Nanotech NYC sits down with students, faculty and researchers from across the city to give those interested a glimpse into the local nanotechnology scene. Today we sit down with Frederick Pearsall, a 5th year PhD student in the Chemistry Department at Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Tell us a little bit about where you are from.
Hello Jacob! Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me. I’m very excited about the community you’re building with n2yc and am even more excited to be a part of it. I’ve lived in New York almost my entire life and traveled east as I grew up. I started in Sunset Park, Brooklyn then Glendale, Queens. Finally, and this is where I spent most of my time growing up, I moved to Nassau County, Long Island. The town is called Franklin Square and it’s one of the many small neighborhoods stuck together on (that’s right on) the Island. It’s suburban, with the need to drive just about anywhere, quiet, with large backyards and houses. I enjoyed the calmer aspects growing up and the city was a train ride away; I was able to visit occasionally for concerts and events. While growing up I thought about how I would like to return to New York one day.
Where did you complete your undergraduate and any graduate degrees prior to this one?
I attended Stony Brook University for a BSc in chemistry, which was a great experience academically and personally. The courses I took really prepared me for graduate school, and I owe a lot to the community of professors who mentored me during my time as a teaching assistant and undergraduate researcher. A lot of my memorable experiences come from undergraduate research and the SBU fencing team. My undergraduate mentor, Fernando Raineri, was a great support and is a major reason why I became interested in obtaining a PhD. As for fencing, I joined the team and fell in love immediately (with foil of course), eventually becoming a coach and executive board member, organizing trips, competitions and scheduling events.
What is your current status as a graduate student?
I am in my last semester of the five-year Nanotechnology and Materials Science PhD program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. I will graduate in May 2019 and am incredibly excited for the next stage in my career.
What group are you in and what is the group’s overall focus?
In 2014 I joined Professor Stephen O’Brien’s group at the Center for Discovery and Innovation, located at CUNY’s West Harlem campus. Our groups’ focus and mission are the application of nanotechnology to advancements in energy and data storage. We value integration into existing device paradigms, “R&D within the context of economic reality.” Specifically, we use scalable chemical solution processing methods to synthesize unique nanoscale compounds and characterize their structural, electronic, magnetic and other properties. You can find out more about our group here: https://www.obrien-research.org/.
What is your particular research on?
Using a method developed in our group, I synthesize nanoparticle oxides consisting of transition metals such as titanium, manganese and iron. The compounds I create have advanced energy and data storage applications. Depending on the desired application and the characterization techniques I decide to use, I process the particles differently, using them in thin films or as magnets. For my PhD I focused mostly on discovering novel materials for nanocomposites, measuring their permittivity in capacitors. I’ve worked a lot with an LCR impedance analyzer which measures the capacitance (among some other things) of a device while applying an AC voltage. By sweeping the frequency of this AC field, I learn about the stability of my materials and gain insight on their ability to store and release charge quickly and efficiently. A major challenge I have faced is finding a concomitantly stable and efficient capacitor, which is something I have overcome by creating nanocomposites with unique components and preparation methods. As a lot of my work involves characterization, I must also find ways to analyze large amounts of data which is something I have learned to deal with using Python, which has saved me a lot of time in the long run.
Can you tell me about some potential future applications for your work?
The materials and devices I work on have applications in energy and data storage. I fabricate capacitors which may be used as incorporated power conversion components, that can be manufactured simultaneously with printed circuit-boards (PCBs). In other words, by incorporating these capacitors, there’s plenty more room for other components, such as processors, resistors and more on a PCB. My other work is on multiferroics and it has applications in computer memory and data storage, which takes advantage of the interaction between magnetic and electronic properties present within a single material. Researchers are looking for coupling behavior between these properties, which would allow for 4-bit data storage, non-volatile memory advancements, and improved spintronics applications. Companies as large as Intel, prompted by miniaturization issues such as the self-fulfilling prophecy of Moore’s Law, are working on devices which take full advantage of coupled multiferroics.
How did you figure out you wanted to specialize in this area?
Even as an organic chemist at Stony Brook, nanotechnology fascinated me. I enjoy putting together desktop computers; seeing the individual components such as processors and graphics cards is exciting. I am intrigued by the materials and methods used to create these electronics. Thus, one major reason I chose the chemistry PhD program at the City University of New York is its Nanotechnology and Materials Science track. This allowed me to continue using my chemistry training together with nanotech to develop my own materials and methods. Going to CUNY was also incredibly timely, as the Advanced Science Research Center class 100 clean room had just been completed when I joined my group. I had the chance to learn nanomanufacturing processes at this state-of-the-art nanofabrication facility.
You were previously a NanoFab Fellow at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center. Tell us what that was like and what you took from it.
The NanoFab Fellowship offered at the Advanced Science Research Center is an incredible opportunity. As I mentioned before, I am interested in clean room and nanofabrication techniques. For the fellowship I train and consult users on what processes are available to them and write standard operating procedures for certain instruments. The main instrument I worked with is the Bruker Dimension FastScan AFM. What I enjoyed the most about the NanoFab Fellowship is the credited instrument time I received. Using this, I was able to use and learn all the equipment, something that is extremely rare at many universities and has drastically expanded my professional skills portfolio. The facility is available to all researchers and is something I highly recommend learning about and incorporating into your own work. If you have any questions about the ASRC NanoFab, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
You are the University Chapter President of the CUNY Materials Research Society student chapter. Tell us about your experience with that and about the what the local MRS chapter does.
The Materials Research Society (MRS) has very many resources and opportunities for students. I thought it would be beneficial to take advantage of these opportunities, and along with like-minded students and our favorite advisor emeritus Jacob Trevino, started our university chapter. I have prior experience with student organizations, and I believe it is the best way to achieve goals not directly related to one’s research project. For example, when I and other CUNY graduate students decided to start the MRS we did so because we wanted to provide our student community with resources in the materials science field. Since then we have met with startup companies, incubator and accelerator spaces, students, professors and more. We plan site visits, invite technical speakers and provide workshops for our university community. My goal has always been to expand my university’s network, connecting fellow classmates with professionals and other students in the field. We have meetups at our university, sometimes along with Nanotech NYC and I invite anyone interested to join us. Follow us on Facebook to connect and hear about our upcoming events: https://www.facebook.com/CUNYMRS/
In addition to your PhD research, you are working with a company here in NYC. Tell us a bit about that experience.
I am a research intern at alpha-En Corp, which is a startup company. Lithium metal batteries are becoming of interest as commercialization is becoming feasible. These batteries have a much higher energy density, often twice as much, than commercial lithium ion batteries. Alpha-En wants to supply the growing demand for lithium metal using a clean technology proprietary process, performed at temperatures lower than an order of magnitude of those currently used, and which is chlorine and mercury free. More specifically, I work on developing and refining this process which yields pure lithium metal. I thoroughly enjoy the faster-paced environment of industry and the small community of a startup. At alpha-En, I have learned to wear many hats and to become creative in solving problems within tight deadlines. For example, I am sometimes in the lab, sometimes explaining technical decisions to stakeholders, or sometimes doing an analysis of supply chains and markets, among other things. I find it very fun.
Where do you hope to take your career in the next 5 or 10 years?
In the coming years I want to apply my PhD training into something business and finance related such as consulting or investing. I’m quite interested in learning new things so I would like to work in a dynamic role, leading and managing teams of people. My largest goal is to combine and sharpen my technical and diffuse skills, at a company whose purpose I strongly believe in. It is a dream of mine to start my own companies, which I plan to do using what I have learned along the way.
What do you do for fun outside of your program?
I enjoy going to museums such as the American Museum of Natural History for exhibits and events, where I can learn something that is often unrelated to my PhD work. I enjoy meeting new people with different personal and academic backgrounds, and I am always pushing myself to learn about what interests me. I spend a lot of time reading and using online learning platforms as well. My all-time favorite thing to do is writing and performing music.
If you could go back to the first day you started your graduate work and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
Over time I’ve learned a person should experience as much as possible in order to find what they want and don’t want. I would say to myself, don’t be afraid to take on any new challenges, as they are all opportunities to grow. I would also tell myself to be patient, as all great things take time. I know that’s two things, but younger me would appreciate it.