By Nicole Capozziello
Published June 9, 2020
Last month, Aparajita Dasgupta and Edward Swinnich became the first two PhD students to graduate from the Department of Materials Design and Innovation.
The forward-leaning, interdisciplinary department was created in 2015 as a joint program between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Graduating our first PhD students in just four years since the inception of the department is an important milestone. It marks the success of our faculty-student partnership and helps to establish the reputation of the department,” says Krishna Rajan, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Erich Bloch Chair of the Department of Materials Design and Innovation. “Aparajita and Edward have demonstrated high standards of academic performance, each in very different areas of materials science. They have brought the richness of diverse personal journeys to their PhD accomplishment and represent what MDI strives to achieve.”
Rajan, who has served as the department chair since its founding, built the department in a manner that embodies the essence of Erich Bloch’s philosophy that “…science is changing, the tools of science are changing, and that requires different approaches.”
“The MDI department offers a truly unique materials science education by combining traditional education and research topics with the emerging fields of data science and machine learning,” says Swinnich. “The curriculum, in addition to the diverse background of the faculty and students, exposed me to many topics that I otherwise would have no knowledge of, and greatly enriched my PhD experience.”
Dasgupta, who was drawn to the program’s interdisciplinary nature, says, “We were in an environment where students and professors from multiple domains [physics, biology, mathematics, computer science] interacted and taught us and that helped us to look at various problems from different perspectives. The program not only helped us learn the current state of the field but also primed us for future research.”
Dasgupta, who is from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, came to the department after completing a BS in chemical engineering at BITS Pilani Dubai in 2014, and an MS in chemical engineering at the University at Buffalo in 2016. For her PhD, she worked with Krishna Rajan to use materials informatics to rapidly discover new chemically complex alloys, impacting fields such as catalysis and high temperature materials. Dasgupta says that the discovery of this new generation of materials in the field has the potential to accelerate science-based solutions to society’s problems in areas such as clean energy and sustainability.
During her time in the department, Dasgupta cultivated relationships that have fueled her personal and professional growth. “I am proud that my work has been recognized in the field by winning the best poster award at the MRS Fall Meeting in 2018 and being published in reputed journals such as Nature Scientific Reports and the Journal of Physical Chemistry.”
Following graduation, Dasgupta will be starting a post-doc in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she will be researching the development of machine learning models that will have an impact on human health and the drug development and manufacturing process. “I am very excited to apply the knowledge I have gained as a PhD student towards a new domain within the pharmaceutical sciences,” she says.
Dasgupta expressed gratitude to Dr. Rajan for his support and advice, as well as Scott Broderick, assistant professor of research in the department, and her family.
Swinnich, who is from Orchard Park, N.Y., completed his BS in electrical engineering at the University at Buffalo in 2016. For his PhD, he worked with Jung-Hun Seo, assistant professor, to combine dissimilar semiconductors that have never been researched together before–specifically gallium oxide and diamond–for the creation of new electronic devices for high power applications. The go-to material for the vast majority of electronics has generally been silicon, says Swinnich. “But with emerging technologies in the industry, gallium oxide, diamond, and other novel materials are better suited to handle the high power levels and high speeds demanded in these applications and will lead to more efficient and capable electronic devices.”
Over the course of his time in the department, Swinnich has seen it grow and progress, watching his research grow from one person to a research group, with multiple students working on a wide variety of projects. “I am very proud and grateful to have been a part of this department from its inception, and truly believe that it will have a positive impact on the field of materials science through its unique approach,” he says.
Swinnich expressed gratitude to Dr. Seo, all of his friends in his research group, the faculty, staff and students in the department, and his wife Emily for their continued support.
Following graduation, Swinnich has accepted a position at GlobalFoundries, a semiconductor foundry based in Santa Clara, Calif. He will be working as a senior process engineer in charge of electroplating at the company’s Fab10 facility in East Fishkill, N.Y.
“I am most looking forward to transferring the knowledge I have gained about semiconductor fabrication from my research to a full-scale production line, where the output is much higher,” says Swinnich. “I hope to learn even more about my field and materials science as a whole from this new context and perspective.”
“Following this milestone, we are looking forward to seeing the successful completion of a large number of PhDs who are currently in the pipeline over the next two years,” says Rajan. “This will further solidify the reputation of our Materials Design and Innovation department and help us continue to grow in size and stature.”