Armando Rúa Named Moore Foundation Experimental Physics Investigator

Rúa's ambitious work leveraged advanced capabilities at Brookhaven Lab

Photo of Professor Armando Rúa (right) and CFN Collaborator Fernando Camino enlarge

Professor Armando Rúa (right) and CFN Collaborator Fernando Camino

UPTON, NY—Armando Rúa, a collaborator with the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, was awarded a prestigious grant as part of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Experimental Investigators Initiative for his innovative materials science proposal. The foundation supports mid-career scientists, helping them make extraordinary contributions to the field of experimental physics.

In his award-winning proposal, Rúa, a professor at University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM), endeavors to uncover the physics of the electrical mechanism in novel materials that emulate some of the biological characteristics of the human brain. These materials can pave the way for a unique type of computer hardware modeled on the human nervous system. Neuromorphic computing architectures have the potential to perform certain types of computations much more efficiently than traditional computers, which can lead to substantial energy savings.

The Experimental Physics Investigators Initiative was created to enable researchers to venture in new directions that have the potential to transform the field and encourage new ideas, collaborations, and inclusive research culture. The grant Rúa was awarded will provide $1,250,000 over five years, with additional funds available for research equipment.

Big Ideas Require Big Investments

Rúa’s research is ambitious, but some of the resources and techniques necessary to develop his projects are not available at his university. To continue his work, Rúa sought out programs that would provide him and his students with access to some of the most cutting-edge technology in materials science. One of those paths, the visiting faculty program (VFP), led them to Brookhaven Lab. VFP provides select college faculty members the opportunity to collaborate with the Lab’s scientific and engineering staff on a project of mutual interest with up to two students for 10 weeks in the summer. This program also grants access to the Lab’s tools, resources, and user facilities, including CFN.

“It’s so important to have this amount of time to spend at the Lab,” said Rúa. “I came to Brookhaven in 2019 with my students, and we were surprised by some of the resources that were available to us. It was so beneficial to learn about some of these new techniques and methods to characterize materials, and it was great to be able to share this experience with the students. We were able to grow the material back home at UPR Mayagüez and then bring it to Brookhaven to characterize.”

The materials that Rúa and his collaborators have been studying are based on vanadium. Some vanadium compounds can be used to create devices that transmit electric currents in a manner similar to neurons in the human brain. Such devices form the backbone of so-called neuromorphic computing architectures, in which the devices “remember” stimuli in a way that is similar to how our brains hold memories.

“The limits of how far we can push our current computer hardware is on the horizon,” explained Rúa. “Neuromorphic (or brain-inspired) computing has emerged as a new technology with great potential, due to its ability to perform certain types of calculations much more efficiently than traditional architectures, reducing power consumption.”

Making Connections That Last a Lifetime

The research benefits of programs like VFP are easy to quantify, but the collaborations and networks that VFP researchers build are just as valuable. These persist even after an experiment is complete and are instrumental in exploring larger problems and conducting more complex research in the future. Expanding his network globally, Rúa has helped to build a bridge between his university and Brookhaven Lab.

“In 2018, the office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion invited us to meet with a group of department chairs from underrepresented minority universities,” recalled Fernando Camino, a materials scientist at CFN. “Rafael Ramos, chair of the physics department at UPR Mayagüez, invited me to give a talk. After speaking with the department, I met Armando in the winter of 2019. He immediately saw the benefit of collaborating with CFN. Since then, he has been carrying out research with us and collaborating with other parts of the Lab as well, leveraging resources from the Office of Educational Programs, like the VFP program. This prestigious grant is not just something for Rúa to be proud of, it’s something that elevates the CFN as well.”

Even with a long research journey ahead of him, Rúa is dedicated to his students and assisting in beneficial outreach programs to make research accessible and equitable. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 25 students enrolled in Rúa’s advanced level laboratory coursean essential skill-building class that is required for all physics majorswere able to attend lectures given by CFN staff via videoconference and study materials grown in their own lab at UPR Mayagüez. The vanadium samples were shipped to Brookhaven and characterized using several high-tech instruments that they could operate remotely from their own institution.

Rua received his BS in Physics at Universidad del Atlántico, Colombia and pursued his MSc at University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, the University where he is currently an associate professor in the physics department. He traveled to Hunter College in New York to complete his PhD.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit

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2023-21356  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom