March 30, 2011
Mechanical engineering Associate Professor Stefano Curtarolo has been elected to Fellow of the Institute of Physics in recognition of his personal contribution to the advancement of physics as a discipline and a profession.
Curtarolo, who joined the Duke faculty in 2003, is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Sciences and in the Department of Physics.
As a researcher, Curtarolo uses supercomputers to search for and test novel combinations of elements for specific purposes, or to better understand existing materials. He searches for such materials as novel thermoelectrics for energy harvesting and conversion, ceramic materials for nuclear detection, metallic nanoparticles for growing nanotubes and fuel cell alloys for energy conversion.
Specifically, he searches for these combinations at the nano (billionth of a meter) scale, where the larger-scale laws of physics don’t always apply. Because he works in such small systems, supercomputers are employed to calculate all the possible combinations of materials and their properties. For example, he used the supercomputer at the National Science Foundation-sponsored Texas Advanced Center at the University of Texas to discover thermodynamic instabilities in iron nano-catalysts governing the minimum size of nanotubes that can be grown.
Curtarolo also is involved in improving access to research for students with disabilities and from under-represented minorities.
In addition to the ONR awards, Curtarolo received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation in 2007.
In 2008, He was named a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The award, the highest honor given to young scientists by the federal government, also carried $1 million in research support over five years. Many federal agencies participate in the PECASE program; Curtarolo was recommended by the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), which had granted him a Young Investigator Award in 2007.
For the PECASE award, the Office of Naval Research cited Curtarolo’s research and his mentoring of minority graduate students.
After receiving his undergraduate training at the University of Padova, Italy, Curtarolo earned an M.S. degree in condensed matter physics from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in materials science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003.