COMMUNITY PARTNERS: Micron, Idaho National Laboratory
FACULTY LEAD: Dr. Dave Estrada
“The interdisciplinary Ph.D. in materials science and engineering will prepare students for research careers in academia, industry and government. Their education will enable them to design novel materials that are essential for solving global challenges in energy, healthcare and a variety of other fields.”
– David Estrada
The sun constitutes a largely untapped source of power more than 9,000 times greater than global demand. But as yet, solar power cannot compete with fossil fuels on price and viability.
Dr. Rick Ubic, a professor in the materials science and engineering Ph.D. program, thinks the answer lies in new and better photovoltaic materials composed of minerals known as perovskites. Perovskites are easily manipulated octahedrons, where a change in composition leads to a change in structure.
Perovskites are the most common structural material available, and Ubic is working to create models that can help predict the constructions and properties that will best improve materials production.
Materials science research is heavily influenced by the Materials Genome Initiative, which is aimed at discovering, manu- facturing and deploying advanced materials twice as fast, at a fraction of the cost. Perovskites that provide sought-after properties are helping fuel these new discoveries in areas ranging from solar power to cellular communications.
Ubic works in his lab with both undergraduate and graduate students, including Ph.D. candidate Kevin Tolman, to model how simple changes in perovskite structure affect things like the width of a resonance band or reactions to extreme heat and cold.
“The key is to make it better, cheaper or lighter, improving it for the consumer or for the environment,” Ubic said.
Having a doctoral student adds huge value to Ubic’s work. While he appreciates his undergraduate lab assistants (and in fact recently published a paper with 10 undergraduates listed as authors), he also knows they have a limited knowledge of the subject and are constrained by a heavy load of classes and coursework.
Doctoral students, on the other hand, have a lot more time to focus on research and ideally dedicate themselves to a single project or area of inquiry.
Tolman agrees. “My favorite part of a Ph.D. program is getting to delve into the study and understanding of the science,” he said. “An undergraduate degree is like seeing just the tip of the iceberg. With a Ph.D. program, you get to focus on the rest.”
With $30 million in gift funding, including $25 million from the Micron Foundation, Boise State will establish a new Micron Center for Materials Research. Micron’s gift is the largest ever received by the university, and it will have impact in several areas of research including manufacturing technology, new materials, cancer research, energy studies, space and aeronautics, sensors and microelectronic devices.