Luisa Whittaker-Brooks’ work with nanomaterials might one day power the planet.
Nanomaterials—substances that measure a billionth of a meter (a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick)—have been a hot topic among scientists for the past decade or so. They are also the main focus of Luisa Whittaker-Brooks’ (PhD ’11, MS ’09) research. Since 2013, her findings on these miniscule materials have helped her earn more than $100,000 in funding. Not bad for a scientist just a few years out of graduate school.
Whittaker-Brooks, 32, has been intrigued by chemistry since high school. A teacher in her native Panama recognized her as an exceptional student and encouraged her to pursue chemistry as a career. In 2007, the budding scientist came to UB as a Fulbright fellow; in 2011, she received the Materials Research Society’s highest award presented to graduate students. She also completed her master’s and her PhD within three and a half years.
For her doctoral research, Whittaker-Brooks studied vanadium oxide, an inorganic compound with intriguing properties when prepared as a nanomaterial. “The cool thing is, when you work on a nanoscale, you start seeing extraordinary properties you don’t see in bulk materials,” she explains. For example, bulk copper bends, copper nanoparticles don’t. This feature of nanomaterials opens up a wide range of applications for medical, electronic and other fields. It’s as if Whittaker-Brooks and other material chemists have a whole new periodic table to play with.