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Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., Receives University Award of Excellence

(From left) Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D; VCU President Michael Rao Ph.D.; and Dean of Engineering Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., at the Aug. 23, 2017, faculty convocation where Bandyopadhyay received VCU’s University Award of Excellence. Learn more about his work. Photo credit: Kevin Morley, VCU University Marketing

Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Ph.D., Commonwealth Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), has received the University Award of Excellence. The annual award recognizing one of VCU’s approximately 2,300 faculty members for superior teaching, scholarship and service is among the highest honors the university can bestow. Bandyopadhyay is the first recipient from the School of Engineering.

Bandyopadhyay is known internationally as a pioneer of “spintronics,” an emerging technology that uses an electron’s spin to store, process and communicate information. He chairs the technical committee on spintronics in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the largest professional organization in the world, and is an elected Fellow of five professional societies. In 2016 he was named Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist by Governor Terence R. McAuliffe.

Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said Bandyopadhyay’s work has brought recognition to the university and the commonwealth — and is inspiring the next generation of researchers.

“Dr. Bandyopadhyay has educated many brilliant students who have gone on to distinguish themselves as tenured faculty at universities in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom,” he said. “His research, vision, mentoring and service to the profession and society certainly qualify him for this award.”

Bandyopadhyay’s research is on science’s cutting-edge, something he approaches with an engineer’s eye for efficiency and access. Advances in electronics “mean nothing to someone who cannot afford a cell phone or computer,” he said. Thus, his focus is “innovative approaches to make things in a cheaper way.”

Students in his lab are fabricating single-pixel photodetectors for about one cent apiece, for example, which he believes could support global initiatives to monitor effects of climate change. He also has an electrochemical method for self-assembly of nanostructures, which can be used for small, powerful electronic components.

“These structures are typically made with million-dollar equipment,” he said. “But we can do it for only a couple hundred dollars.” Bandyopadhyay hopes the work in his lab, and his students, will help bridge the digital divide. “I have these conversations with students in my lab frequently,” he said. “I want to make sure they are inspired to think independently and to do their own research.”

Doctoral student Justine Drobitch said his agile, innovative approach to research questions has informed the way she looks at her work. “I don’t let myself get stuck on a problem for too long any more, because there’s always a new way to look at it or something else to try,” she said. She recalled when a group of students was having a problem with their research, “Dr. Bandy,” as he is known to students, “just suited up and went into the cleanroom — everyone thought it was great.”

Drobitch said the moment perfectly illustrated why Bandyopadhyay is an ideal mentor. “His work puts you on the leading edge,” she said, “but he is supportive and approachable.”