National Science Foundation Award Broadens Career Horizon in Materials Research

Samantha Jaszewski, a Ph.D. student in materials science and engineering at the University of Virginia, has earned a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship to pursue her research and career ambitions.

“Materials science is an interdisciplinary field that uses chemistry, physics and engineering to solve real-world problems,” Jaszewski said. She arrived at UVA well prepared, having earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Boston College. She also knows her way around a physics lab.

“While doing research on novel magnetic materials in the Physics Department at Boston College, I was able to work alongside scientists with diverse backgrounds, which motivated my interest in the interdisciplinary field of materials science,” Jaszewski said. “I felt that UVA’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering had the resources I needed to be successful in my graduate studies, along with a great community.”

Jaszewski joined the multifunctional thin film research group led by Jon Ihlefeld, associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering. She investigates a new synthesis technique to more precisely alter the structure and refine the properties of hafnium oxide thin films that function in transistors found in many of today’s electronic devices.

Hafnium oxide, under specific conditions, can be stabilized into a special class of insulator called ferroelectrics. Ferroelectrics “remember” which direction voltage was applied after it is removed—an on-off switch for electric current within an integrated circuit. Ferroelectrics can store more charge than most insulators, which makes them useful in the tiny capacitors that allow cell phones and computers to function.

“Our goal is to study the effects of processing on structure, and to use this knowledge to design materials with specific applications in mind. If we can successfully improve ferroelectric properties of hafnium oxide, we will be one step closer to the level of performance necessary for real-life applications and future semiconductors,” Jaszewski said.

After graduation, Jaszewski plans to pursue a research position at a government research institution. “I want to be involved in cutting-edge research focused on solving issues that are relevant to society today” Jaszewski said. Recipients of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are offered opportunities to engage in internships with partner agencies. “Taking part in a program like this allows me to assess my career options and develop professional skills.”

Aside from her research, Jaszewski is also very interested in scientific research and education. “I’m hoping this fellowship and the opportunities it provides will give me a platform to mentor the next generation of scientists and to work toward improving inclusivity in STEM,” Jaszewski said.

“The National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship program is extremely competitive. It is great honor for Samantha to be selected for this award, which recognizes her hard work, strong academic background, and her community outreach activities,” Ihlefeld said. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to have her as a member of my research group and to mentor her as she hones her scientific skills. Her receiving this award speaks to the high caliber of students that UVA Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering attracts.”