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HBCU professor wins $450k grant to look beyond 5G

Thomas Searles, physics professor at Howard University.
(Image credit: Howard University.)

The Office of Naval Research in the US, on the behalf of the Historically Black Colleges Universities and Minority Institutions (HBCU/MI) Program, has awarded Howard University physics professor Thomas A. Searles Ph.D. a three-year grant totaling $450,000 to implement his research on quantum communications, which will eventually supercede 5G technology.

The mission of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Howard University is to assure that students of African American descent and other underrepresented groups are given the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in physics. And this grant is a huge boost for Howard.

“This award will not only continue to advance this reputation but will also deepen Howard’s leadership role as a national leader in Quantum science.”

Bruce Jones, Howard University.

“Without a doubt, this is a major achievement by Dr. Searles and his research team. Howard University holds a solid reputation as a leader in the preparation and graduation of students in the STEM fields,” said Howard University’s vice president of research, Bruce Jones, Ph.D. “This award will not only continue to advance this reputation but will also deepen Howard’s leadership role as a national leader in Quantum science.”

Moving beyond 5G

For Searles, this grant will enable him to continue his research, which the US Navy is supporting as part of its continued investment in emerging technologies, having already earmarked 5G as being a “critical” technology for the “long-term economic and military advantage of the United States” in its most recent 5G Strategy report.

"These technologies will allow us to move towards quantum communications and even classical communications beyond 5G.”

Thomas A. Searles Ph.D.

“The work primarily focuses on terahertz metamaterials for better control of light interacting with matter; a field that I have published in since arriving at Howard in 2015,” said Searles. “The unique aspect of this supported work with respect to research is that we are pursuing technologies that are not only relevant to the mission of the Navy, but will also have overarching applications in improving telecommunications for better data transfer speeds and higher security.  These technologies will allow us to move towards quantum communications and even classical communications beyond 5G.”

At Howard University, Searles and his departmental colleagues are leading courses in quantum information, optics and photonics, which is increasing the opportunities for current and incoming students to be competitive in the future as HBCU graduates.

The department currently has a full-time faculty of 20 members, the majority of whom are African Americans, and Searles says that the work he and his team conduct will be passed on to other HBCUs.

“We will also lead a new workshop in collaboration with the Optical Society of America and the National Society of Black Physicists focused on giving opportunities to all HBCUs that work in optics and photonics,” said Searles.

Searles’ goal is to ensure that Howard continues to be a leader in research for HBCUs, and that it provides more research and education programs like this one for people of color as part of the $1.2 billion-dollar National Quantum Initiative.

Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.