Eindhoven University of Technology: Light from silicon wins ‘Falling Walls’ Breakthrough of the Year 2021 in Physical Sciences

There were celebrations in the department of Applied Physics at TU/e this week as researchers Erik Bakkers and Elham Fadaly were awarded the ‘Falling Walls’ Breakthrough of the Year 2021 in Physical Sciences. This award follows on from last year’s Breakthrough of the Year award from the prestigious physics magazine Physics World.

“We are absolutely delighted to once again be acknowledged for this work. It’s been a long road to achieving this breakthrough,” says a delighted Bakkers. “Of course, besides Elham and I, a whole team helped our scientific dreams become a reality, so this award is really for everyone involved in the research.”

For their breakthrough, Bakkers and Fadaly designed materials for photonic chips by turning to alloys of germanium and silicon with a hexagonal structure with the key paper for this work published in April 2020 in the journal Nature. Thanks to the underlying hexagonal structure, the silicon alloys can emit light, which could prove to be of paramount importance for the next generation of optoelectronic technologies and provide faster and more energy efficient ways of transferring data between devices.

Elham Fadaly, who completed her PhD in April 2021 on the research topic and now works at Apple in the US, also expressed her joy at winning the award. “I’m so proud to be part of the winning team for this award, and I can’t wait to present the research in Berlin on November 9th.”

Falling Walls Science Summit is a leading international, interdisciplinary, and intersectoral forum for scientific breakthroughs and science dialogue between global science leaders and society. The event takes place every year from 7th to 9th November in Berlin, commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall. With formats Falling Walls Pitches (Nov 7th), Falling Walls Circle (Nov 8th), and Falling Walls Science Breakthroughs of the Year (9 Nov), the Falling Walls Science Summit is the leading forum for global science leaders from academia, business, politics, the media, and civil society to debate the potential of scientific breakthroughs to solve grand challenges and shape a sustainable future. The Falling Walls Science Summit is organized by the charitable Falling Walls Foundation.

The Science Breakthroughs are awarded in 10 categories, the first seven recipients ranging from Life Sciences and Physical Sciences to Art and Science and Science and Innovation Management.