Mike Henry grew up in Gilbert, AZ and spent the majority of his childhood making things. Mike was an active creator, using a variety of materials from popsicle sticks and glue to Legos. Mike’s creativity quickly progressed to an interest in computers. He began assembling his own computers with used parts he scraped together from various sources. Mike’s family recognized his talent and enrolled him in charter schools throughout his K-12 education to allow him to pursue and expand his interests. Mike went on to receive a B.A. in Physics and Math from Simpson College, but he was still interested in pursuing more knowledge.
It’s Who You Know
Mike joined the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering (MSMSE) in January 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering. “You know the expression, it’s not what you know but who you know?” asked Mike. Well, it was definitely by the luck of who I knew that I ended up at Boise State.” Mike’s physics professor, Dr. Santos at Simpson College knew Dr. Eric Jankowski, who recently joined the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering as an assistant professor. Dr. Jankowski was interested in bringing the right graduate students to Boise State to help launch his research in computational modeling of materials. Dr. Santos introduced Mike to Dr. Jankowski, which led to an interview, followed by an offer for Mike to join Dr. Jankowski’s research group as a graduate student. At that point, Mike knew little about Boise State beyond the blue football field. He was not really familiar with materials science and engineering, either.
Mike was originally planning to pursue a Ph.D. in Physics, but switched to Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) after finding out about the endless possibilities for research and innovation in this field. MSE focuses on the relationship between structure (how atoms in materials are arranged), processing (how materials are shaped into something, e.g. forging metal), properties (how well they conducts electricity, for example), and performance (how well they work in certain applications). By pushing research boundaries in these areas, scientists can identify improved and even new materials that can have positive impact, worldwide.
Supercomputers Fuel Materials Research
Materials science research commonly takes place in research labs using high powered microscopes and other advanced research equipment. Mike’s research takes place “in silico,” meaning that it is performed on supercomputers. Performing experiments through computational modeling allows researchers to gain unique insights that may not be evident using in-lab experimental results. These insights can help facilitate next steps in a project and save researchers valuable time and resources. Mike is using computer modeling to identify new applications for solar cells, which are a major source of clean energy. Organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells are lightweight, flexible, and inexpensive to manufacture. Computational modeling allows Mike to examine the arrangement and energy of atoms in an OPV cell. Mike adjusts processing parameters in his models to control self-assembly (molecules arrange themselves into their lowest-energy state, creating a structure.) Experimenting with self-assembly processes allows Mike to identify methods of improving an OPV cell’s performance. Computational research like this can accelerate the development of new technologies like transparent and or flexible OPV solar cells. These improved solar cells can be used to provide power to electronic devices without plugging into the electrical grid. They could even revolutionize construction practices and promote greener, more energy-efficient buildings.
The Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering Encourages Leaders
Mike embraces adventure. After relocating from Iowa to Idaho and diving into a field of study he had recently discovered, Mike immersed himself in the materials world. He is an active member of the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Club and even served a term as the Club president. In this role, Mike quickly identified methods of helping fellow students. He established what is now a tradition in the MSMSE: weekly study sessions complete with free coffee and the standing offer to help students stay engaged. Graduate and undergraduate students have the opportunity to help each other with challenging coursework during these sessions. Simultaneously, they create a strong community of like-minded colleagues. Mike describes the MSE Club as a second family. He has formed great friendships with students beyond his research group and enjoys the many extracurricular activities hosted by the Club. “Finding a social network is key to a successful transition to a new university,” says Mike. “The MSE Club offers one of the best ways to participate in fun extracurricular activities, outreach, and professional development opportunities like resume workshops.”
Working in Dr. Jankowski’s research group has further launched Mike into the materials research network through participating in professional conferences and collaborating with researchers around the globe. “Presenting research findings and sharing ideas at conferences are vital components of my Ph.D. journey,” says Mike. “Collaborating with people who have similar interests opens up even more possibilities to stretch boundaries and further my research.” Mike is currently focused on conducting research to support his dissertation, which is the next step in his goal of earning a Ph.D. So far, Mike’s research has been published in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series and the Journal of Physical Chemistry C (primary author.) A co-authored paper is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry.
Mike plans to continue developing scientific software that improves research techniques. Ultimately, Mike is seeking a great career at a national laboratory where he can maximize his impact on the scientific community and society. His experience in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering prepares him to succeed in this endeavor.