Inside Rensselaer
* Shengbai Zhang
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Shengbai Zhang Named Kodosky Constellation Chair
Shengbai Zhang, a quantum physicist renowned for his computational modeling and research in semiconductor defects, has been named senior chair of Rensselaer’s Gail and Jeffrey L. Kodosky ’70 Constellation in Physics, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship.

Zhang joined the Institute on Jan. 1, 2008.

The first to hold the constellation position, Zhang also is a professor in the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy.

His research goal is to use quantum-mechanical computations to discover solutions to some of today’s most pressing challenges in technology, security, sustainable energy, and the environment. Zhang comes to Rensselaer from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), where much of his recent research focused on breaking technology barriers to alternative sources of energy, including hydrogen. He also has conducted extensive research in nanophysics, doping physics, surface physics, interface physics, high-pressure physics, and many-body physics.

“There is tremendous demand — at Rensselaer and at other world-class research institutions — for individuals with Dr. Zhang’s credentials and expertise in computational physics, especially in the electronic structure of energy materials,” said Gwo-Ching Wang, professor and head of physics. “As Kodosky Constellation chair, Dr. Zhang will provide traction for our research efforts. He will bring together talented faculty and help us attract additional outstanding scientists, enhancing our reputation and our ability to secure research funding and educate students.”

Constellations are multidisciplinary teams of senior faculty, junior faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. Each constellation includes three or more stars in a particular research area. Each is designed to help Rensselaer attract and retain exceptional researchers and achieve global impact.

According to Zhang, the opportunity to head and help shape the Kodosky Constellation played a key role in his decision to come to Rensselaer. Endowed by Gail Theilmann Kodosky and Institute Trustee Jeffrey Kodosky ’70, the Kodosky Constellation will focus on energy conversion, future electronics, nano sciences, and a broad range of other cutting-edge areas of inquiry, including cyber-based physics and science discovery.

“I see a dynamic change at Rensselaer, a commitment to make tomorrow brighter than today,” Zhang said. He pointed to considerable investments in facilities and technology, especially the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations.

“Rensselaer has the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputer so, in computational physics, we’re working in cyberspace in a way that was not possible before,” Zhang said. “We have the ability to test aspects of natural law that, until now, have not been observable.

“This is where I anticipate some of our most exciting discoveries,” he said. “For the first time, we will be able to apply these natural laws to technology and to affect the real world — to meet national needs for alternative energy and to provide solutions to other urgent concerns.”

The Kodosky Constellation will focus on energy conversion, future electronics,
nano sciences, and a broad range of other cutting-edge areas of inquiry,
including cyber-based physics and science discovery.

Zhang is excited at the prospect of building the constellation team, working with colleagues who are skilled in statistical physics, and collaborating with nationally respected researchers in related fields.

After 16 years in a research laboratory, he also welcomes the opportunity to return to the university setting and to the classroom.

Zhang enjoyed his work at NREL and is gratified by his accomplishments there. But he also missed the interaction with students, their energy and enthusiasm, and the sense of mastery that teaching provides — for student and professor alike. “When you explain things to others,” he said, “very often you clarify them for yourself as well.”

Zhang earned his bachelor’s degree from Jilin University in China and his master’s and doctorate in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. A fellow of the American Physical Society, he is author and co-author of 192 peer-reviewed papers and research articles and has presented at numerous conferences. He is a symposium organizer for the Materials Research Society Spring Meeting in 2008, and the elected chair for the Gordon Research Conference: Defects in Semiconductors 2010. While at NREL, he received the Chunky Bullet Award from the U.S. Department of Energy/Basic Energy Sciences, the Outstanding Performance Award, and the Director’s Award.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 2, January 31, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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