Previous month:
November 2008
Next month:
February 2009

December 2008

Back to Indiana

Sadly, Fall MRS 2008 has come to an end. I had a great time at the conference and learned valuable information for my research. It was also great to see some old friends and enjoy the delicious local seafood. Thanks to all the organizers and student workers, the symposium went along very smoothly. I spent yesterday strolling through Boston - mostly on the Freedom Trail as I wanted to see some of the extensive history in the city. It was a beautiful day for a walk and I had some great Italian food along the way. 

I arrived in West Lafayette today and was greeted with a couple of inches of snow that had fallen during my absence.(View across engineering mall at Purdue)


This was a great experience and thanks for reading. Hopefully our paths cross in the future. 



Farewell, MRS

The conference is officially over and, most likely, almost everyone is back to their hometowns.  For me, it's time for final exams and preparations for working on research without the interruption of classes.  It also means back to snow... somehow Indiana got hit with the elements before Boston this year.  I feel lucky to have enjoyed above-freezing temperatures for an extra week.  Thanks to this invaluable and beneficial experience, I have new ideas and directions I can take (and an ever-growing list of publications to read) as well as an enhanced understanding of my current work.  I am inspired by the many encouraging results that were presented throughout the week.  I look forward to again feeling like a kid in a candy store, grabbing as much information as possible and (perhaps not so much kid-in-a-candy-store fashion) sharing as much as possible, too.  It was lovely to have met several MRS staff members, thank you all for your efforts this week!  To be honest, the conference was also pretty exhausting... those night-time poster sessions and early morning must-attend symposia sessions have taken their toll and I am glad that I had enough energy on Friday to do some sight seeing.  If you're ever in Boston, you should consider walking the Freedom Trail.  It gives a nice historical overview of the city, not to mention an incredible view at the top of the Bunker Hill Monument (and an incredible amount of exercise... do you have any idea what it's like for a slightly out of shape grad student to climb over 290 stairs?  I do.).  The Trail consists of a red brick line built into the sidewalk and street, it reminded me of the Wizard of Oz (if only the bricks were yellow...).

The Freedom Trail


A View From the Top


I am now going to officially sign out of my blog for the Fall 2008 MRS meeting.  I hope you have all enjoyed reading about my first MRS experience, I'm sure I'll see you at future MRS conferences!  

Caitlin Burger 

Winding down

It is the final day of the conference and the convention center is eerily deserted.  The few remaining talks are in the Shearton, and only a handful of people are left.  It's been a busy week and several people look downright exhausted.

For the duration of the meeting I pretty much camped out in Symposium C, on ferroelectrics and multiferroics.  Many of the talks were relevant and interesting to me, and I had a few good discussions with collaborators  during the breaks.  Yesterday the two MRS Medal Award recipients, James Scott and Darrell Schlom, gave talks at Symposium X, which was lucky for me as I've spent a lot of time studying their papers.  Prof. Scott's talk had the cute (if corny) theme of "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."  The "old" was a paper of his from 1980 about a magnetoelectric effect in BaMnF4, a paper which went almost unnoticed until the past few years when it has suddenly received a slew of citations in the boon of multiferroics research.

Prof.  Schlom had a similar story in his talk, about the first paper he published when he was a new professor at Penn State.  Before he had a lab set up, he did some calculations with an undergrad student (if I have the story right) on the thermodynamic stability of various binary oxides in contact with silicon.  It might have been a relatively unremarkable paper, except that the transistor community was looking for a new gate dielectric to replace SiO2 in order to make thinner transistors.  They needed something that wouldn't react with silicon, producing an unwanted SiO2 layer, so Schlom's paper became very popular as a guide to the search.  The moral of these stories is twofold.  First, you can't always predict the impact of a given piece of research and second, even if your paper is ignored by the scientific community, don't despair.  There is still a chance that you'll get the last laugh.

Now it is goodbye to Boston, land of the frigid wind, endless shopping malls, and a million Au Bon Pain's. (Seriously- this place has Au Bon Pain outlets like most cities have trash cans.)  I'm going to do some sightseeing before I leave though, so hopefully I'll rewrite those impressions with something more aesthetic.  It has been fun blogging and I hope someone out there has been reading it, even if you aren't commenting.  Maybe I'll see you in March for the Spring Meeting on the sunny shores of California.  Bye!

Energy crisis

Pluggin-in This scene is familiar to conference attendees:  people sitting on cold floors in empty hallways, desperate for a power outlet or a wifi signal.  I hope that future convention center-architects are taking notes.  We need more power, more tables, stronger signals! 

The results are in!

This morning the much anticipated results of the Science as Art Competition were announced. First place winners were given $400 and second place winners were given $200. Science as Art is just one of the friendly competitions sponsored at MRS. Other competitions sponsored at MRS include Graduate Student Awards, Best Poster awards, and the MRS calendar competition that has been changed to an academic calendar format and will resume in Spring MRS 2009.

And Fall MRS 2008 isn't over yet! There are still many interesting talks being presented and other special events including Government Agency sessions held at 6pm this evening as well as another poster presentation this evening.

Below are the symposiums' favorite art pieces. (Click on image to enlarge - they should be clear enough to read details.)

100_0156   100_0157 100_0159100_0161100_0163100_0165

Tuesday's policy session

I thought I'd mention the policy session I went to on Tuesday as I'm guessing that it went under the radar of most conference attendees.  The session consisted of a talk by long-time MRS lobbyist Ronald Kelley followed by a panel discussion with three former MRS Congressional Fellows.  It proved very interesting as I'd never heard of the Congressional Fellows program before, and science policy isn't a topic I've ever given much thought.  I don't think I'm exceptional in that regard, and I suspect that many researchers, though they'd like to see government make good decisions on scientific topics, would happily not think about it themselves.  Mr. Kelley made a convincing case for why we should care, however, and urged the audience to consider it part of their responsibility as scientists to pay attention to policy and be involved.  It turns out that sound scientific judgment is required in a surprising number of issues, among them energy, health care, and telecommunications, along with government funding for research and development.  As we all know, most policy makers don't have a background in science, so it is crucial that they have guidance from trained scientists when making decisions on these issues.

In the second half of the session, the panel of former congressional fellows talked about their experiences in this role, both during the fellowship and in their ensuing careers in policy.  Their positive opinion of the fellowship program was unanimous as they encouraged interested students to apply.  MRS supports two fellows each year who are placed in a congressional office and assist in a great variety of policy making activities like wording legislation and propositions and whatever else it is that congress people do.  They had all stayed in policy in one way or another, but said that most fellows returned to science, flush with new insight and valuable contacts.  It actually sounds like an interesting and rewarding career, though Mr.  Kelley's repeated warning of low pay was somewhat off-putting.  However, the number and nature of questions from the audience suggested that several students were considering applying for the fellowship and pursuing this career path.

Cells and Shape Memory

Since I know not everyone shares my love of epitaxy, I thought I'd mention some of the interesting talks I attended this week that are outside my own area.  I attended an invited talk on how nanotechnology is being used to make artificial cells.  The first step in doing so is finding materials that can closely mimic cell components, i.e. cell walls.  Researchers are using silica coated nylon membranes as a template for lipid bilayer placement.  I think the applications of nanotechnology to biology is fascinating, this was no exception!  There were also a few nice talks on shape memory alloys and their applications to MEMS devices that I found interesting.       

Help Increase Governmental Funding-Write Your Senator Today

Attention US citizens: In case you haven't had a chance to stop by the Materials Voice Kiosk, you should do so at some point today.  As we all know, science funding is getting tighter each year.  However, you can do something to help!  At the Materials Voice Kiosk, you can pick your own funding agency and an email is automatically generated and sent to your local senator.  If you do so while you're at the meeting, you will receive a $5 gift card to Dunkin' Donuts, which is great because there seems to be a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner in Boston.  For those of you not at the meeting, you can still get involved!  Generate a letter at home by going to the Materials Voice Link.   


Today I visited the MyMRS booth to learn more about the personalized features of the MRS website - I was very impressed. The assistants at the booth are very helpful with setting up your profile and guiding you through the website. Within the website, you can easily access past symposium proceedings and register for online updates on your MyMRS page that notify you of any new posts in your interested areas. Examples of these posts include details about future MRS meetings, fellowship and scholarship opportunities, MRS awards and student challenges, scientific outreach, and of course, research spotlights in your particular area. I strongly urge you to navigate through the MyMRS website and take advantage of these great resources. 

Nanoscience for energy generation

Monday evening I attended a great talk given by Susan Solomon on climate change. The data was presented very clearly and the repercussions of our current path in greenhouse gas production were very evident. Dr. Solomon emphasized that there is no quick fix to this problem and that many technilogical advances are required to stablize and eventually decrease our greenhouse gas emissions.

Since this talk, I attended several presentations on the advancements of photovoltaics - one area that gives promise as a possible path to overcoming the above challenge. One talk that was particularly interesting was given by Harry Atwater and emphasized the utilization of metallic nanoparticles to increase photovoltaic efficiency. The premise of this research is to increase light absorption in thin device layers by covering the surface facing the sun with metallic nanoparticles. At first glance, one may assume that metal added to a surface would reflect light away, but Atwater and others have shown that through interactions between the light and nanoparticles the absorption of light is increased. The reasoning for this increased absorption is due to both simple scattering of light off of nanoparticles and surface plasmons coupling with light into guided modes in thin films. This is one example of the clever approaches that are being taken to solve our climate challenge.