Charles T. and Ruth M. Bach Distinguished University Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, Drexel University
Director of the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute
- 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
“I teach materials science, perform research on nanomaterials and nanostructures, and coordinate research and educational activities in the broad field of nanomaterials at Drexel University.”
Advice to Students:
“Study math, chemistry and physics. Read science fiction and think about how to make it real.”
Q: In which Nanotechnology technical fields does your work apply best?
- Nanosensors and Nanoactuators
- Nano-Metrology and Characterization
- Nano-Optics, Nano-Photonics, and Nano-Optoelectronics
- Nano Energy, Environment and Safety
Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Gogotsi: About 20 years ago. When I was working in Japan more than 25 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 kept moving in this direction.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Gogotsi: There are many applications that my research group is exploring. After discovery of MXenes, expanding this family of 2D carbides and nitrides, understanding their properties and exploring applications became our main goal. One prominent topic 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 materials and new effects. We can see how single atoms and molecules move and arrange them into novel and 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, MXenes 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 electromagnetic interference shielding, to transparent conducting films, and wearable dialysis systems may have a major impact on the lives of people in the whole world.
Q: In which areas do you anticipate future commercialization of nanotechnology having the greatest positive impact on the world?
Gogotsi: Nanotechnology has penetrated all areas of engineering. Nanomaterials are used in batteries, nanoscale coating make windows more efficient, rejecting heat (infrared radiation) and saving energy, electronic devices, medicine, water and environment. So, it is already a part of our life. We just don’t see it, as those are nanoscale features that make sports equipment stronger, batteries lasting longer or smartphones having more functions without an increase in their size. However, they will be really enabling the Internet of Things and future medical diagnostics.
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 could store movies, music and huge amount of data. But now we are moving to different data storage solutions. It is difficult to overestimate the effect of modern electronic devices on our lives and it will only grow with development of wearable Internet and Internet of Things.
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?
Gogotsi: Yes, we have licensed the technology of nanostructured carbon coating to a company making dynamic seals to prevent failure of those. A large number of MXene patents from Drexel have been acquired by a leading Japanese manufacturer of electronics. The company has scaled up the manufacturing and is developing a line of products with MXenes. In some case, such as carbide-derived carbons and supercapacitor electrodes, our patents were not used directly, but the basic science that we developed enabled companies to greatly improve their products.
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 more than 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 I learned a lot from my former department head and dean, Professor Selcuk Guceri, when I was a junior faculty and was starting my academic career. I had a senior colleague, Professor Jack Fischer, who worked across the street at the University of Pennsylvania, whose opinion I respected very much and whom I asked for an advice whenever I had to make an important decision. Professor Victor Morozov acted as a mentor for me in my college years. In my pre-college years, my instructor in the Chemistry Club, Sergey Mikhalovsky, was my mentor, and we still are in frequent contact and even collaborated on a research project. In general, we are always surrounded by people who are wise and experienced, and we should not be afraid to ask for an advice. Having a good mentor in the beginning of someone’s career is very important. I’m trying to be a good mentor to my students and post-docs.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Gogotsi: Yes, I would. I’m still fascinated with the opportunities that nanotechnology opens to us. When I started to work on nanotechnology, that was the beginning of the era. Nanotechnology has penetrated many fields now, but the major impact is in the future, when we learn how to build a much larger variety of materials and devices with the desired unique properties using nanoscale building blocks.
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.