PhD Candidate in the Department of Chemistry
Alexandra Tamerius is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her research focuses on the formation and stability of solids that have combinations of elements that do not typically react at ambient pressure. She is particularly interested in targeting metallic materials that are promising candidate materials for exotic electronic applications, such as quantum computing.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
Just as elevation—and thus pressure—has a profound effect in cooking, pressure can lead to drastic changes for chemical reactions. A grand challenge for solid-state chemistry is understanding and predicting which crystal structures form under specific conditions. Tackling this challenge is critical for designing materials for specific applications. Pressure is particularly exciting to me for addressing this challenge because it can subtly manipulate the chemistry of the elements and drastically change the material’s properties and how they react. My favorite example of this is graphite vs diamond. Both diamond and graphite are just carbon, but with radically different properties. The comparison of diamond and graphite reveals a lot of fundamental insight into carbon bonding in the solid state. My favorite part of my research is applying this type of thinking to metallic bonding in complex solid-state structures!
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
I think one of the most memorable twists in my research was observing one of my materials decompose over the course of a few hours. For metals, this is pretty unusual! It inspired me to begin investigating formation and stability of the materials I synthesize using time-resolved X-ray diffraction experiments at Argonne National Laboratory. My investigation revealed a possible mechanism for its formation and decomposition and informed the design criteria for the rest of my PhD!
When I first visited Northwestern, it felt like a playground for physics, chemistry, and material science, and that has definitely held true. I have had the opportunity to participate in a myriad of interdisciplinary projects and meet incredible people that have all enriched my research and propelled my professional development.
What inspires you?
I am always inspired by informal why, how, and what if questions? I am particularly inspired by chatting with students, colleagues, and community members who may be less familiar with a field, as they often ask fascinating and unexpected questions that can sometimes illuminate new areas for exploration!
What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
Ever since I was little, I have wanted to be a science teacher. I was inspired by the science classes and outreach programs that I participated in as a kid. This has sparked a passion for science outreach, inspiring future scientists, and promoting science literacy. I think one of the most fulfilling outreach experiences was developing a circuits activity for the 4th graders in the outreach program I ran for the last two years, because it was inspired by an activity that inspired me as a 4th grader, and feedback indicated that it was a favorite activity for the program!
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
As part of the teaching certificate program, I am currently developing a course in general chemistry for undergraduate students with an emphasis on using real-world observations and everyday chemical reactions to build up students’ chemical intuition and root the principles of chemistry in memorable experiences. For example, why is the sky blue? Why does soap pick up oil? Why do salad dressings separate? What is the difference between a green firework and a blue firework? Why is nitro coffee so much smoother than regular coffee?
Published: June 1, 2021
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