Guest blogger Robynn Paldi
My love for materials science was inspired by my community college professor, who was a materials scientist.
I always loved physics, engineering and chemistry, and becoming a materials scientist combines those three into an interdisciplinary and collaborative field. Most current cutting edges of science are limited by materials demand, so I found it inspiring to pursue this field.
Through undergraduate studies at the University of California, Merced, I found great benefit in scientific research and was able to pursue that passion as a graduate student under the advisory of Prof. Haiyan Wang at Purdue. Being a Purdue student has given me many great opportunities to pursue collaborative work with many different scientists within the school and at Sandia National Labs.
Creating new materials is key for solving many of the current limiting factors in science. New fabrication methods are necessary, and the demands of technology require multifunctional materials (combined magnetic, electrical and optical). I have learned that as technology progresses, we require more sustainable and elegant materials to service our needs.
I greatly enjoy the field I work in currently, which is the thin film fabrication of nanocomposite thin films. Specifically, combining metals and ceramic materials into nanostructured vertically aligned pillars of metal into ceramic matrix that allow for unprecedented multifunctionalities.
Our approach helps realize the combination of immiscible materials and nanoscale materials property manipulation. These vertically aligned nanocomposite (VAN) thin films have helped push the forefront of plasmonic metamaterials, allowing for tunable nanoscale light manipulation. Through this, I have learned fundamental thin film growth and knowledge which I was able to apply to develop a fabrication method for Sandia National Labs.
In collaboration with Sandia, we helped to develop a streamlined fabrication method for lithium niobate (LN) thin films. Lithium niobate is an important material for RF-based devices due to its non-linear optical properties and strong piezoelectric response.
These properties are much stronger in LN thin films, but previous literature could not produce high-quality LN films without the need for high temperature or complex geometry. The current standard for LN devices is to use wafers that are ion-sliced, but these are not thin enough.
Our approach leverages my knowledge in nanocomposite design to produce streamlined and high-quality LN thin film growth. By applying an interdisciplinary approach, we are able to achieve a new fabrication method, which is at the heart of materials science.
I believe this to be the future of materials science, which is in developing and improving fabrication and materials growth by applying cross-disciplinary methods.
Robynn Paldi is a Ph.D. candidate in materials engineering at Purdue. Her work on thin films is supported by Sandia National Laboratories through its Academic Alliance initiative. This technology work also is supported through Sandia’s Diversity Initiative.