Ayman Abouraddy, a professor in UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics, has been awarded the U.S. Department of Defense’s Newton Award for Transformative Ideas during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“The idea of this new award invokes a comparison to a not too dissimilar situation from ours today that arose in England in 1665,” Abouraddy says. “A plague spread in England that led all universities to shut down and send their students home. One of these students was the young Isaac Newton, who made use of the down time to further his research.”

The DOD award, named in honor of Sir Isaac Newton’s achievements in mathematics, optics and gravitation during the Great Plague of London in 1665, sought “transformative ideas” to resolve challenges, advance frontiers, and set new paradigms in research of immense potential benefit to the DOD and the nation at large during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abouraddy’s research will focus on his revolutionary work on spacetime particle wave packets, a new class of matter in motion.

The proposed project is an extension of the work recently done at CREOL on a class of laser beams that has unique properties not shared by common laser beams. For instance, spacetime laser wave packets can be made to travel at controllable ‘group’ velocities, which is the speed of the peak of the pulse, and they follow different rules when they refract, that is when they pass through different materials.

Abouraddy plans on applying these new insights to matter rather than to light waves. Since elementary particles, such as electrons, are also ‘wave’ phenomena from the perspective of quantum mechanics, these specks of matter can be made to travel in ways that were unanticipated by Newton in his classic formulation of the laws of motion, he says.

“I thought the idea I proposed was too adventurous,” Abouraddy says. “But now seeing the other awardees from some of the top universities in the nation, it turns out that my idea was in the same class of transformative proposals that push boundaries at the cutting edge of research.”

“It’s a true honor to be among only 13 awardees across all the scientific disciplines whose research was considered important in setting new paradigms for the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“It’s a true honor to be among only 13 awardees across all the scientific disciplines whose research was considered important in setting new paradigms for the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he says.

The award challenged researchers to propose novel conceptual frameworks or theory-based approaches that used analytical reasoning, calculations, simulations and thought experiments. The competition was open to affiliated researchers from degree-issuing institutions of higher education accredited in, and having a campus located in the U.S., its territories and possessions, as well as researchers from University Affiliated Research Centers.

DOD received 548 proposals for the Newton Award. The proposals came from 184 institutions spread across 41 states and the District of Columbia. Proposals spanned topic areas ranging from applied mathematics and quantum physics to the social sciences and disease ecology and were reviewed by subject-matter experts in the DOD, other U.S. government agencies and the academic community.

Besides UCF, the selected projects will be led by researchers at Brown University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stanford University; Syracuse University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; University of Michigan; and University of New Mexico.

Each project will receive $50,000 over a six-month period of performance, and Newton Award recipients will brief the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering leadership at the end of the award period of performance.

Abouraddy received his doctorate in electrical engineering from Boston University and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined UCF in 2008.