People carrying around posters

You know you're near a scientific conference when you see people walking around with mysterious cylindrical containers slung over their shoulders.  This is the result of the evolution of the large poster-carrying tube containers.  Of course I joined in on the fad myself; My lab has a black plastic poster holder with a strap that we take turns borrowing to conferences.  Some have nicer leather ones, some have cardboard tubes, they come in many shapes and sizes.  But what I often wonder is, what do other people around town and at airports think we are carrying in these tubes?  I know personally that, before I became a grad student, if I saw someone walking around with one of those cylinders, I assumed he was carrying some sort of rifle.  Maybe a fishing pole?  What on earth could possibly be in there?  

They also have a practical, probably unintended purpose; someone carrying a poster tube can instantly be recognized as a fellow conference-goer.  It makes for an easy conversation-started, since you know that person probably has some interesting work that they are excited to present and tell you about.  

Therefore, I think its a great thing to be a member of this fraternity of poster-carrying conferencers.  I certainly see many folks walking around today with their posters, undoubtedly getting ready to take them home.  Wear it proudly!

Fall in love with Arizona in 3 steps

Hello dear members:

As you might know, this is our last day of the MRS -Spring meeting17, there is a saying: "Nothing good last forever", and probably this is the reason why the MRS it's just 5 days. As we don't have tonight a poster presentation and if you are probably flying back to home tomorrow or Sunday  you will have a free time to spend. Due to that, I wanted to give you some suggestions of my top 3 places to visit. I was living around the Tempe-Phoenix area and I can guarantee, my suggestions in here.

Heard Museum: Known for its award-winning exhibits, the Heard Museum uses its collections and first-person voice to tell the stories of American Indian cultures while at the same time celebrates the diverse achievements of today’s artists. Experience the Heard’s many exhibition galleries that include both ongoing shows and changing exhibits featuring an array of artists and art forms. They have severals exhibitions, such as: Frida Kahlo  and Diego Rivera: This exhibit offers a rare opportunity to see firsthand masterpieces by two of the most important and recognizable artists of the 20th century, making Phoenix it's only North American stop on a world tour.  (Directions)

Do not miss this Museum, it's juts 15 minutes far from the Phoenix Convention Center. 


Heard Museum- Outside picture, taken by AHG


Phoenix Art Museum: An institution of exciting art and learning since 1959, Phoenix Art Museum has become the largest art museum in the southwestern United States, providing access to art from all over the world to the people of Arizona.  Right now it's having several exhibition, but the Samurai Exhibition was my favorite. The exhibition, organized by The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum in Dallas, Texas, features more than 140 objects of warrior regalia, with full suits of armor, helmets and masks, weapons, horse tack, and other battle gear. It traces the evolution of the distinctive appearance and equipment of the samurai through the centuries and examines the warriors’ history through works of consummate craftsmanship and exquisite design. Directions

Desert Botanical Garden: If you still did't fall in love with Arizona, well this is one of most iconic places to Visit in Arizona, at least for me.  The Desert Botanical Garden provides a world-class experience for every visitor. Through permanent trailside exhibits, temporary art exhibitions and seasonal experiences we seek to transform the visitor experience into one of discovery and meaning about the desert and desert plants. Directions

Well, I hope this information could be helpful for you. Let me know how was your overall experience at the MRS- I'll be more than happy to know AraceliHG02.

Have a wonderful day!


Last Day of Spring MRS

Wow, a week sure goes by fast!  Today is already the final day, and things have been noticeably scaling down since last night.  Indeed there are fewer talks today, and many of our colleagues have already left to go home.  However, for the dedicated few that are staying, there are still many good talks to be heard today.  Interestingly enough for me, many of my most highly anticipated talks are during the friday afternoon sessions, cutting it very close to when I will need to leave.  Therefore, I highly encourage you all to stay as long as you can, and get the most out of MRS while you are still here.  

A Note on Photovoltaics

A topic that remains hot, both in the materials science community and the nation, is photovoltaics.  For the past several decades, there has been a movement to find alternatives to conventional energy production, which has typically been dominated by fossil fuels such as oil and coal.  This search was accelerated in the early 2000's when the price of oil surged, making alternative energy options more economically favorable.  The search gained even more urgency due to concerns of the environmental and climate impact of combustion-based fuels and the release of greenhouse gasses.  The search for clean energy has resulted in many alternatives; however, the one with the most potential is generally considered to be solar power.

The sun drops a about kilowatt of clean, usable energy for every square meter of the earth's surface (while the sun is shining, that is).  This is the main motivation behind the surge of interest in solar power conversion.  However, a key thing to note is that there are two main ways of converting the energy in sunlight into useful electrical or mechanical energy.  The first method is called "solar thermal", and it involves capturing sunlight as heat, and then converting that heat to electricity.  This is the typical scheme for the impressive "Solar Power Towers", massive towers surrounded by mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on top.  The concentration is crucial in this system because the efficiency of the heat engine in the tower increases as temperature increases, as per the carnot cycle.  

The other way of producing electricity from sunlight is by a direct photon-to-electron conversion using photovoltaic devices.  These devices, commonly called "solar cells", are typically made of semiconductors, with silicon photovoltaics dominating the market.  They are increasingly more common to see on residential and commercial rooftops, and are also being used in power-plant scale installations.  If they are increasing so much in size and scale, then the question is this: Why are we still so dependent on fossil fuels?  Why do photovoltaics and solar thermal systems still only compose a small fraction of our national energy production?  At the end of the day, it all comes down to cost; if solar energy production was cheaper for my parents than simply connecting to the grid, I can assure you, they would install a bunch of solar cells on their house.  So why are they still expensive?  As you can imagine, there are several reasons, some physical, some economic, and some political.  

Unfortunately the answer to this question is longer than I can reasonably put into a single blog post, but the one thing that I will confidently say is this: the cost of the photovoltaics is not the primary problem.  The photovoltaics manufacturing industry has done a great job scaling up their production and decreasing the cost of producing the polycrystalline silicon wafers that are usually used for solar panels.  If you look at the chart below produced by NREL, you can also generally see that the efficiencies of the cells are not the problem.  The efficiencies of practically all cell types have been increasing for decades.  Another big shoutout to the perovskite researchers, who are producing a new photovoltaic architecture that may soon replace silicon as the standard material.  I would argue that the primary place that still needs innovation and cost-reduction is in storage.  Power is only produced when the sun in shining, which is for less than half of a day.  Solar power cannot replace conventional power plants yet because there is no inexpensive way of producing continuous, stable power, regardless of the time of day.  If I were to invest in a particular industry right now, it would be in large-scale power storage.  If we can figure this problem out, I believe solar power would seamlessly replace fossil fuels as our primary energy production method.  For now, this is not the reality, but as materials researchers, it is a reality that we can actually contribute to through our work.  




Arcade and Other Games

To celebrate the last poster session, my colleagues, a few other scientists we met during the conference, and I went out after poster sessions to toast to a good conference. We went to a place which I thought was quite interesting and worth checking out for those of you looking for things to do in Phoenix- the Cobra Arcade Bar.

This is not just your ordinary bar with drinks, this bar has a good amount of arcade games on site. From Street Fighter to Mario to The Simpsons Game, to bowling, Tetris, and more.... this bar offers a good amount of entertainment for a fair price (one to several tokens). It is rumored that if you come to the venue earlier, they will offer you free coins. If you don't make it in early enough, there is a promotion on Yelp where if you check in, they give you 10 free tokens.

Check it out sometime! I did see a bunch of MRS attendees there tonight.


Co Presenting

Unfortunately I did not get the honor of actually presenting a poster to the MRS audience this time around, but I did get to co-present a poster that I was second author on. My thoughts? is less pressure because it is official. But you definitely the same opportunity to explain your work (assuming the first author is fine with you presenting your work). I think that the biggest challenge for both co-presenters and main presenters are the questions that come at you from poster attendees. A lot of the questions I got tonight were specific towards my research and if I've published the data yet or not. This made things very difficult because I was not sure between trying to figure out if people actually cared about the science behind my research versus times where people just wanted to steal and or copy my methods...


Thomas E and Getting Ready for Talks

This morning I went to my colleague, Thomas E,'s talk- CVD Growth of Few Layer MoTe2 in the 2H, 1T', and 1T Phases-Tunable Properties of MoTe2 Films. In order to get more info on how talks operate, I asked Thomas the details behind getting ready for his talk. Here is what he says:

Because he's been collecting data for this talk for a while, it only took him 1 full day of time to get ready for the talk, but used most of the other time to practice speaking for the talk. He didn't have much materials to pay for because it was a talk, so that was not of his worry. The hardest park of the talk was making sure he reached the time limit but not going over the time limit so he practiced speaking slowly in case he got nervous and sped things up. He did not like how the talk leaves things open ended so that people can ask so many questions, but he did appreciate how smoothly things ran this time. He honestly thought that no one was going to show up, so he was surprised at the outcome of the audience turnout.

-Tianyu Liu UCSC

Meet with University of California Presidential Chair Prof. Paul Weiss

The name “Paul Weiss” came to my notice when our group submitted a manucript to ACS Nano and later received an email confirmation. Driven by my curosity, I checked Prof. Weiss’s website and I still cannot figure out why I became so interested in this professor. Perharps because of his handsomeness? (I’m serious. Check his website:

I managed to schedule a meet-up with Prof. Weiss after his talk on Tuesday during the MRS meeting. Prof. Weiss gave a talk introducing his group research work on molecular switches.

The motivation that drives his research team is their willingness to explore the chemistry world, especially nano-world where other people have not been. They started the molecular device work when another group of researchers claimed that they had made molecular wires. At that time, nobody had confirmed whether the molecules were wires. So his group came up with the strategy to isolate individual molecules. Later they confirmed the wire shape and measured the electrical conductivity of these molecular wires for the first time. Now the technology has been spread to many other research fields including nano-science, medicine, and neuroscience. Every time they developed a new tool, it opened up a tremendous amount of opportunities. In all, they research direction is driven by identifying questions and searching for solutions. “Who would care if we did it?” Get to know what other people care about.

The current technology still has its challenges. One of them is the incompetence to probe the behavior of the macromolecular scale. When asked why they specifically wanted to upgrade their technology towards super-molecular level observations, he answered “Everything in every scale humans made never comes close to nature can do in some cases.” The masterpieces created by nature are all macromolecules and his team wants to understand how they can build similar systems.

Prof. Weiss also gave some pieces of advice to graduate students who are new to scientific research. One most important thing he mentioned was to “choose a problem you care about”. Do not join a lab because the lab’s advisor is prestigious. “You want to be anxious to get out bed every morning, to get to lab. And you can’t do that because you think you are working for somebody or you care about what it is that you are working on.” It applies to everyone, including postdocs and undergraduates.

-Tianyu Liu UCSC

The Sheraton Difference

I really just want to use this post to give the Sheraton a big shoutout.  Although I am not even staying at the Sheraton, it has become my home-base for all of my work.  Its lobby has ample computer space, outlets, and even ethernet cables linked to high-speed internet.  Its 2nd floor room has been an incredibly spacious attendee lounge, complete with snacks at night during the gaps between symposia and poster sessions.  And of course its 3rd floor has played host to out massive nightly poster sessions.  The Sheraton as acted as a community center, and a great place to hang out at night.  

And finally, compliments to the chef, the BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches tonight we on-point; I didn't even need to eat out tonight!  A big thank-you to the Sheraton for being such a fine host for us this week.

Adams St. Block Party

The Renaissance Hotel on Adams St in Downtown Phoenix is having a block party as we are speaking (or as you're reading)! They are kicking off the Adams St Project and celebrating the grand opening of the lobby and restaurant Dust Cutter. This event is open to the general public and will go until 9 pm (you still have time!). There are free food samples, all which I thought were fair in size and extremely delicious, and some drink options for purchase. Cobra Arcade Bar is also tabling at this event and have a few arcade games out here for everyone to play to their heart's content. Street Fighter V anyone?