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Akshay Murthy

PhD Candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Akshay Murthy

As a world-renowned leader in nanotechnology, the research opportunities afforded to Northwestern graduate students interested in this arena are essentially limitless.”

Akshay Murthy is a PhD candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering. His research focuses on examining the emergent properties present at interfaces between various two-dimensional chalcogenide materials. Potential application areas include flexible electronics or next-generation computing. In 2018, Akshay was awarded the Ryan Graduate Fellowship. Ryan Fellows are graduate students dedicated to the exploration of fundamental nanoscale science geared toward practical applications that benefit society.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?

I have been working on exploring new materials for use in electronic devices in an effort to enable faster and more efficient computation or communication. Specifically, as demand has continued to grow for miniaturization of electronic devices, so has the interest in materials that are no more than a few atoms thick. My work has primarily focused on identifying and understanding some of the key challenges that currently prohibit these new nanomaterials (nanometer = 10^-9 meter) from being deployed in consumer electronics so that we can address them moving forward. 

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.

I have always found tech gadgets to be fascinating. I had long been curious about the materials required to build these miniature but sophisticated devices and intrigued by the physical mechanisms underpinning their performance. I knew this area was right for me when I found myself truly captivated by the solid-state electronics classes that I took during my undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When I came to Northwestern, the opportunity to contribute to this field by conducting cutting-edge research on new materials and systems alongside the world’s leading experts was impossible to pass up.

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?

Due to significant societal interest in electronic device miniaturization, there are numerous research groups across the globe working on very similar topics. As a result, this field has moved rapidly, which has made it challenging to stay up to date with the latest developments. While the fast pace can be difficult, I have found that it doubles as a motivation that makes publishing advances in this competitive arena all the more rewarding.

Why Northwestern?

As a world-renowned leader in nanotechnology, the research opportunities afforded to Northwestern graduate students interested in this arena are essentially limitless. Due to the highly interdisciplinary culture that has been fostered over the years between chemists, physicists, material scientists, and engineers within the International Institute of Nanotechnology (IIN) as well as the powerful instrumentation available within characterization facilities such as the Northwestern University's Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental Center (NUANCE), I have been able to frame my research and address scientific challenges head-on in a way that would not have been possible at other institutions. More broadly, the university has enabled me to conduct outreach activities that matter to me and fully immerse myself within the larger Evanston and Chicago communities. I will cherish the friendships and connections I have built during my time here.

How do you unwind after a long day?

I love outdoor activities, such as running and biking along the lakefront. They put my mind at ease and leave me in a great mood. I also love watching baseball and basketball, even though my teams are often terrible.

What books are on your bedside table?

The Captain Class: The Hidden Force that Creates the World's Greatest Teams by Sam Walker, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Dan Gardner and Philip E. Tetlock, and Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?

I would highlight the importance of thinking creatively in addition to thinking analytically when confronting a research challenge.

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

Defending my PhD! Although I did not envision remotely defending my thesis in the midst of a pandemic, it was nonetheless a very memorable experience. I am very proud of all the work that I have accomplished to date and look forward to what the future has in store.

Published: May 26, 2020

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