Three Outstanding Early-Career Materials Scientists

The three scholars highlighted here are emerging as standouts in a crowded field. Whether it’s making better batteries or unraveling the secrets of the brain, they’re using innovative materials in creative ways to solve critical issues.

BLANCA DEL ROSAL: Lighting up the brain

Swinburne University of Technology

BLANCA DEL ROSAL - Lighting up the brain
BLANCA DEL ROSAL – Lighting up the brain

The main advantage of synthetic nanomaterials, especially nanoparticles, from a medical standpoint is their tiny size. They are helpful as minute probes for spying on cellular machinery without causing too much damage since they are on the same scale as human cell components. Blanca del Rosal is working on a technique that will reveal the inner workings of the brain utilizing nanoparticle beams. She is working with her colleagues at Swinburne University of Technology’s Centre for Micro-Photonics in Melbourne, Australia, to figure out how luminous nanoparticles can detect temperature changes during brain tumor therapy, which might lead to safer ways.

She is also curious about how light-emitting nanoparticles may be used to evaluate the efficacy and safety of laser-based treatments for eyesight restoration and chronic pain. “There is still a lot we don’t know about the brain,” adds del Rosal, “but light can offer us greater insight into how it works.” — written by Gemma Conroy.

EMILY HITZ: Stabilizing influence

University of Maryland

Avoiding explosions during Moon missions is a major goal for NASA. That is why, as part of her three-year fellowship with NASA, Emily Hitz is researching the lunar applications of solid-state batteries.

EMILY HITZ - Stabilizing influence
EMILY HITZ – Stabilizing influence

Hitz, who works in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Maryland (UMD), is interested in how new energy technologies may be made more accessible by combining inexpensive and simple-to-manufacture resources. “One day, we could be making a battery out of a block of wood,” she adds. “We do all we can to make it work. That adaptability appeals to me.”

Hitz earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from UMD in 2015 before pursuing a Ph.D. in materials science. She desired the possibility to find extremely desirable material characteristics by focusing her efforts on chemistry. “I wanted to modify the characteristics of the materials I was working with,” she adds.

JUAN-PABLO CORREA-BAENA: Solar cell optimizer

Georgia Institute of Technology

​​Understanding solar cells at the nanoscale, according to materials scientist Juan-Pablo Correa-Baena, is critical to meeting the world’s rising energy demands. He is researching the chemical processes that underpin the performance of perovskite solar cells at the Georgia Institute of Technology. They are inexpensive to produce and have demonstrated tremendous gains in efficiency over the last decade, producing more energy than commercially available silicon solar cells.

JUAN-PABLO CORREA-BAENA - Solar cell optimizer
JUAN-PABLO CORREA-BAENA – Solar cell optimizer

Correa-Baena is working on ways to build a protective outer layer that does not impair the cell’s function, as one of the primary limitations of perovskite solar cells is that they do not stand up well against moisture or lengthy periods of light or heat.

RACHEL CARTER: Taking charge

US Naval Research Laboratory

Rachel Carter, a research engineer at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, is looking at ways to extend the life of lithium-ion batteries while simultaneously looking into alternatives such as lithium-sulfur batteries and sodium-sulfur batteries.

RACHEL CARTER - Taking charge
RACHEL CARTER – Taking charge

She is excited to collaborate with other young researchers on energy storage technologies. She is also spearheading NRL programs to promote professional growth for female scientists. “I’m excited to see what happens with these battery chemistries, and working with young scientists is an exciting aspect of that,” she adds. — written by Bec Crew.

Final Words

These three women and man stood out among over 10,000 researchers identified in the League of Scholars database as having five or more publications in any of the six materials-science-specific journals tracked by the Nature Index since 2015: ACS Nano, Advanced Functional Materials, Advanced Materials, Nano Letters, Nature Materials, and Nature Nanotechnology.