Friday, 22 March 2019 17:22

10 interns chosen for 2019

MIT Materials Research Laboratory announces 10 recipients of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) internships.
Summer Scholar Fernando Nieves Bench Work 3379 DPaiste

2018 Summer Scholar Fernando Nieves Muñoz works at a bench in the lab of Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Krystyn Van Vliet. Photo, Denis Paiste, Materials Research Laboratory.

The MIT Materials Research Laboratory [MRL] has selected 10 top-ranking undergraduates to conduct graduate-level research on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., from June 16 to Aug. 10, 2019. They were chosen from among 286 applicants.

Interns will select their own projects from MIT faculty presentations given during the first few days of the program. Last year’s group, for example, explored a wide range of research from working with materials as soft as silk to as hard as iron and from temperatures as low as -452.47 degrees Fahrenheit to as high as 1,984 F.

This year’s Summer Scholars and their home institutions are:

- Isabel Albelo, University of California - Los Angeles

- Leah Borgsmiller, Northwestern University

- Jared Bowden, University of Massachusetts Amherst

- Clement Ekaputra, University of Pittsburgh

- Nathan Ewell, Case Western Reserve University

- Marcos Logrono, University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez Campus

- Chris Moore, University of Washington

- Ariane Marchese, Hunter College of the City University of New York

- Melvin Nunez Santiago, University Ana G. Mendez at Gurabo, Puerto Rico

- Carly Tymm, Dartmouth College 

Summer Scholars are supported in part by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which is administered by the MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

The program, started in 1983, has brought hundreds of the best science and engineering undergraduates in the country to MIT for graduate-level materials research.

back to newsletterMarch 25, 2019 

Tuesday, 29 June 2021 18:01

11 Summer Scholars have been selected

MIT Materials Research Laboratory announces 11 recipients of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) internships.

Maria E. Aglietti | Materials Research Laboratory
June 29, 2021

The MIT Materials Research Laboratory [MRL] has selected 11 top-ranking undergraduates to conduct graduate-level research. They were chosen from among 173 applicants. This years program will be held remotely from June 9 to Aug. 13, 2021. The interns have selected their own projects from MIT faculty presentations given during the first few days of the program. 

This year’s Summer Scholars, their home institutions and the projects they will be working on are:

Summer Intern Home Institution Faculty/Advisor Project
Grace Anderson

Florida Gulf Coast University

Markus Buehler Predicting mechanical stress and deformation in irregular architected materials using graph neural networks
Tao Cai University of Michigan Karl Berggren, Tony Zhou Magnetic field activated superconducting electronics
Nicholas Casetti

Purdue University

Rodrgio Frietas Atomistic simulations of materials properties: high-entropy alloys
Joshua Chen

University of Pennsylvania

Juejun Hu On-chip spectrometers for space applications 
Jonathan Lee

University of Michigan

Fikile Brushett Engineering membranes for next-generation redox flow batteries
Karina Martinez-Reyes

Interamerican University of Puerto Rico – Bayamon

Anu Agarwal VR simulation for new technology: optoelectronic tool training via an edX course
Matthew Moy

University of California, Berkeley

James LeBeau Directly quantifying the migration of ions through battery materials
Baylie Phillips

Montana Technological University

Zachary Cordero Additive manufacturing of net-shaped single crystal turbine blades 
Mariela Rodriguez-Otero

University of Puerto Rico

Ariel Furst Self-assembling nanomaterials for protection of biotherapeutics
Saeed Saifaee

Pennsylvania State University

Brian Wardle Next-Generation Artificial Intelligence (AI) Feature Segmentation of Nanoengineered Hierarchical Aerospace Structural Composites
 Madalyn Scherwinski

University of Mary

 Michael Short Picosecond, ultrasonic, thermo-elastic inference of hydride moderator material properties for micro-nuclear reactors


Summer Scholars are supported in part by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which is administered by the MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

The program, started in 1983, has brought hundreds of the best science and engineering undergraduates in the country to MIT for graduate-level materials research.back to newsletter

Eggleton receives Outreach & Service Award for outstanding volunteer work in schools and at UW

Eggleton, a third-year doctoral student in chemical engineering and a CEI Graduate Fellow, won the Outreach & Service Award for outstanding and sustained volunteer work in a variety of arenas. As a Clean Energy Ambassador, she has organized impactful outreach events for K-12 students. Eggleton also serves on the UW Graduate and Professional Student Senate, the University Transportation Committee, and as Outreach Chair for the UW Electrochemical Society Student Chapter. As a member of CEI Director Dan Schwartz’s research group, Eggleton is developing open-source, multiscale data analysis tools for electrochemical energy technologies, including a battery-vehicle model that utilizes geographic information system (GIS) data to predict the state of health of lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicle fleets.

McGrogan Eggleton 6517 Web

Graduate student Frank McGrogan, left, is supervising the work of Summer Scholar Erica Eggleton on LMO electrodes for lithium ion batteries in the Van Vliet Lab.

Photo, Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center.

The Clean Energy Outreach & Service Award recognizes UW graduate students who have demonstrated dedication and creativity when communicating STEM to a variety of audiences. Eggleton joins past winners of the Outreach & Service Award: Akshay Subramanian and Wes Tatum (2019), Erin Jedlicka and Lauren Kang (2018), Sarah Vorpahl (2017), and Katie Corp (2016).back to newsletter

Read More from the Clean Energy Institute at UW

Monday, 26 March 2018 13:42

2018 Summer Scholars selected

MIT Materials Research Laboratory announces 12 recipients of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) internships.
Summer Scholar Intro Syringe 3546 Web
Twelve recipients of Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) internships will select their own projects from MIT faculty presentations given during the first few days of the Summer Scholars program. Image, Denis Paiste, MRL.

The MIT Materials Research Laboratory [MRL] has selected 12 top-ranking undergraduates to conduct graduate-level research on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., from June 17 to August 11, 2018.

Interns will select their own projects from MIT faculty presentations given during the first few days of the program. Last year’s group, for example, conducted supervised research on projects in materials science, photonics, energy, and biomedical fields.

This year’s Summer Scholars and their major fields of study are:

- Danielle Beatty, University of Utah, Materials Science and Engineering

- Alvin Chang, Oregon State University, Chemical Engineering, Biological Engineering, with minor in Entrepreneurship

- Simon Egner, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Materials Science and Engineering

- Elizabeth Hallett, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, Chemical Engineering

- Julianna LaLane, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, Mechanical Engineering

- Michael Molinski, University of Rhode Island, Chemical Engineering

- Abigail Nason, University of Florida, Materials Science and Engineering,

- Fernando Nieves Munoz, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Mechanical Engineering

- Sarai Patterson, University of Utah, Materials Science and Engineering

- Sabrina Shen, Johns Hopkins University, Materials Science and Engineering

- Ryan Tollefsen, Oregon State University, Physics

- Ekaterina Tsotsos, Brown University, Materials Engineering

Summer Scholars serve as interns through the MIT MRL and are supported in part by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which is administered by the MIT Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, and the AIM Photonics Academy.

The program, started in 1983, has brought hundreds of the best science and engineering undergraduates in the country to MIT for graduate-level materials research.

back to newsletter

Thursday, 27 September 2018 10:53

2018 Summer Scholars videos

Summer Scholars Video Promo Combo Web

Watch MIT MRL Summer Scholars videos.


back to newsletter

Wednesday, 29 November 2017 15:40

About the Summer Scholars Program

Summer Scholars Program

The Materials Research Laboratory sponsors a Summer Research Internship Program through the NSF REU program.

The program started in 1983, and has brought hundreds of the best science and engineering undergraduates in the country to MIT for graduate-level materials research. A wide range of project areas are available.

Quick Facts

  • Only US citizens/permanent residents may apply
  • Program dates: June 9, 2021 - August 13, 2021
  • Stipend $5000
  • Open to students who are starting their junior or senior year in September, 2021 (at any college or university other than at MIT)
  • Selection is based on application, academic history and recommendation letters
  • Application deadline: March 15, 2021 (rolling basis)
  • Awards will be announced on or shortly after: April 1, 2021

Available projects

Projects available vary from year to year. Interns select their own projects based on presentations from faculty given the first few days of the program.

Refer to our Frequently Asked Questions for more information about the program.




Tuesday, 13 February 2018 14:54

Alexandra Barth

Summer Scholar Alexandra Barth analyzes carbon monoxide resistance of core-shell nanoparticle catalysts in the Román Lab.

Alexandra Barth 3 MEA Web
MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar Alexandra Barth works at a hood where she makes carbide core-platinum shell nanoparticles for electrocatalytic applications such as fuel cells and electrolyzers in the lab of MIT Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Yuriy Román-Leshkov. The process of making core-shell nanoparticles consists of many steps and takes three to five days to complete. Photo, Maria E. Aglietti, Materials Processing Center.

In May the group of MIT Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Yuriy Román-Leshkov published a study showing that an ultra-thin shell of platinum on a carbide core could catalyze hydrogen evolution and oxidation reactions as effectively as pure platinum at a fraction of the cost. MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar Alexandra T. Barth is helping to advance this work by studying the tunability of these core-shell materials and their performance in a number of electrocatalytic applications.

“What’s been interesting is we found even when we’re creating nanoparticles that are just coated with an atomically thin layer of platinum, they act as effectively as conventional platinum-only nanoparticle catalysts,” Barth explains.

Platinum is a key component in many traditional and emerging technologies, including automobile catalytic converters, oil reforming, fuel cells and electrolyzers. The goal of the project, Dr. Maria Milina, a postdoctoral associate in the Román group explains, is to design noble metal catalysts with significantly reduced metal loadings but improved activity and stability. “We tackle this challenge through the synthesis of core-shell nanoparticles, in which a cheap metal carbide core not only reduces the requirements for expensive platinum but also beneficially modifies its electronic properties,” says Milina.

Avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning

The research of Prof. Román shows that platinum-coated carbide nanoparticles can be used as catalysts for hydrogen evolution and hydrogen oxidation reactions that occur at the cathode of water electrolyzers and at the anode of fuel cells, respectively. Simultaneously they demonstrate remarkable resistance to carbon monoxide, a common catalyst poison. “You want to create a catalyst that will activate hydrogen even when carbon monoxide is present in fuel streams,” Barth says. Carbon monoxide is known to bind strongly to platinum and to block its ability to catalyze other reactions. “Metal carbide cores favorably modulate electronic properties of platinum through subsurface strain and ligand effect leading to the reduced carbon monoxide binding energy of platinum in a core-shell architecture,” explains Prof. Román.

Barth, a rising senior from Florida State University, is interning in the Román lab at MIT this summer. She is synthesizing core-shell nanoparticles with varying core and shell composition, examining their structure with techniques such as infrared spectroscopy and powder X-ray diffraction, and conducting electrocatalytic experiments to analyze their performance in hydrogen evolution/hydrogen oxidation reactions.

A multistep process

The process of making core-shell nanoparticles consists of many steps and takes three to five days to complete, Barth notes. “It’s interesting because the entire process was devised in this lab, so it’s like nothing that’s been done before,” she says. The process involves synthesizing the nanoparticles in a reverse microemulsion, heating the sample in a methane atmosphere to produce a carbide core, and separating the nanoparticles from their silica templates simultaneously dispersing them on a high surface area carbon support in a diluted hydrofluoric acid. The last step in the process, working with hydrofluoric acid, required special safety training.

After synthesis, Barth tests the core-shell nanoparticle catalyst in a three-electrode electrochemical cell. “We initially determine the hydrogen evolution and oxidation activity of the catalysts in a pure hydrogen atmosphere. Then we intentionally introduce carbon monoxide poison into the hydrogen stream and record how quickly catalyst deactivates and how high is the overpotential required to strip carbon monoxide from the platinum surface,” she says.

Infrared spectroscopy challenge

While characterization of solids by X-ray diffraction was a familiar skill from her work at FSU, Barth was facing a challenge with infrared spectroscopy. “We know what we’re expecting of this analysis. I firstly need to record a spectrum of a reduced in hydrogen catalyst, then I should saturate it with carbon monoxide and, after removal of physisorbed species, register another spectrum with the absorbances corresponding to platinum-carbon monoxide interactions. But the use of infrared spectroscopy for carbon-supported catalysts has been always a challenge due to the high opacity of these materials. So that’s been a work in progress,” she says.

“Back at FSU, I do radiochemistry research, so I make crystals with nuclear elements,” she explains. “This is out of my comfort zone because I’ve never done nanoparticle research before, and I’ve never done catalysis research before. But what I have realized through doing this summer project is that I could advance my current research at FSU by including new catalytic studies.” Barth is considering modifying her honors thesis to bridge radiochemistry and catalysis, taking her work from just making crystals to testing their catalytic properties.

Barth is pursuing a major in chemistry at Florida State and hopes to pursue a doctorate in inorganic chemistry.

‪MPC‬‬‬‬‬‪‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ and ‪CMSE‬‬‬‬‬‬ sponsor the nine-week National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) internships with support from ‪NSF‬‬‬‬‬‬’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program (grant number DMR-14-19807).‬ The program runs from June 7 through Aug. 6, 2016.‬‬‬‬‬ ‬‬‬‬

 – Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center | July 27, 2016


Tuesday, 13 February 2018 16:44

Ashley Del Valle Morales

Summer Scholar Ashley Del Valle Morales probes new silicon carbide system in MIT Microphotonics Center.
Peter Su Ashley DelValle Morales 6529 Web
Materials Science and Engineering graduate student Peter Su shows Summer Scholar Ashley Del Valle Morales how to operate a laser and detector system she will use during her summer project under Senior Research Scientist Dr. Anuradha Agarwal. The system combines an optical set up with a laser to drive light through an optical fiber into a sensor sample and collect light passed through resonators on the sample that help determine its quality as a sensor of target gas or liquid chemicals. Photo, Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center

Lasers operating at the infrared wavelength of 1550 nanometers power high-speed fiber-optic Internet communications. MIT Microphotonics Center Principal Research Scientist Dr. Anuradha Agarwal  is developing chemical sensors based on the 1550 nanometer telecommunications wavelength using a new materials system built of silicon carbide on silicon dioxide on silicon.

MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar Ashley Del Valle Morales is working under Materials Science and Engineering graduate student Peter Su as part of a team in Agarwal’s lab to characterize this new system. Once the devices are fabricated, Del Valle Morales will use a laser system to determine how effectively the sensors detect the chemical N-methylaniline, a toxic industrial chemical.

Del Valle Morales, a rising junior at University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus, also will test the silicon carbide based sensor before and after it is exposed to gamma rays. Tests will show whether detection capabilities or properties of the device change as a result of radiation exposure.

During the three-day selection process, in which this year’s group of 11 Summer Scholars heard presentations by faculty, postdocs and graduate students and also toured their labs, Del Valle says she was drawn to the Agarwal lab. “Because I have done research before, I know it’s really important to select a project you like and you’re interested in. Furthermore, a research in which you can expand your knowledge, so that was one point that helped me decide to join.

“I also liked the enthusiasm and the interest that the grad students and the principal research scientist showed. I think that’s very important. It makes me feel very welcome in the lab, and it makes me feel like I wouldn’t be alone in this whole process of learning something new,” Del Valle says.

“Having an MPC-CMSE Summer scholar working alongside a graduate student in our research program is an excellent opportunity for both the summer scholar and for our group,” Agarwal says. “Our graduate student learns how to be a good role model and mentor to the Summer Scholar who is typically just a few years younger, shares a passion for science and technology, and perhaps shares dreams and aspirations for a career in the field of engineering.”

“This year, the enthusiasm of our 2016 summer scholar, Ashley Del Valle Morales, is palpable and contagious. We are excited as she starts her research in microphotonic sensors,” Agarwal adds. “Research in our group progresses faster with the presence of a Summer Scholar, since we have a willing and able “scientist-in-training” in our midst. In fact, a 2009 MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar [Brian Albert], who came to us while still an undergrad at Columbia, graduated with a PhD in DMSE in 2016.”

Del Valle says she applied to the MPC-CMSE internship program in the spring knowing it was highly competitive because of the broad topics and choice of individual projects offered. “I started working on my essays and the whole application right away. I spent maybe three weeks writing and editing my essay with the help of my English professor,” she says.

MPC‬‬‬‬‬‪ and CMSE sponsor the nine-week National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) internships with support from NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program (grant number DMR-14-19807).‬ The program runs from June 7 through Aug. 6, 2016.‬‬‬‬‬

– Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center
June 29, 2016


Tuesday, 13 February 2018 15:11

Ashley Kaiser

Summer Scholar Ashley Kaiser delves into hybrid carbon nanotube materials research in nectslab.

Ashley Kaiser 6 MEA Web
Ashley Kaiser holds samples of carbon nanotubes she grew in the Wardle lab as part of her summer project studying carbon nanotube-based aligned nanofiber carbon matrix nanocomposites [CNT A-CMNCs]. The carbon nanotubes are on the left, and the pyrolytic carbon is on the right. These new materials have potential aerospace applications. Photo, Maria E. Aglietti.

University of Massachusetts Amherst chemical engineering major Ashley Kaiser joined MIT Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Brian L. Wardle's necstlab this summer with past experience in growing graphene and examining it with Raman spectroscopy.

During her new summer internship, Kaiser, who is a rising senior, is learning new fabrication and characterization techniques to further necstlab’s research on carbon nanotube aligned nanofiber carbon matrix nanocomposites [CNT A-CMNCs].

High temperature composites

MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar Kaiser is making these composites, which are treated at high temperatures from 600 to 1400 Celsius [1112 F to 2552 F], and analyzing their composition to study the confinement effects of the carbon nanotubes in the carbon matrix. Similar heat-treated material, called pyrolytic carbon [PyC], is currently used for aerospace applications but in a simpler form without embedded carbon nanotubes. “It’s super hard and lightweight, and since carbon nanotubes are also very strong and lightweight as well, we would like to introduce these nanotubes inside this existing matrix,” Kaiser explains.

“Ashley’s primary contribution is to help us understand how the aligned carbon nanotubes facilitate the self-organization and meso-scale evolution of the graphitic crystallites that comprise the pyrolytic carbons, and how control over the processing (i.e., pyrolysis) temperature can modify the structure and morphology of A-CNT-PyC hybrid nanocomposite materials on the nanoscale,” necstlab Postdoctoral Associate Itai Stein says.

“The results from Ashley’s project will be invaluable to better understanding the process-structure-property relations of these high temperature materials,” Stein adds. Kaiser’s project builds on work done in necstlab by 2015 MPC-CMSE Summer Intern Alexander Constable, who studied the structural evolution of pyrolytic carbon (PyC) as a function of processing parameters and the effects of aligned carbon nanotube (A-CNT) confinement.

Four key steps

Her project consists of four steps, Kaiser explains:

• Carbon nanotube growth
• Polymer resin infusion
• Oven curing the polymer matrix nanocomposites
• High temperature heat treatment (pyrolysis)

“Basically, we want to fabricate and characterize the composites to see what effect the carbon nanotubes are having on the final structure to address several questions – what it looks like, if the nanotubes stay aligned, are there functional groups inside of that, are there defects, what’s the crystallite size, etc.” Kaiser says.

“We are seeing that when we are putting our nanotubes into our composite, the effect of them governs the meso-scale [submicron scale], which means that the way the atoms are arranging in our crystallites isn’t changing too much just from having our nanotubes there, which is interesting. So in terms of scaling this up to, say, something in industry, the fact that it’s not changing the entire atomic scale is beneficial because it means that processing may not be too different,” she says.

“This composite is a closely-related material with similar strength to PyC because the atoms are arranged similarly, but it’s more lightweight, at least we think, which is a step up in improving the current technology,” she adds.

Adding new skills

Although she previously grew graphene using chemical vapor deposition, growing the carbon nanotubes using a similar chemical vapor deposition process at MIT and making the final nanocomposites requires more steps. “After the CNT growth, I do polymer infusion under vacuum, then the samples are cured in an oven, and then they are pyrolyzed in an even larger furnace. In this way, I’m working on many different pieces of equipment in the lab, which is great experimental experience,” Kaiser says.

Ashley Kaiser 3 MEA Web
Ashley Kaiser prepares to grow carbon nanotubes [CNTs] on a silicon wafer with a coating of alumina and iron in a 1-inch furnace. Alumina and iron act as catalysts to stimulate the CNTs to grow. During her summer project in the Wardle lab, Kaiser grew pyrolytic carbon as a control in addition to growing carbon nanotubes, turning out 5 samples of each at a time. Photo, Maria E. Aglietti.

Although she has previous experience with Raman spectroscopy at UMass and from her 2015 summer internship at 3M, she is learning new characterization skills at MIT this summer, including SEM [scanning electron microscopy], FTIR [Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy], XRD [X-ray Diffraction] and SAXS [Small Angle X-ray Scattering]. “I think that’s going to be really beneficial experience moving forward into graduate work,” she suggests.

Diamond-like structure

“The overarching goal is to study the impact of carbon nanotube confinement on the graphitic crystallites that comprise the pyrolytic carbon, or the matrix of our nanocomposites,” Kaiser explains. “We are finding that as our temperature is increasing, our material is evolving, and it’s forming essentially a lower density pyrolytic carbon which may be more diamond-like, and very strong. We are interested in examining how the nanotubes are affecting the carbon matrix crystallite growth in the composite at various processing temperatures. If this material can be processed to maintain high strength while becoming even lighter, it could be an ideal candidate for aerospace applications.

“I’m essentially doing all the processing, characterization and analysis on my own, so I’m really very solo on this project. I have about 50 robust samples to fabricate and analyze over the course of my summer internship here at MIT,” Kaiser explains. “I’m definitely quite busy with that, but I’m very excited about it at the same time.”

MPC‬‬‬‬‬‪‬‬‬‬ and ‪CMSE‬‬‬ sponsor the nine-week National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) internships with support from ‪NSF‬‬‬’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program (grant number DMR-14-19807).‬ The program runs from June 7 through Aug. 6, 2016.‬‬‬‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬


Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center | July 27, 2016

Monday, 27 August 2018 14:36

At the forefront of new technology

MRL summer interns tackle materials science challenges, contributing to MIT faculty research labs, overcoming obstacles and gaining new skills.

MIT Materials Research Laboratory interns this summer covered a wide gamut of challenges working with materials as soft as silk to as hard as iron and at temperatures from as low as that of liquid helium [minus 452.47 F] to as high as that of melted copper [1,984 F].

Summer Scholars and other interns participated on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., through the MIT MRL’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, with support from the National Science Foundation, AIM Photonics Academy, MRL Collegium, and the Guided Academic Industry Network [GAIN] program.

Mid-infrared detectors

Simon Egner, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, made samples of lead tin telluride to detect mid-infrared light at wavelengths from 4 to 7 microns for integrated photonic applications. Working with Materials Science and Engineering graduate student Peter Su, Egner measured several materials properties of the samples, including the concentration and mobility of electrons. “One thing we have come up with recently is adding lead oxide to try to decrease the amount of noise we get when sensing light with our detectors,” Egner says.

Lead tin telluride is an alloy of lead telluride and tin telluride, Su explains in the lab of MIT Materials Research Laboratory Principal Research Scientist Anuradha Agarwal. “If you have a lot of carriers already present in your material, you get a lot of extra noise, a lot of background signal, above which it’s really hard to detect the new carriers generated by the light striking your material,” Su says. “We’re trying to lower that noise level by lowering the carrier concentration and we’re trying to do that by adding lead oxide to that alloy.”

Measuring resistivity

Juan Hincapie, from Roxbury Community College, took current and voltage measurements of samples in the lab of Riccardo Comin, assistant professor of physics. Wendy Moy, Physical Science teacher at Diamond Middle School in Lexington, Mass., also interned in the Comin lab, growing crystals. Comin’s lab studies superconductors as well as more traditional insulating and metallic semiconductor materials.

“In order to study their properties, we need to measure their electrical transport properties, which in simple terms, means their resistance, or if you like, resistivity, which is an intrinsic version of the resistance, and in order to do that we need to do measurement in a special geometry where we place four contacts on these samples and then we source and sample the current and the voltage,” Comin explains. The tests are conducted using a cryostat at extremely cold temperatures down to a temperature of about 4 kelvins [roughly the temperature of liquid helium]. These current and voltage measurements reveal the resistivity of the material.

“We need to place the samples in an environment whose temperature we can control from very low temperatures, say a few kelvins, up to room temperature and above,” Comin explains. “And then we want to track the resistance as it changes as a function of temperature and we want to see at which point it drops to zero, because that’s the defining feature of a superconductor. It has zero resistance.”

Hincapie says his summer internship was his first research experience and he learned how to program in Python and how to operate equipment in the lab. He hopes to attend a four-year college this fall to study civil engineering.

Video: Creating Thin Films with Non-Linear Optical Properties

Thin films for photonics

Summer Scholar Alvin Chang, from Oregon State University, created chalcogenide thin films with non-linear properties for photonics applications. He worked with Postdoctoral Fellow Samuel Serna in the lab of Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Juejun (JJ) Hu. Chang varied the thickness of two different compositions, creating a gradient, or ratio, between the two across the length of the film. “We have two different materials. One is GSS, or germanium antimony and then sulfur, and the other is GSSE, which is germanium, antimony and then selenium,” Chang explains. 

“The GSS and GSSE both have different advantages and disadvantages. We're hoping that by merging the two together in a film we can sort of optimize both their advantages and disadvantages so that they would be complementary with each other.” These materials, known as chalcogenide glasses, can be used for infrared sensing and imaging.

Superconducting thin films

Elizabeth [Lily] Hallett, from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, made 60 samples of molybdenum nitride thin films on different substrates [silicon oxide, magnesium oxide, silicon] and studied their electrical and superconducting properties in Professor of Electrical Engineering Karl K. Berggren’s  lab. She examined the films in a four-probe instrument that measures electrical resistance and in a closed-cycle cryostat that measures the critical temperature. The hope is to develop single photon detectors based on the superconducting property of this material. Molybdenum nitride is predicted to transition to a superconducting state at a higher temperature than similar materials. “This is desirable because it takes less energy to cool the device down to its operating temperature,” Hallett says.

“I’ve been working to optimize deposition conditions for molybdenum nitride in the sputtering system in our lab, by varying all the parameters like temperature, pressure, substrate, gas flow and discharge currents,” she says. A thinner sample looks different from thicker samples with their mirror-like surface, she points out. “Thin films are essential for nanowire single photon detectors, so I have been working on increasing the critical temperature of films that are essentially 5 nanometers thick,” Hallett says.

“Something that I’ve learned that is extremely important is to do a lot of background reading on your project,” Hallett notes. “I tried to find every paper I could on molybdenum nitride. I wanted to know who else had tried to make this material and what results they achieved. Learning how to organize and understand this information was important in making decisions about what experiments to perform.”

Summer Scholars Lab Work

Quantum dots for solar

Quantum dots were the focus of summer research for Sarai Patterson from the University of Utah. She synthesized the perovskite quantum dots in the lab of William A. Tisdale, ARCO Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering, then examined them under a transmission electron microscope [TEM] in MIT MRL MRSEC program’s shared facilities.

After placing a sample in the TEM, Patterson says, “This is one of the samples I made yesterday, and I’m looking to see if I have quantum dots or if I just made nanoplatelets. So far I don’t see anything that looks very much like quantum dots. But we’ll see.”

“The beam is such high energy that a lot of the time it will start burning the sample before you can get a really good image of it and then that just degrades the focus and the image. So it’s kind of difficult,” Patterson says of the TEM work. Quantum dots can be used in LEDs and liquid crystal displays such as in TVs and cell phones. “The perovskite quantum dots that I’m working with have shown a lot of promise for solar technology which is primarily why I’m interested in quantum dots,” Patterson says.

In the Tisdale Lab, she varied the amount of each chemical ingredient to determine the best combination of materials. The quantum dots glow under ultraviolet light, a greenish color in the case of Patterson’s perovskite materials.

Protecting lasers from back splash

Brown University rising senior Ekaterina [Stella] Tsotsos studied cerium-doped iron garnet thin films in the lab of Caroline A. Ross, Toyota Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Associate Head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “These films are around 100 nanometers thick and they are 10 millimeters by 10 millimeters square. We’re testing their magnetic properties and their optical properties. The machine we’re using right now is called a VSM [vibrating sample magnetometer] and it vibrates the sample and magnetizes it and because it’s vibrating, it generates a current and you measure the current to see how much you can magnetize the sample,” Tsotsos says. “The value you’re measuring is how much can I magnetize this material by putting a magnetic field on it. My specific experiments are about temperature dependent measurements.”

The Ross lab is developing materials that can be used in photonic devices as isolators that protect the laser from any back reflection. “So light can go through forward but can’t come back and hit the laser, which would break it,” Tsotsos says.

Tsotsos worked with Materials Science and Engineering graduate student Takian Fakhrul. Besides magnetic measurements Tsotsos also did optical measurements of her garnet samples. Condensation at low temperatures became a challenge, she explains. “Once we get down to negative 60 degrees C, condensation starts forming on the film and it alters the light that we are trying to pass through it, so we get bad measurements then. But we’ve been working through it, heating it up first to try to dry it out, shooting a bunch of nitrogen through the stage, to try to make sure there is not water vapor in there. Yea, we’re trying to see what will work.”

Strengthening aerospace composites

Abigail Nason, from the University of Florida, studied the potential benefits of incorporating carbon nanotubes into carbon fiber reinforced plastic [CFRP] via a process termed “nanostitching” in the lab of Brian L. Wardle, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Bundles of carbon microfibers are known as tows and are used to make sheets of aerospace-grade carbon fiber reinforced plastic. Working with graduate student Reed Kopp, Nason took 3D scans of composite laminate samples to reveal their structure. “We’re working with 10 millimeter by 4 millimeter by 2 millimeter little rectangular composites and some of them have nano-stitch[ing] in them and some of them do not,” Nason explains.

Areas between sheets of the laminate are called the interlaminar region, and are weaker because they lack the added strength from mechanical reinforcement that fibers provide. Traditional composites have no reinforcement in this interlaminar region, and carbon nanotubes provide nano-scale fiber reinforcement in the nano-stitch version. Kopp notes that despite the high level of resolution required to elucidate an intricate architecture of micro-scale features, the 3D scans can’t distinguish the carbon nanotubes from the epoxy resin because they have similar density and elemental composition. “Since they absorb X-rays similarly, we can’t actually detect X-ray interaction differences that would indicate the locations of reinforcing carbon nanotube forests, but we can visualize how they affect the shape of the interlaminar region, such as how they may push fibers apart and change the shape of inherent resin-rich regions caused during carbon fiber reinforced plastic layer manufacturing.”

Nason adds that “It’s really interesting to see that there isn’t a lot of information out there about how composites fail and why they fail the way they do. But it’s really cool and interesting to be at the forefront of seeing this new technology and being able to look so closely at the composite layers and quantifying critical micro-scale material features that influence failure.”

Exploring mucin

Astatke Assaminew, a biotechnology student at Roxbury Community College, and Heather Giblin, a biology teacher at Brookline High School, interned in the lab of Katharina Ribbeck, associate professor of biological engineering.

Working with Postdocs Miri Krupkin and Gerardo Cárcamo-Oyarce and Research Scientist Bradley Turner, Assaminew investigated the effects of purified mucin polymers on the opportunistic bacterial pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, using live confocal microscopy. Giblin, who worked with biology graduate student Julie Takagi, investigated the effects of mucin polymers purified from saliva on biofilm formation in the opportunistic fungal pathogen, Candida albicans. Assaminew and Giblin learned to purify mucin polymers from native mucus tissues using size exclusion chromatography.

Nanocomposite assembly

Both Roxbury Community College Chemistry and Biotechnology Professor Kimberly Stieglitz and Roxbury Community College student Credoritch Joseph worked in the lab of Assistant Professor in Materials Science and Engineering Robert J. Macfarlane. The Macfarlane Lab grafts DNA to nanoparticles, which enables precise control over self-assembly of molecular structures. The lab also is creating a new class of chemical building blocks that it calls Nanocomposite Tectons, or NCTs, which present new opportunities for self-assembly of composite materials.

Joseph learned the multi-step process of creating self-assembled DNA-nanoparticle aggregates, and used the ones he prepared to study the stability of the aggregates when exposed to different chemicals. Additionally, Joseph began to optimize a silica-embedding procedure for removing DNA-nanoparticle crystals from solution. Stieglitz created NCTs consisting of clusters of gold nanoparticles with attached polymers and examined their melting behavior in polymer solutions. She learned a multi-step process to produce NCTs, including how to spin the compounds in vials of water-based liquid, containing either DAP [diaminopyridine] or Thymine, each of which has hydrogen donor/acceptor pairs. After the spinning step, water and dimethylformamide [DMF] are removed, and the nanoparticles are re-suspended in toluene before being combined to assemble into NCTs. “They’re actually nanoparticles that are linked together through hydrogen bonding networks,” Stieglitz explains, “and the nanoparticles have gold which reacts with the S-H [sulfur-hydrogen end].”

Spinning particles with magnetism

Summer Scholar Ryan Tollefsen from Oregon State University joined Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Alfredo Alexander-Katz’s lab to explore the dynamics of neutral colloidal particles spinning in a magnetic field. These simulations model generic neutral beads but show behavior similar to living cells, such as bacteria. “The goal with the spinners is to achieve self-assembly, which is when the active particles just by themselves create a structure,” Tollefsen says.

Tollefsen learned to write simulations in the Fortran programming language, adapting a freely available code for dissipative particle dynamics simulation known as CAMUS. “Before this summer, I had never created a piece of software that had more than probably 200 lines of code,” Tollefsen says. “Now I’m working with software that has over 4,000 lines of code. So one of the biggest skills I’ve learned is just keeping track of something that has so many moving parts.”

Applying a magnetic field that repeatedly crosses back and forth from positive to negative, Tollefsen says, causes the spinners first to spin in one direction, then to slow down and stop, and lastly to spin in the other direction. “When the spinners are kind of spinning like this, they form these little clusters but they don’t completely phase separate. They form little groups and then start to push other little groups away, and so you get kind of these clusters which are neatly organized with each other and that’s called a microphase separation,” Tollefsen explains.

“When we learn the rules of these systems, we start to get the idea of how we can use it to engineer synthetic living systems. I think when that technology is fully realized, it will define its era,” he says. “We kind of have living buildings where they’ll read the temperature and they’ll open and close windows automatically but imagine if you could have that kind of responsiveness and functionality within a material, microscopically. That’s the goal in my mind, when I study these spinners,” he says.

Activating silk fibers

Summer Scholar Sabrina Shen, from Johns Hopkins University, carried out molecular dynamics simulations of how different forms of carbon affect silk in the lab of Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Head Markus J. Buehler. “If we can put activated carbon inside silk and make conductive membranes with it, then it can be conductive, and then it can be used for flexible electronics or sensors,” Shen explains. The lab is interested in obtaining activated carbon from biomass, she says. Compared to pure carbon materials, like graphite or carbon nanotubes, biomass-derived activated carbons often contain oxygen and nitrogen, and this affects their interaction with silk proteins. “Previous studies have shown that graphene can disrupt hydrogen bonding within the silk beta crystals, which would decrease the mechanical strength of the silk. Now we want to see how biomass-derived carbons populated with different functional groups including both oxygens and nitrogens will interact with the silk, and how this affects the mechanical properties,” Shen says.

“I’ve never done computational research before so all of it is fairly new to me,” Shen says. “I was fairly set on graduate school before coming here, but I’m even more certain now, especially after I’ve had opportunities to talk to the other graduate students in my lab and to hear about their experiences.”

While she previously worked with biomaterials for the medical field, Shen says she finds the Buehler lab’s focus on bio-inspired materials and hierarchical design to be fascinating. “I like it a lot, and it’s definitely something I would consider for graduate research,” Shen says.

Analyzing cobalt supply and demand

Working in the research group of Elsa A. Olivetti, Atlantic Richfield Associate Professor of Energy Studies, Summer Scholar Danielle Beatty from the University of Utah, says she experienced an entirely different side of materials science and engineering from the experimental work she previously did.

Beatty developed scenarios to analyze the balance between supply and demand for cobalt, particularly in the face of increasing demand for lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles. “We’re focusing on how demand is going to change out to 2030,” Beatty explains. “We’re doing a short-term analysis, how demand is going to change, how supply of cobalt coming from both primary sources and recycling may have an impact on that demand-supply ratio.”

Beatty learned new coding skills in Python and gained a broader perspective on materials availability. “It’s opened up a whole new side of things for me. I never had really considered the computational side of materials science much, but coming into this, that’s definitely a possibility for me now and something I’d be really interested in pursuing further or at least incorporating more into my experimental work as well,” she says.

Creating neuro fibers

Bunker Hill Community College student Minhua Mei worked with Postdoc Mehmet Kanik in the lab of Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering Polina Anikeeva on a project to develop a flexible fiber probe. The goal is develop a neuro probe for recording brain activity in mice as part of an autism study. Mei worked with the polymer PMMA to create blocks about 10 inches long with electrodes melded into them that can be drawn out to a hundred times their length in a fiber drawing tower.

Improving flow batteries

Summer Scholar Julianna La Lane from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and Bunker Hill Community College student Zhirong [Justin] Fan worked on aqueous flow batteries in the lab of Fikile R. Brushett, the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Chair, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Fan used electrochemical diagnostics to compare the microstructure and the performance of different commercial electrodes in flow batteries. La Lane created hierarchically porous electrodes derived from polyacrylonitrile, optimizing the fabrication procedure to tune properties including porosity, hydrophilicity [ease of wetting by water], and electrical conductivity. “We’re trying to make it as porous as possible,” La Lane explains.

Synthesizing electronic materials

Summer Scholar Michael Molinski, from the University of Rhode Island, and Roxbury Community College student Bruce Quinn worked in the lab of Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Rafael Jaramillo. Working with graduate students Stephen Filippone and Kevin Ye, both Molinski and Quinn made solid materials, producing powders of compounds such as barium zirconium sulfide, which are desirable for their optical and electrical properties.

The process involves mixing together the chemical ingredients to produce the powders in a quartz tube in the absence of air and sealing it. “In the reaction, you don’t want any oxygen to create an oxide, so he seals them in the tube, then he puts them in the furnace, heats them up and hopefully creates barium zirconium sulfide when it comes out,” Filippone explains.

The first GAIN program participant, Quinn hot pressed the powders into pellets. He expects to complete an associate degree in biotechnology next spring. Molinski also grew crystals. Both examined their powders with X-Ray diffraction.

Developing multiple sclerosis models 

Summer Scholar Fernando Nieves Muñoz, from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, worked in the lab of Krystyn Van Vliet, the Michael (1949) and Sonja Koerner Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, to develop mechanical models of multiple sclerosis [MS] lesions. Nieves Muñoz worked closely with Research Scientist Anna Jagielska and chemical engineering graduate student Daniela Espinosa-Hoyos. “We are trying to find a way to stimulate repair of myelin in MS patients so that neurological function can be restored. To better understand how remyelination works, we are developing polymer-based materials to engineer models of MS lesions that mimic mechanical stiffness of real lesions in the brain,” Jagielska explains.

Nieves Muñoz used stereolithography 3D printing to create cross-linked polymers with varying degrees of mechanical stiffness and conducted atomic force microscopy studies to determine the stiffness of his samples. “Fernando has been optimizing a commercial 3D printer to generate stiffness maps by changing the gray scale values of digital masks and in this way change the extent of cross-linking of the polymer within a given model,” Espinosa-Hoyos says.

“Our long-term goal is to use these models of lesions and brain tissue to develop drugs that can stimulate myelin repair,” Nieves Muñoz says. “As a mechanical engineering major, it has been exciting to work and learn from people with diverse backgrounds.”

The summer researchers presented their results at a Poster Session on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. View Poster Session slideshow.

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back to newsletterDenis Paiste, Materials Research Laboratory
August 29, 2018

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