Featured scientist: Prof. Julia Greer (California Institute of Technology, USA).

Prof Julia Greer
Prof Julia Greer

As if she were an architect of the nanoscale, Prof. Julia R. Greer, together with her research group at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) creates three-dimensional structures based on innovatively engineered nanomaterials. The result are metamaterials (artificial materials in which properties depend not only on chemical composition but also on the specific arrangements of nano-sized components into an architected structure) with superior properties. For example, structures with simultaneous extreme lightness and strength or thermal conductivity. Professor Greer and her group develop methods to create such 3D nano-architected materials using an approach called additive manufacturing, and to understand how these properties are generated as a result of multi-scale interactions: atomic, nano and micro scales.

Julia Rosolovsky Greer was born in Moscow (Russia). She began her musical education at the age of 6 and started attending the renowned Gnessin School of Music in Moscow in 5th grade; concurrently in 7th grade she transferred to a Math high school, which in a way served as a foreshadow of her “double-career” as a scientist and a pianist. At 16, she moved with her family to the United States, where she studied and works in three of the top five universities in the world according to the rankings available. For her undergraduate studies she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she obtained in 1997 her major in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Advanced Music Performance. After that, Greer was accepted at Stanford University to undertake graduate studies in Materials Science and Engineering. In 2000, she obtained a M.S. degree, but was discouraged by her at-the-time-supervisor to follow a scientific career. After working for a few years at Intel, Greer decided to return to Stanford to get a Ph.D. Working under the guidance of materials scientist Prof. William D. Nix, who she considers an incredible mentor, Julia made a seminal contribution to nanomechanics and obtained her Ph.D. degree in 2005. After that, she was a postdoctoral fellow at PARC until she joined the faculty of Caltech in 2007, where she is currently a Ruben F. and Donna Mettler Professor of Materials Science, Mechanics, and Medical Engineering.

Professor Greer has an h-index of 56 and over 13,000 citations, according to Google Scholar. She has received a couple of dozen distinctions from scientific institutions, journals and media, and has given more than 100 invited lectures, including named lectures, at scientific events, universities, World Economic Forums and TEDx events. Greer serves as an associate editor for Nano Letters and Extreme Mechanics Letters.

This scientist and concert pianist will be in September in Balneário Camboriú (Brazil), giving a plenary lecture at the XVIII B-MRS Meeting.

See our mini interview with Professor Julia Greer.

B-MRS Newsletter: – In your PhD research, you developed an innovative method to measure mechanical properties of materials at the nanoscale and with it you have made an amazing discovery, right? We would like you to tell us, as briefly as possible, the history of this work, its results and its impact.

When I first arrived at Stanford to start my Ph.D. research with the amazing mentor, Professor W.D. Nix, he vaguely suggested that I should learn how to make small things to test mechanically and see if I could figured out how to use the new-at-the-time instrument, the Focused Ion Beam (FIB). Having worked at Intel for a couple of years, I had learned to do what the Boss tells you to do, so I had learned a very new at the time technique that carves nano-sized shapes by etching the parent material with Ga+ ions. Soon, I had become quite proficient at making nano-cylinders, whose diameters ranged from 1/10,000th of your hair diameter to something like half a thickness of a sheet of paper. I then figured out how to compress them using an instrument called nanoindenter to assess their strength and modulus, and we discovered that as we made those pillars smaller, i.e. reducing the diameter from several microns to a few hundred nanometers, resulted in much higher stresses, i.e. they were able to exhibit much greater strengths. I spent the rest of my 3-year Ph.D. trying to figure out how and why that happened. Together with Prof. Nix, we stumbled upon a pretty impactful finding that smaller was, in fact, stronger, because of the specific behavior and interactions of defects called dislocations within very small, nano- and micro-sized volumes. We did all this work on single crystals of gold, i.e. a relatively malleable metal at the macroscale, whose properties are well understood. When its dimensions were reduced to ~200 nm, it became as strong as steel, exhibiting compressive (and we showed later, tensile, too) stresses close to 800 MPa or even higher; for comparison, the bulk strength of gold is roughly 25 MPa, so it’s 50 times higher! Since then many other research groups have confirmed this type of size effect in many different metals, using different experimental and computational techniques and materials, so it had turned out to be not only a reproducible but seemingly ubiquitous size effect in many different material systems. It has significant implications for how to properly understand material behavior at the nano- and microscale.

B-MRS Newsletter: – In your plenary talk at the B-MRS Meeting, you will talk about three-dimensional nano-architected meta-materials. Could you please choose one of your favorite metamaterials, briefly describe how it is made and mention its (possible) applications?

Well, our meta-materials are like children, I don’t really have a favorite one. What I will do is describe how we usually make these materials, what are their solid constituents – they are all so different: metals, semiconductors, polymers, carbon, ceramics, etc. – and what kind of properties they exhibit. I will describe quite a bit of chemical synthesis, mechanical properties, and show (hopefully 😉 ) interesting visual examples of their response to various stimuli. I am looking forward to the conference!

For more information on this speaker and the plenary talk she will deliver at the XVIII B-MRS Meeting, click on the speaker’s photo and the title of the lecture here https://www.sbpmat.org.br/18encontro/#lectures.


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