Research area: Polymers
Research group: Dr. Grant C. Willson
My lab role and research: I work with other graduate and undergraduate students on a project with the goal of controlling the self-assembly of silicon-containing block copolymers with nano-sized features. I have performed a variety of post-synthesis tasks in the project using a number of different instruments and techniques. Some examples are depositing thin polymer films on silicon wafers with a spin coater, measuring film thicknesses by ellipsometry, thermally annealing samples in a vacuum oven, etching annealed samples using a reactive ion etcher, and imaging etched samples with atomic force microscopy.
How will this research will benefit society: Block copolymers are one of the possible future paths for microelectronic patterning. We are focused on finding and developing block copolymers that can self-assemble with perpendicular, nano-scale features. These materials could be used to create lithographic templates to produce drives with capacities of more than one terabit per square inch in order to match the increasing demands of the electronic world.
How I plan to use this experience in my career: I have interests in both attending graduate school and working in the materials industry, so my current research gives me exposure to both of these goals.
The most memorable breakthrough in my research group: Recently we had a series of breakthroughs involving a block copolymer synthesized from styrene and trimethylsilyl styrene monomers. Two different annealing methods, introduction to an environment saturated with a vapor polar solvent and thermal equilibration with modification layers at both the substrate and air interfaces, induced perpendicularly oriented features. Fine-tuning these methods and materials could lead to a process useful for large-scale nanofabrication.
My advice to students who plan to do research: Ask your research advisor and lab graduate students questions. They will be glad to answer and assist you. It will be difficult to understand everything at first, but if you continue to ask questions, both the details of your task and the overarching view of the project will become clear.