Dr. Matthew Dawber, Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, discusses the work of Intel finalist Juliana Coraor
I first met Juliana as a student in my Classical Physics Honors Class, which she was taking while still a high school junior at Huntington High School through Stony Brook University’s Young Scholars Program. This class is a highly demanding class which selects the best 25 incoming students at Stony Brook from amongst our physics and math majors and the Honors college. Despite being by far the youngest student in the class, Juli was also the best student, and harnessed her enthusiasm for the subject to produce excellent performances in every aspect of the course.
From the very beginning of the course it was clear that Juli was interested in going beyond the standard topics covered. She expressed an interest in learning about x-ray diffraction and condensed matter physics, so we began meeting every couple of weeks to discuss these topics. I was overjoyed when she applied to the Simons Summer Research Program and asked me if she could do a project with me.
The problem Juli tackled is an extension of a discovery that I was part of a few years ago, which was that at interfaces in artificially layered structures where the layers are only a few atoms thick, which we call superlattices, a new form of ferroelectric ordering, improper ferroelectricity, occurred. This is a special example of how nano-engineering of materials can lead to enhanced functional properties, with numerous potential applications in various kinds of electronic devices.
In the semester before her project, Juli delved into the literature around this topic and came up with a very interesting set of experiments. Her idea was that we would study the effect of both pressure and epitaxial strain on the materials, and she came up with specific plans for how we could do this. The full scope of her ideas were too much be realized in one summer, and the pressure experiments will be performed in the future at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven National Laboratory; she did an excellent job of measuring the effect of epitaxial strain on improper ferroelectricity. In doing this she mastered advanced materials fabrication techniques and became an expert on using x-ray diffraction for material characterization, both in my lab and at the NSLS.
Despite juggling many courses, both at her high school and at Stony Brook, Juli still comes to our lab frequently and attends our department colloquium. Juli is fantastic to work with and I see she will have a very bright future in scientific research.