Mark Lundstrom and his work on the frontiers of nanotechnology

Author: Kathy Mayer
Fifteen years ago, when Mark Lundstrom needed something to keep a graduate student busy for a semester, he set up a project on what is now known as cyberinfrastructure. That short-term endeavor soon sparked a revolution and evolution.

It led to the Purdue University Networking Computing Hubs (PUNCH), then the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN), founded in 2002 and headed until May 2009 by Lundstrom, the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Dedicated to accelerating nanoscience’s evolution to nanotechnology, NCN and its five partner universities landed a five-year, $10.6 million grant in 2002, and, in 2007, a five-year, $18.25 million grant, both from the National Science Foundation to support the U.S. nanotechnology initiative.

The latest evolution, which is part of NCN, is nanoHUB.org, a free, Internet-based information, education, collaboration, and simulation resource that combines Purdue clusters, the Open Science Grid, and the high-speed fiber optic Teragrid network. The site now serves more than 90,000 people annually, 60 percent of whom are outside the United States.

Quick to share credit for the growth of what was once a graduate project, Lundstrom says, “You never know what these bright students will do. I’m proud to have had a role in seeing this develop, but others are the experts.”

Such generosity of spirit is Lundstrom’s style, says colleague Supriyo Datta, the Thomas Duncan Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “He focuses on the collective good rather than on personal gain. It’s his leadership that has been instrumental in putting Purdue at the forefront internationally in computational nanotechnology.”

Lundstrom is eager to help students, Datta says. “He listens carefully and has constructive suggestions.”

NanoHUB is just one area where Lundstrom has had a global economic impact. His most significant contributions to electronics are in two other areas.

First is development of a conceptual nanoscale model for metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFET), and making the non-equilibrium Green’s Function (NEGF) approach to quantum mechanical electron transport at the atomistic scale a practical tool for advanced research and development.

The second is spearheading efforts to bring understanding in electronic device research on nanoscale and molecular-scale electronics to education and engineers in industry.

As a child growing up in Alexandria, Minnesota—as close as you can get to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon—Lundstrom enjoyed summers of baseball and swimming. He recalls “puttering around with model rockets, astronomy, ham radio, and taking things apart.”

“I chose good parents and grew up in a supportive environment,” he says. “Mom told me the sky was the limit. Dad felt that way, too. He also taught me: ‘Never feel sorry for yourself’ and ‘Every time a door closes, another opens.’ My parents and grandparents lived through the Great Depression, but they taught me that this is a wonderful country full of opportunities.”

Lundstrom’s early interests were science and radios. “Science didn’t seem like a practical way to make a living. Engineering did, so I picked it even though I did not know a single engineer.” Originally planning to design radios, “I found physics interesting, so I gravitated toward the more science-based aspects of engineering.”

He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1973 and master’s in 1974, both in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, and then worked at Hewlett Packard on integrated circuit process development and manufacturing. He came to Purdue for his doctorate, earned in 1980, joining the faculty that year. At Purdue, he has also directed the Optoelectronics Research Center, which was funded by the Indiana Corporation for Science and Technology, and served as assistant dean of engineering.

Lundstrom’s research and teaching have centered on the physics, technology, and simulation of electronic devices, using theory, modeling, and computer simulation to understand the physics and limits of electronic devices and to explore new devices and establish their potential.

He reports that he is changing his research direction. “I did my PhD on solar cells, but then oil came down in price, so I went on to different things. Now, I’m looking to electronic technologies for energy conversion, storage, and conservation,” he says. He currently works with 12 graduate students.

A fellow in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IIIE), American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Lundstrom has won numerous awards, including the 2008 Faculty Award of Excellence team award for nanoHUB. In 2005, he received the University Researcher Award from the Semiconductor Industry Association, and in 2002 he and Datta received IEEE’s Cledo Burnetti Award for work on nanoscale electronics.

For relaxation, Lundstrom and his wife, Mary, parents of two grown sons, enjoy concerts, plays, and museum visits in Chicago; traveling to homes designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright; and international trips—to China, Canada, and, next year, to Italy. Both husband and wife are Abraham Lincoln buffs, so they also like to visit Lincoln and Civil War sites.