Research Professor Zavada Appointed NSF Program Director

Dr. Zavada outside the NSF building in Washington, DC.

Polytechnic Institute of NYU research professor Dr. John Zavada is helping to ensure that the dollars the National Science Foundation (NSF) allocates to optoelectronics research go to the most promising and novel projects headed by the nation’s most capable investigators.

The NSF selected Dr. Zavada to be a program director in the Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems Division of its Engineering Directorate. He began his role in early August 2010 as program director for optoelectonics and will continue to work on his personal research and collaborations with NYU-Poly researchers during his one-to-two-year NSF appointment in Washington, DC.

As program director, Dr. Zavada oversees the review and approval of hundreds of grant proposals for emerging research in electronic and photonic devices and related technologies. Last year, the NSF sponsored optoelectronics research in excess of $5 million in areas of lasers, optical fibers, nanoscale devices, and micro-photonics. This research will lead to improved communications systems, advanced medical procedures, better imaging tools, highly accurate biosensors, and an array of other applications that will contribute to the nation’s technological strength, security, and welfare.

President Truman established the NSF in 1950. Its mission is to sponsor and promote U.S. research and technology. Each year the NSF receives approximately 40,000 proposals in various areas ranging from engineering to basic science and education. Of these, nearly 15,000 are selected for funding. The current budget at NSF is around $7 billion.

At NYU-Poly Dr. Zavada is particularly interested in terahertz sources and applications. His research focuses on the use of wide bandgap semiconductors for the generation of terahertz radiation. Often referred to as “T-rays,” terahertz is a type of radiation that, if harnessed successfully and efficiently — producing terahertz waves on-demand has been a stumbling block for engineers and scientists — could open a world of life-changing applications. Dr. Zavada notes the important example of airport and workplace security. Unlike X-rays, T-rays are non-destructive and can be used to scan packages, luggage, or even people, for chemical weapons or other dangerous materials, without harming the item or person being scanned, or the people in the surrounding area. Dr. Zavada is collaborating with several faculty members and researchers at NYU-Poly to make this vision a reality.

The NSF tapped Dr. Zavada to be a program director because of his extensive knowledge of current and emerging optoelectronics research and his prior experience managing research programs. He was a program manager at the Army Research Office in North Carolina’s Research Triangle and has had two assignments at the Army’s European Research Office in London where he directed R&D optoelectronics programs.

His personal research has been on the optical properties of semiconductors, ion implantation, and novel devices based on rare earth impurities in materials. He has authored more than 160 refereed publications and over 50 conference and seminar presentations.

Dr. Zavada received a BA degree in physics from Catholic University and MS and PhD degrees, also in physics, from New York University. He has held previous academic appointments at North Carolina State University and the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. He is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and a recipient of the Army’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award.