Husnu Emrah Unalan
Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering
Middle East Technical University
- B.S. Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Middle East Technical University, Turkey, 2002
- M.S. Materials Science and Engineering, Rutgers University, USA, 2004
- Ph.D. Materials Science and Engineering, Rutgers University, USA, 2006
“I am both lecturing and leading a group of MS and PhD students in my institution. I am also the co-founder and CEO of a start-up company.”
Advice to Students:
“They will need a strong background in maths, physics and chemistry. In addition to that, most of the departments in the universities are now offering nanotechnology 101 courses. I would advise them to take those courses.”
– Nanomaterials and Devices Group at Middle East Technical University
Q: In which Nanotechnology technical fields does your work apply best?
- Nano Energy, Environment and Safety
Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Unalan: In 2002, I started my graduate studies. I have worked on the synthesis of carbon nanotubes and then involved with the determination of optical and electrical properties of carbon nanotube thin films.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Unalan: With my research group, we currently work on the solution based, cheap and large scale synthesis of nanomaterials in different chemistries. This is because most of the fields we foresee for the applications of nanomaterials require their synthesis in large quantities. Following synthesis, we are fabricating devices utilizing these nanomaterials to explore their properties. Devices of interest include light emitting diodes, transistors, solar cells, batteries and supercapacitors.
Q: What’s the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Unalan: We are witnessing a revolution in materials science and physics because the materials properties change when we work at the nanoscale. When it comes to applications, we know that there are endless possibilities that nanotechnology can be applied to — from transportation to medicine.
Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you’ve worked on has positively impacted the world?
Unalan: We have been developing wearable heaters using silver nanowires as the heating elements. These heaters are highly efficient and overwhelming the carbon fiber based commercial counterparts. We are working hard to commercialize this technology and in the strong belief that this will positively impact the world.
Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?
Unalan: Nanotechnology allows us to miniaturize the devices. Scaling down the size of the transistors in the processors allows one to fabricate and stack more of them in the desired area. This allows us to fabricate faster computers. In fact, there are now commercial products using chips with sub-10 nm technology.
Q: In which areas do you anticipate future commercialization of nanotechnology having the greatest positive impact on the world?
Unalan: Nanoparticles are extensively used in cosmetic products such as sunscreens and in batteries, which we all make use of. Likewise, I believe that the further commercialization activities of nanoparticles will be in the areas of health and energy.
Q: Over the past decade, nanotechnology has moved out of the lab and is making a real impact in society. Have you worked on any efforts that helped to commercialize nanotechnology and resulted in new products or processes?
Unalan: Yes, we are currently working on the commercialization of nanotechnological products. We have a patented technology on the silver nanowire based wearable heaters and in our start-up company, we carrying out commercialization activities. In addition, we are carrying out R&D activities with major companies in Turkey to develop various technological products.
Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
Unalan: Not exactly in nanotechnology; but it provided me with basic mathematics, physics and chemistry and a broad materials perspective. I believe that nanotechnology is not a major you can master during undergraduate education. Interdisciplinary graduate courses should be taken once undergraduate curriculum is completed.
Q: Do you have a mentor? Did you in your college years?
Unalan: I had very close relationships with my professors when I was an undergraduate. I can consider them to be my mentors. I used to talk to them about my courses, internships and graduate studies. Some of the professors also allowed me to conduct research in their laboratories in my senior year. I had tons of hands-on-experience on lab practice and had a local journal article published.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Unalan: I am really happy that I was trained in materials science and nanotechnology. I really enjoy what I am doing. In laboratory, developing a successful nanomaterial synthesis recipe or seeing a device that works after all your efforts are priceless. Now I am exploring another side of research. In our start-up company, we are trying to commercialize a technology using nanomaterials. Laboratory and outside are really different. Something that works perfectly in laboratory may not work at all outside the laboratory. With my background and training, I am trying to find solutions to the problems and improve the products we develop. I am passionately committed to all that I am doing. And thus, if I had to do it all over again, I would focus on nanotechnology.
Q: What advice do you have for pre-university students?
Unalan: They will need a strong background in maths, physics and chemistry. In addition to that, most of the departments in the universities are now offering nanotechnology 101 courses. I would advise them to take those courses to get themselves familiar with this one of the fastest growing scientific field.
Another suggestion could be to get involved with research projects in their departments starting from their freshman year. Even if they start with washing the glassware it is fine 🙂
Engineering students will be asked to conduct summer practices. They should try to get affiliated with companies (maybe start-ups) or research laboratories in this field.
They should read a lot. This includes books, articles and scientific papers. They should not get discouraged if they don’t understand what is stated in there. There are really good reference books on nanotechnology where they can easily read and understand without getting bored. There are also many websites (physicsworld, sciencedaily etc.) publishing on popular topics, which needs to be checked on a weekly basis.