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Researcher of the Month
Electrical Engineering major
University Scholar, Class of 2013, NNIN REU intern
Research Mentor: Dr. Dmitri Donetski, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Daryl’s story is illuminating. As an entering freshman at Stony Brook, she was uncertain of her choice of major, and had no research background or intention of pursuing research. But she kept an open mind, and took the initiative to explore opportunities — including campus research opportunities, and summer REU programs. The result?: Daryl discovered that she really excelled at and enjoyed research, particularly the collaborative, often international environment. Last summer, Daryl was selected to intern at a national laboratory in Japan where she gained experience in working on Gallium-Arsenide integrated circuits. This May, Daryl Vulis will be graduating with a major in Electrical Engineering and a Physics minor; and has a bright future as she prepares to enter graduate (Ph.D.) study in the field of plasmonics and photonics.
Daryl Vulis was born in Queens, NY and graduated from Stuyvesant High School. In 2009, she entered Stony Brook University as a member of the University Scholars program. The summer after freshman year, Daryl participated in an REU program at Harvard University, School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, where she worked in the Whitesides Group on a “Study of Finite Size Effects in 2-dimensional Millimeter-Sized coulombic Crystals” (Summer 2010). The following summer, she participated in a National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network/ NNIN program at Cornell University where she worked in the Liddell Group on “Confinement Assisted Self-Organization of Photonic templates” (Summer 2011), and gained experience working in a clean room. After presenting her work at a NNIN Research Convocation at the Georgia Institute of Technology at the end of the program, Daryl was subsequently given the opportunity to apply for an international NNIN-iREU program—through a NNIN initiative “to educate Globally Aware Scientists.” Daryl was honored to be selected for this program, and last summer, worked at the National Institute for Materials Sciences in Tsukuba Japan on the “Fabrication of GaAs-based integrated circuits by advanced nanofabrication techniques.”
At Stony Brook, Daryl is currently working on her senior engineering thesis project under the direction of Professor Dmitri Donetski on “Design of plasmonic-enhanced InAsSb photodetectors.” She started doing independent research with Professor Donetski in her junior year, and last April presented a poster on this project at URECA’s annual campus-wide poster symposium titled: “Novel InAs1-xSbx epitaxial materials with low energy gaps of 0.1eV for infrared electronics.” Daryl is actively involved as Vice President of Eta Kappa Nu (HKN), the Electrical and Computer Engineering Honors Society, and is also a member of Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honors Society; and has served as a Teaching Assistant for ESE 124, as well as University Scholars 101. She credits the University Scholars Program with “making a big difference for me. We have our own advisors and they’re great. They respond right away. I’ve had some crises: changing my major, etc. and they’re very helpful. Also just being able to meet a lot of different scholars over the years, including non-electrical engineers(!), has broadened my horizon. I enjoyed the whole College Fellows experience. That was good chance to be a peer mentor, and help incoming freshman.” Below are excerpts of Daryl's interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: What kind of research are you involved in on campus?
Daryl: I’m been working on two projects with Prof. Donetski. Last year I worked on the optimization of Indium-Arsenide-Antimony (InAsSb) photodiodes. That involved using a UNIX based software called PADRE to simulate the different photodiode configurations. And so we would change parameters to see how that affected the energy band gaps and the current voltage characteristics. I presented at URECA last April. This year, for my senior thesis project, I have a plasmonics topic: we’re exploring the topic of plasmon enhanced photo diodes.
When you started working with Prof. Donetski – did you have any background in this kind of research?
I started working with Prof. Donetski last year, my junior year. The material was new for me but I wasn’t new to research. At that point, I’d done two REUs at Harvard and Cornell. I was really interested in trying something more electrical-engineering-related, and was happy to have the chance to do independent research with Prof. Donetski.
Tell me a little about your REU experiences. What did you enjoy about participating
in summer research programs?
One of the great things about REUs is that you’re living with other students who are also doing the same program. It’s a lot of fun to meet other peers who are doing research, and to see their perspective and learn about the different projects. That first summer when I did the REU — that’s what got me interested in research! I had applied to the REU, and two days before it started I got off the wait list. It was totally last minute. Yet the whole prospect of being able to work on a project full time and really understand the background, and work towards a goal—that was very attractive to me. In the summers, a lot of work gets done . . . I continued to look for summer opportunities after that.
So what did you do the next summer?
In the summer after sophomore year, I was at Cornell, working as part of the NNIN REU. I had very unusal working hours when I was at Cornell, working in the clean room. There were literally dozens of users at any given time in the clean room and it was open 24/7. You might book a specific machine at midnight or 2 am or 5 am – and you’d have to use it then because everyone wanted time with that particular machine. It was interesting!...
I’d found out about this opportunity from an email to University Scholars, from Dr. Maynard …The NNIN gives you a chance to work at any NNIN sites, including Cornell, Stanford. . At the end of the summer, they bring all the interns from all the sites together for a big conference. That year it was at Georgia Tech. You go there and do a podium style presentation in front of the 90 or so interns and professors. They stream it live...and there’s a poster session. And then, from those 80-90 people invited to the conference, they give you the opportunity to apply to a second year program in Germany, Japan, France, or the Netherlands. So I applied, and got in to that program for the following summer.
So you went to..?
Japan! I was really, really excited. They sent 8 of us to Japan. I worked at the National Institute for Materials Science. I got the chance to work in a clean room environment (my second summer doing that), and worked for a group on creating gallium arsenide integrated circuits. I worked everyday in the clean room. The clean room was really cool, really top of the line…almost everything there was brand new equipment.
I got to be trained on the machines. And best of all, I got the experience of taking a design for something all the way to the end. It was a great chance to see a project from start to finish. I would design it on the computer, after verifying the parameters and calculating how we wanted to place our devices on the integrated circuit. And then fabricate it in the clean room, which would take a couple of days…and then do all the measurements, and write all the things to characterize the measurements. And then, go back and design, fabricate, characterize. I learned so much! And got so much exposure to research.
It must have been an amazing experience.
It was very interesting having the opportunity of working in a national lab environment –it was quite an international environment. We met people from Australia, Britain, China, all over… It was great chance to meet people from different backgrounds. My whole experience in Japan was really eye opening. You really see how much the research is international. You need to be able to work with people from different cultures and different countries and communicate. You learn the importance of being able to step out of your comfort zone……It was great. I was not expecting to get as much out of it as I did!
What your future plans?
I’m applying to PhD programs. I just finished applying for the NSF Graduate Fellowship too which was a ton of work. I’m mostly interested in optics..or photonics type research, and am hoping to work on meta materials and plasmonics again. Kind of a combination of what I started doing at Cornell and what I’m doing now.
Has being involved with research given you a better understanding of the coursework
you take as an Electrical Engineering major?
We’re taking classes on the backgrounds on semiconductors and integrated circuits. But that didn’t really mean anything until I actually got to work on creating these devices. So the experiences I’ve had, working with Prof. Donetski and working in Japan specifically… these experiences actually gave me a lot of perspective on the applications of what we were learning in class. Because sometimes you’re taking tests, and doing homework and it’s all numbers and you don’t really don’t know where it actually comes into play. . . Doing the research has also helped me define what I want to do—and has given me a chance to direct my coursework more in the areas I was interested in. I chose to do the Physics minor to get more background for the type of work I’m interested in. . . I think also that one of the best parts of being in an REU is that it’s 10 weeks. You make the most of your time there. Through the REU programs, I got a chance to work in completely different areas that I might not have considered otherwise. And that has broadened my views of how all these areas & disciplines interact.
Had you done research as a high school student?
Actually no, I had not done research at Stuyvesant. I didn’t participate in Intel. At that time, I thought that I didn’t want to do research…..so I was totally not expecting to go to REUs or to enjoy it was much as I did when I experienced the REU. When I came to Stony Brook even, I knew I wanted to be an engineer…but I wasn’t sure what kind. But it turns out that I really love electrical engineering!
What advice would you give to other students?
I think if you can get involved early in research, it’s great. I’m really impressed by the people I’ve met who've worked in the same lab for 4 years. Sometimes you are choosing between depth or breadth. For me, it turned out that I was able to try a whole bunch of things and learn about different areas that were of interest to me to help me decide what to do. . . .
In general, it’s worth giving it a shot, especially if you haven’t tried research before. Some people hate it. That’s worth finding out too. So my general advice is: just apply. I think that sometimes people get turned away by the process. It’s a lot of work, you need recommendations, and it takes time. But even though it’s a lot of work, it’s worth doing.
Any advice for students going into an REU program?
Being willing to work with other people and collaborate and communicate is really big. At the REUs I’ve been in, they always tell us every year: “Don’t get stuck on your project. Ask for help! Don’t waste the 10 weeks.” Certainly you also have to be willing to put in the hours and really learn the background of your work and figure out everything about a specific problem before you can solve it. But it’s important too to be willing to ask for help when you need it and to communicate.
Did you also learn a lot about giving presentations through your research experiences?
Definitely. I’ve had to give presentations for all 3 summer programs. And I presented at URECA last April. The first time you do it, it makes you nervous but you practice. I found I really enjoy it. It’s very exciting to find a way to put the material that you’ve accomplished into an easily absorbable format. And to make it exciting for other people.
You are definitely a great advocate for REUs, and undergraduate research!
What I like about research is that you’re working on a problem that no one has ever attempted before. I really do enjoy the environment where you’re collaboratively working with a lot of other individuals on solving a certain problem. The excitement of being able to produce something that can be published and that’s never been seen before is a huge draw.