search articles: 

   from the issue of March 13, 2008

  Physicist to use funds to advance research project

Enders collects $400K NSF award


A physicist who joined UNL less than a year ago has landed one of the most prestigious awards available for faculty early in their careers.

CAREER AWARD - UNL physicist Axel Enders received a $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation to...
CAREER AWARD - UNL physicist Axel Enders received a $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation to study advanced magnetic nanostructures.

Axel Enders recently received a five-year, $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation. CAREER awards are given to outstanding pre-tenure faculty to help them develop as outstanding researchers and teacher-scholars.

"I'm still in the process of realizing what a big deal this is," Enders said.

He will use his award to study advanced magnetic nanostructures, which could be used in computer hard drives and other high-density data storage devices. By better understanding the functional properties of magnetic elements, engineers could make recording media that hold 10 to 100 times more data than current technologies, Enders said.

As part of the grant's educational component, Enders will organize a conference for undergraduate women in physics and coordinate activities to encourage networking for women physics students nationwide. The long-term goal is to recruit and retain more women students, improve their opportunities for success and boost the number of women studying physics at UNL.

This is the sixth time in the past decade that a faculty member from UNL's Department of Physics and Astronomy has won a CAREER award.

Enders' research area is so new that nobody makes equipment for it - so he's building his own. To continue improving storage capacity, scientists must better understand the electronic and magnetic properties of nanostructures at the atomic level.

The key is to prepare material samples in an ultra-high vacuum chamber that Enders describes as "a space station in reverse." Unlike the environment created for astronauts, Enders' low-pressure chamber excludes all oxygen, which would create a chemical reaction that changes the nanostructure's properties. In a second chamber that he devised, a low-temperature microscope scans over the surface of the nanostructure and makes the atoms visible.

Daniel Claes, chair of Physics and Astronomy, said this dual-chambered instrument is generating substantial interest among researchers in the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience at UNL. The multidisciplinary center involves more than 75 faculty members from UNL and other University of Nebraska campuses.

Building these unique instruments would be extremely challenging for most researchers. Enders has a leg up on this task because he is a physicist and a machinist. Born and raised in Germany, he spent three years attending a trade school as an apprentice while he also studied for his university qualification exams.

"Becoming a physicist was always my dream," he said. "But I thought it (trade school) was useful. I knew if physics didn't work out, I could always go back to the company and work."

Luckily for UNL, Enders fulfilled his dream. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany. Most recently, he was a staff scientist with the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics at his alma mater.

In August 2007, Enders moved with his wife, Susan, and their infant daughter, Kimberly, from Germany to Lincoln. Susan Enders is a research assistant professor in the Engineering Mechanics.

"I'm really excited to be here," he said. "The university is a great place and the physics department has a great reputation. That's the main reason why I decided to come here."



Museum lands 'The Great Quilt' donation
Calligraphy Workshop - March 6 Japan Festival
Enders collects $400K NSF award
Firefly to replace ESS on April 14
Study tracks cost of sowing switchgrass for ethanol
Extension program helps train better guardians
Phishing scams target UNL e-mail account