Crossing Disciplines in the NanoWorld
As a chemical and biomolecular engineering graduate student, Robyn Woo investigated the growth of indium
phosphide nanostructures. The compound material has some special properties that give it great potential for applications in high-power and high-frequency electronics, and in optoelectronic devices.
For her doctoral research, Woo created three distinct types of indium phosphide nanostructures
— wires, cones and pillars — through a deposition process. She found that the ultimate shape depended on the surrounding temperature, and the relative amounts of indium and phosphorous available during the deposition processes.
Woo used a metalorganic vapor phase epitaxy (MOVPE) reactor, which has unique compound
semiconductor growth capabilities, for the experiments. Thanks to her skill on the advanced
laboratory machine, her PhD advisor professor Robert Hicks coordinated research collaborations for her with faculty members from the department of Electrical Engineering and Materials Science
“As a chemical engineer, I was taught to approach problems in a chemical engineering way, in terms of material balance, energy balance and chemical potential,” Woo said. “But working across disciplines has allowed me to see different approaches to problems and become familiar with
other scientific and engineering terms.”
Cutting-edge nanoscale research is where fields are intersecting and where breakthrough discoveries will come from.
“This research is crucial to the development of so many new products, including next-generation
integrated circuits, solar cells, optical and wireless communication devices, sensors, and medical devices, just to name a few,” Hicks said.
The advanced cross-disciplinary experience that Woo had not only helped in her research, but also gave her some valuable communication skills, which she has already drawn upon in the workplace.
Woo encourages those in the graduate school to be resourceful and harness their imaginations.
“My advice is to be open-minded and to always think outside the box,” she said. “There are many approaches to problems and I sincerely believe that no one approach is better than others.”
Woo received her PhD in summer 2008.