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Yuri Gogotsi

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Yuri Gogotsi

Professor of Materials Science and  
Engineering, Drexel University
Philadelphia, Pennsylviania
United States

Director of the A.J. Drexel 
Nanotechnology Institute


Education:

  • D.Sc., Materials Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, Ukraine, 1995
  • Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, Kiev Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine, 1986
  • M.S., Metallurgy, Kiev Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine, 1984

Work Focus:

"I teach materials science, perform research on nanomaterials and nanostructures, and coordinate research and educational activities in the broad field of nanotechnology at Drexel University."

Advice to Students:

"Study math, chemistry and physics. Read science fiction and think about how to make it real."

Links:

  - A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute

Interview: 

Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Gogotsi:
About 10 years ago. When I was working in Japan 15 years ago, my research shifted towards carbon materials, which are extremely important in the nano field, because a large variety of structures with very unusual properties can be built from carbon atoms (nanotubes, soccer ball shaped fullerene molecules, tiny diamonds, graphene, etc.). After my students found nanotubes in our carbon samples, I was very excited and attempted controlled synthesis and investigation of nanotubes and other carbon nanomaterials. The area appeared to be so fascinating, that I could not stop and still keep moving in this direction.  

Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?  
Gogotsi:
There are many applications that my research group is exploring. One is related to the development of nanostructured materials for supercapacitors, which are electrical energy storage devices, just like batteries. However, they can store and release energy much faster, because they store it electrostatically, not through chemical reactions. As a result, they have a number of advantages and can replace and supplement batteries in applications ranging from hybrid electrical vehicles to home electronics. They have a much longer life than batteries and can survive 100,000 or even a million charge-discharge cycles. The most advanced lithium-ion batteries don't come even close to that. Because supercapacitors can be charged very quickly, they can harvest energy from the processes, where it is currently wasted, for example, cars braking at the traffic light, elevators moving down or port cranes dropping heavy containers.  Wide use of supercapacitors may decrease energy consumption and help to quickly switch public transportation to electrical engines.    

Q: What's the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Gogotsi:
We discover new things and new effects. We can see how single molecules move and arrange them into useful structures. We can make materials with properties that no natural material has. We see objects that no other people have ever seen, because they are so small that a human eye, even assisted with the best light microscope, cannot distinguish. This is really exciting. We also believe that nanotechnology may be able to provide solutions to the most important problems that humanity faces, such as energy, drinking water and treatment of currently incurable diseases. This provides great motivation.  

Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've worked on has positively impacted the world?
Gogotsi:
Our patents have been licensed to companies that produce carbon coating and ceramic materials. It is too early to talk about their major impact on the world, however, many applications that we are exploring, from supercapacitors to transparent conducting nanotube films, blood dialysis systems and nanopipettes for single cell injections may have a major impact on the lives of people in the whole world.  

Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?  
Gogotsi:
The whole electronic industry has been strongly affected by nanotechnology, but magnetic data storage is probably the most noticeable success of nanotechnology that we all have been experiencing. Magnetic crystals in the nanometer range allow a much denser packing of information on the hard drives of our computers. As a result, computers, iPods and other electronic devices can store movies, music and huge amount of data. It is difficult to overestimate the effect of modern electronic devices on our lives. The electronic memory market is valued at an estimated $64.3 billion for 2007, which constitutes about one quarter of the total semiconductor industry.  

Q: Please give an example of what you envision nanotechnology applications leading to in the future.  
Gogotsi:
A good example is the use of nanomaterials in the production and storage of electrical energy.  Nanotechnology is expected to deliver accessible and inexpensive solar energy, smart devices and systems in our homes and cars, more efficient drugs and drug delivery systems, as well as invisible sensors everywhere.  

Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Gogotsi:
I am a team player. Nanotechnology is very interdisciplinary, affecting all field of engineering, natural and biosciences. It also knows no borders.  I collaborate with researchers around the world – in France, Germany, Japan, the UK, Ukraine, Russia, China and other countries.  

Q: If you work more as a team, what are some of the other areas of expertise of your team members?   
Gogotsi:
Let's take as an example one of my projects, which is dedicated to developing miniature devices tipped with carbon nanotubes that will be able to inject or interrogate cells and even single organelles (e.g., mitochondria) inside a cell. We have an electrical engineer on the team, who works on magnetic manipulation and electrical measurements; a cell biologists who works on cell signaling and knows what kind of studies must be conducted on cells; a mechanical engineer who is in charge of mechanical manipulation of these tiny nanotube devices; and a biomedical engineer who works on development sensing techniques for cell probing.  I have several projects like this one, which would be impossible without collaboration with people from other fields. No one knows everything and if we want to perform world-class research, we must collaborate with people who are experts in their respective fields.  

Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
Gogotsi:
To a certain extent. It provided me with the basic knowledge of materials science, chemistry and physics. I mastered some experimental skills, which are still useful. However, we live in a quickly changing world. We use tools today that were not available when I was a student 25-30 years ago. Nanotechnology emerged after I graduated from the college and obtained all my degrees. The most important is to learn the fundamentals and develop a habit to study independently. A true scientist always continues to learn new things.  

Q: Do you have a mentor?  Did you in your college years?
Gogotsi:
I guess I'm too old to have a mentor now :)   However, I have a senior colleague, Jack Fischer, who works across the street, whose opinion I respect very much and whom I ask for an advice whenever I get into a difficult situation (this happens more often than or have to make an important decision. I learned a lot from my former department head and my current dean, Selcuk Guceri, when I was a junior faculty and was starting my academic career. I had a professor, Victor Morozov, who acted as a mentor for me in my college years. In my pre-college year, my instructor in the Chemistry Club, Sergey Mikhalovsky, was my mentor, and we still are in frequent contact and even collaborate on a research project.  In general, we are always surrounded by people who are wise and experienced, and we should no be afraid to ask for an advice. Having a good mentor in the beginning of someone's career is great.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Gogotsi:
Yes.

Q: Where do you see nanotechnology applications leading in the future?  
Gogotsi:
Clean water, accessible and inexpensive energy, smart devices and systems (homes, cars, etc.), more efficient drugs and drug delivery systems, invisible sensors everywhere.    

Q: If a high school or college student was interested in nanotechnology, what advice would you give them to help prepare take on those roles?  
Gogotsi:
Study math, chemistry and physics. Read science fiction and think about how to make it real.

Q: What other advice do you have for pre-university students?
Gogotsi:
Think about your potential and determine what kind of subject you like and what kind of job you would enjoy having. If you do something you like, you'll have success and enjoy your life. Study foreign languages and try to understand other cultures – you live in a big world and you must be integrated into the world culture. Both science and business don't know borders.