A world-record-holding University of Central Florida physicist has earned more than $9 million in federal grants to research developing faster computers and more efficient solar energy.

Zenghu Chang from the College of Sciences and the College of Optics & Photonics is the only researcher in Florida to receive a Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative Award this year.     

Chang is the lead researcher on one project and is a co-investigator on another project. UCF, Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley, are among universities that received multiple awards.  

Chang’s lab holds the world record for the shortest laser pulse ever created at 67 billionths of a billionth of a second.  His lead research project will work to make pulses up to six times faster than his current world record.

Called attosecond lasers, research in this field can be used to study electrons and other molecules that researchers were previously unable to measure. The research will help scientists better understand the movements of electrons, eventually leading to faster computers and electronic devices. 

This project is funded for $7.5 million over five years.

“With this grant, we will be able to take attosecond science to the next level and see things that have never been seen before,” Chang said.

Chang’s second project, led by the University of California, Berkeley, will help scientists understand the first step of many chemical processes. Through understanding chemical reactions — such as those that convert absorbed sunlight into electrical power — the research could lead to more efficient solar energy.  

Chang’s UCF team will receive $1.6 million over five years for that project.

The Army Research Office, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research provided $167 million to researchers across the country. Spread over five years, the 24 awards came from an initial pool of 661 submissions and will research areas important to the Department of Defense and the military.