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Deep Jariwala ’15 PhD

PhD in Materials Science and Engineering

Deep Jariwala ’15 PhD

When I was looking at grad schools, I really couldn't find a better place in terms of a fit for my research interests than Northwestern. I don't ever regret my decision. Northwestern gave me opportunities and a platform to do research that few other places could have.”

Deep Jariwala is an assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the McCormick School of Engineering in 2015. Deep’s research lies at the intersection of solid-state opto-electronics and emerging low-dimensional materials. He has received the Richard L. Greene Dissertation Award in Experimental Materials Physics from the American Physical Society, the Resnick Prize Postdoctoral Fellowship from California Institute of Technology, and the Johannes E. and Julia R. Weertman Doctoral Fellowship from Northwestern, among many other recognitions and awards. Deep has also graciously volunteered his time with the Northwestern Alumni Association (NAA) as a mentor circle host for the students involved with the McCormick Graduate Leadership Council. To learn more about NAA mentorship initiatives, visit

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

I am interested in designing and exploring useful materials and devices that can enable faster, efficient or more powerful computers or communication systems. I am also interested in fundamental physical and chemical processes that are directly connected to renewable energy technologies, such as solar energy conversion or sustainable fuels and chemical production. Briefly, in my research group, we explore new physical properties in nanoscale materials and integrate them into traditional or unconventional/novel device designs to get to our application goals.

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.

Broadly speaking, all of my research is inspired by the curiosity of the unknown. But more specifically, even as an undergraduate in metallurgical engineering in India, I was very curious about electronic materials and what made computers work the way they do at a fundamental level. Partly, this curiosity can be attributed to my very modest upbringing where we couldn't afford the luxury to buy a computer until I went to college and it became a necessity. Suddenly thereafter in college, I was exposed to how powerful and world-changing modern computing and internet technologies are. Apart from that, during graduate school and beyond, as I was exposed to more specialized, in-depth courses, I became fascinated by the power of nanoscale materials and the tremendous potential for innovation that lies at the intersection of materials, chemistry, physics, and electrical engineering. So I took up graduate thesis research at that intersection very seriously and haven't left since.

Slowly, I have realized that innovations in computing and electronics hardware will eventually also have an impact on renewable energy technologies, such as photovoltaics and power converting devices, so I try and translate some of the knowledge from the electronics domain to that of renewable energy devices. I am obviously conscious and concerned about the changing climate and global warming, so I try and contribute to that in whatever small way possible.

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?

At a very high level, I consider some historical scientific figures in my field as my idols. Some of these include  John Bardeen, Mildred Dresselhaus, Nick Holonyak, and Shuji Nakamura. When it comes to the individuals with whom I have closely interacted, I admire all my advisers throughout my academic career at every level who have taught me the right way to look at the academic and professional world. Outside of the scientific world, I admire my parents and grandparents who worked very hard and went through a lot of struggles to raise me. They instilled in me the discipline of working hard and earning whatever you get.

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?

It is hard to answer this question at this point since I am still very early in my career. In my view, the microelectronics and computing hardware industry is undergoing a point of inflection. This is normally a very conservative and big industry built on six decades of research that is reluctant to adapt to radically new ideas or changes in how they make things or operate. But I don't see a better time than now where the industry is starting to open up and could be receptive to new ideas at all levels to maintain their progression in technology development. If my research can contribute to a couple of ideas for low-power computing switches or new forms of memory devices or a new type of sensor or an optical modulator, that would be amazing. That is where I see the maximum impact. But you never know in research which direction you might go and what game-changing idea or discovery you might hit upon. So, I try to keep an open mind. 

Why Northwestern?

When I was looking at grad schools, I really couldn't find a better place in terms of a fit for my research interests than Northwestern. Of course, the materials and chemistry departments at Northwestern have long had a very strong reputation. That helps in convincing you when you are sitting on the other side of the world and making choices while browsing the Internet. Personally, I found the bench depth of outstanding faculty in these departments, the types of research problems they were undertaking at the time, and the proximity to Chicago made sense in every way for me to come to Northwestern. I don't ever regret my decision. Northwestern gave me opportunities and a platform to do research that few other places could have. Even after I left Northwestern, I have found the friends, connections, and alumni network of the school to be invaluable resources as I navigate my career.

What books are on your bedside table? 

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, What is Life? by Erwin Schrodinger, and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

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

Be patient and don't worry about or try to control things that are out of your reach or power.

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.

There are two collaborations I am really excited about. One involves working with electron microscopists to visualize materials in devices at the atomic scale while the devices are under operation. The second one is working with cell biologists and I am getting to learn all the exciting ways nanoscale materials and electrical signals can influence biological cell behavior.

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

Personally, I would consider noteworthy the fact that I have been able to switch disciplines and fields. As an undergrad studying steel-making and metal ore mining, I never thought I would be a professor of electrical engineering. Another thing I pride myself on is the ability to bring large and technically diverse teams together into fruitful and often impactful collaborations. 

Published: February 4, 2020


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