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Adrian Del Maestro, UT Department of Physics and Astronomy

RD Support Helps New Quantum Professor Build Connections Across Campus

Adrian Del Maestro is helping to build a “new understanding about the fundamental rules of how quantum objects, at a very small scale, fit together and behave.”

When Del Maestro came to UT in August 2020 as the first hire in UT’s interdisciplinary research cluster on Quantum Materials for Future Technologies, Steve Johnston, associate professor of physics, suggested he reach out to the Office of Research and Engagement to get a feel for the research community at the university.

Kiley Compton, one of five research development managers in ORE, helped introduce him to potential collaborators. As a result, he was able to put together an interdisciplinary team that submitted a $12 million proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) Institute program in January. Since then, three other proposals have already developed from those new relationships.

Del Maestro is a professor of quantum materials and theoretical condensed matter physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy with a joint appointment in the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“One of the reasons I came to UT was to build teams and pursue large, center-level grants,” Del Maestro said, noting that he had experienced success with NSF’s HDR program at his previous institution. He stated that Compton’s support helped him hit the ground running.

“Kiley started by feeling out what I was comfortable doing. She helped me understand the UT system and identified where I needed help, who I needed to talk to. She also provided project management support for a team of 16 investigators and nine institutions,” Del Maestro said, explaining the services that helped him the most.

“Imagine the cat herding such a project would require. With Kiley’s help, we were able to put together a very competitive and exciting proposal. The science would not have been as strong without the expediency and efficiency she brought to the project.”

Stacey Wade, sponsored programs administrator and a member of the RD support team on the proposal, helped the team navigate the nuances of incorporating unfunded collaborators at Los Alamos National Laboratory into the project. “She helped us understand what’s allowable and how to explain their roles as crucial pieces of the puzzle,” he said.

To make this effort possible and to build a foundation for future projects, Compton connected Del Maestro with a variety of resources across the campus, including the Office of Corporate and Foundation Engagement and the UT Research Foundation.

“With Kiley’s introduction to Marc Gibson, I was able to start up a conversation about corporate engagement, something that is crucial to building a larger infrastructure here. That helped me articulate my own vision, which led to a meeting with Vice Chancellor of Research Deb Crawford, and the resulting clear vision for our quantum cluster.”

Del Maestro encourages researchers, especially those who are new to the university, to dive into proposal writing wholeheartedly and take advantage of the RD resources available to them.

“Try to enjoy writing proposals; they lead to better science, better leaders, and better collaborations. You should understand how proposal writing can actually help you,” he began. “Then, trust in the people at ORE. They have the skills to handle many things for you. They understand what the sponsor wants; listen to them. Mold your vision to the needs of the sponsor and speak to that need.”

Del Maestro said that “positioning UT as a leader in this area includes incubating new research areas and exploring how to teach quantum mechanics to engineers and computer scientists.” With two additional faculty to be hired into the cluster—hopefully this fall—and three additional searches starting soon, he is extremely excited about the possibilities for this cluster.

“We’re building a university experience to address grand societal needs and develop new exciting technologies. Undergrads and graduate students will be able to learn and work by running advanced software on the latest supercomputers.”