URBANA – A University of Illinois professor will be visiting the White House after winning a presidential prize as a young researcher.
Electrical engineering Professor Eric Pop, who works in nanotechnology, computer memory and recycling waste energy to get more oomph from batteries, was named one of 85 researchers to earn Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.
It's the highest honor bestowed by the United States on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers, according to the White House.
In January, the researchers are scheduled to be honored by President Obama in Washington.
Pop just celebrated his 35th birthday, which was also marked by the award.
"I'm still relatively young for a professor, but the students are starting to view me with suspicion as being 10 or 15 years older than they are," he joked Tuesday.
In 2007, Pop joined the electrical and computer engineering faculty.
He is also a member of the nanoelectronics and nanomaterials group at the Beckman Institute.
The professor studies "nanoscale energy transport, low-power carbon nanotube and graphene devices and novel non-volatile memory," generally working to create very small circuits and devices.
Pop said one of his biggest interests in using waste heat from devices and turning at least some of it back into usable electrical energy. That could result in much smaller or more powerful devices, depending on the user's needs.
"I know of no fundamental law of physics that says I couldn't design an iPod that recharges every six months" instead every two or three days, Pop said.
Such an innovation could reduce some of the 25 pounds of batteries a U.S. soldier carries in the battlefield, which is why the Department of Defense forwarded his name on to the White House for the award. Another 14 awardees were vetted through the Defense Department, Pop said.
The researcher has diverse interests. Before coming to Illinois, he worked for more than a year at Intel on "phase-change memory and high-k dielectrics for Flash" memory.
He also did post-doctoral work at Stanford on the electrical and thermal properties of carbon nanotubes.
Pop earned his doctorate from Stanford in 2005 and has two other degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Science and technology have long been at the core of America's economic strength and global leadership," Obama said in a press release. "I am confident that these individuals, who have shown such tremendous promise so early in their careers, will go on to make breakthroughs and discoveries that will continue to move our nation forward in the years ahead."
The awards were created by President Clinton in 1996 and are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office.
Pop has also been a recipient of several other wards, including the Young Investigator Award (2010), the National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2010), the Arnold O. Beckman Research Award (2007) and serves as the faculty adviser for an electrical and computer engineering fraternity at the UI.