Joshua Woods, a senior chemical engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and chemistry minor in the College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The fellowship was awarded based on his research proposal entitled “Synthesis, Characterization and Application of Heterobimetallic Compounds for Chemical Vapor Deposition” and will support his upcoming graduate research on chemical processes involved in the creation of advanced electronics at Cornell University.
Woods’ research mentor, and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Karin Ruhlandt, says, “I am very proud of Josh winning a NSF graduate fellowship. These are highly competitive, and a wonderful expression of Josh's capacity and promise as a researcher.”
“In addition to thanking Professor Ruhlandt for all of her guidance and support, I would like to thank my graduate student mentor Catherine Lavin and Dr. Miriam Gillett-Kunnath, both of which have provided me with indispensable guidance in synthetic chemistry, crystallography and life in graduate school,” Woods says.
The NSF fellowship is awarded to early-career graduate students and provides a three-year stipend. This stipend enables grads to focus solely on research during the fellowship years. Due to Woods’ combined interests in chemistry and chemical engineering, the award will also support him in working with professors in both of those departments.
“I remember when my advisor suggested that I apply for the award. I had never dreamed that I would be awarded the fellowship,” Woods says. He continues: “When I opened the email I immediately called my parents, even though it was 5 in the morning, because I was so excited!”
Since his sophomore year at Syracuse, Woods has conducted research in Ruhlandt’s chemistry lab. The research group focuses on a class of elements called the alkali and alkaline earth metals. “These are the most reactive metals on the periodic table and explode when they come in contact with any air or moisture,” Woods explains. Aside from their dramatic chemical interactions, this class of elements has far-ranging applications in areas including medicine, high-tech electronics and batteries.
Additionally, Woods investigated the creation of compounds that could be used in energy storage—think batteries and solar panels—under Frank Uhlig at the Technical University of Graz in Austria.
Of the multiple projects Woods has worked on, he is particularly drawn to the particulars of a process called chemical vapor deposition. This process is used to lay down thin coats of material and is a key step in the production of cutting-edge electronics, including superconductors and advanced computer memory devices, Woods explains.
For his graduate work, Woods proposed to address one of the limitations of the deposition process. “Problems arise when trying to deposit more than one metal at a time onto the desired substrate. A way around this could potentially be to use compounds containing two, three or even more metals in a stoichiometrically controlled manner,” Woods says. He also proposed to use this technology to fabricate new electronic devices. By both synthesizing and characterizing these materials, and investigating their applications, Woods is combining his interests of chemistry and chemical engineering.
Aside from a strong research plan, the NSF fellowship also requires that proposals incorporate additional benefits to those outside the academic science community. To this end, Woods proposed a program similar to “Excellerators” at Syracuse University, where undergraduates volunteer with recruiting and outreach. “I feel that there are a lot of people who could be recruited into the sciences if they understood how awesome the field really is,” he says. “People are often scared away from science and math in high school and I want to work towards including those people and getting them excited.”
All of his passion is reflected in Ruhlandt’s thoughts on Woods, “Josh is a wonderful example of what we are looking for in a student: smart, dedicated, hard working and caring. I am so proud of him, and wish him all the best as he moves to the next phase in his life, graduate school in chemistry at Cornell University.”