Three research agencies – the National Science Foundation, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and the Army Research Office – have awarded Boston College Assistant Professor of Physics Ilija Zeljkovic early-career grants totaling approximately $1.5 million for his research into superconductors and another unique class of materials known as topological insulators.

BC physicist Ilija Zeljkovic
BC physicist Ilija Zeljkovic (Lee Pellegrini)

The five-year, $650,000 CAREER award from the NSF will support Zeljkovic’s project “Nanoscale Synthesis and Imaging of Novel Topological Phases.” This project combines two advanced atomic-scale techniques to create and characterize new topological materials.

The project aims to fundamentally advance the understanding of topological materials, as well as to craft new materials for their eventual use in technology, such as in spintronics and quantum computing.

The education goals of this project utilize Zeljkovic's expertise in materials growth and microscopy imaging, and are targeted to impact a wide range of students, including middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate students.

“I am extremely grateful to the National Science Foundation, DARPA, and the Army Research Office for their support of my lab’s work and to Boston College for providing the necessary internal framework to jumpstart the projects,” said Zeljkovic, who joined the physics faculty in 2015. “During the past two years, my students have worked very hard to set up a unique combination of growth and characterization experimental facilities in my lab, and obtain preliminary data demonstrating the feasibility of the proposed research.

“I have benefitted immensely from the assistance of many of my colleagues here in the department, who provided advice and helped me shape the proposal both in terms of research and outreach activities,” he continued. “I am thankful to my faculty mentor and Department Chairman, Prof. Michael J. Naughton who offered encouragement and provided feedback during this process.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, awarded Zeljkovic a two-year, $500,000 Young Faculty Award for his project "3D Printing of Novel High-Temperature Superconductors."

The research focuses on creating new high-temperature superconductors using molecular beam epitaxy film growth and studying the materials using scanning tunneling microscopy and electrical transport. The award will support the addition of state-of-the-art synthesis and characterization equipment, as well as two graduate students who will work on the project.

“By stacking different two-dimensional materials with distinct properties, our project aims to create new systems with superior superconducting properties that a single bulk material cannot achieve,” Zeljkovic said.

Finally, a three-year, $360,000 Young Investigator Award from the Army Research Office will support the project "Nanoscale Engineering of Superconducting Proximity Effect in Topological Insulator Thin Films."

The project will try to engineer a topological superconductor by creating and optimizing interfaces between topological insulators and “conventional” superconductors.

"We're all very proud of Ilija - he is the first faculty member in BC's history to win three young investigator awards from our federal agencies, and I dare say he's not done yet,” said Naughton, the Evelyn J. and Robert A. Ferris Professor of Physics. “A great addition to this department and University, Ilija is an engaging teacher pursuing research on the fundamental physics of novel materials that is both careful and daring. Tunneling microscopy demands extreme patience and skill, and Ilija is among the best in the world at his craft."

-Ed Hayward / University Communications