives of Mr. Simon.

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