Lightworks at Arizona State University
Arizona State University
School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering
Tempe, Arizona, U.S.
- B.S., Engineering Science, Trinity University
- M.S., Electrical Engineering, Colorado State University
- Ph.D., Electrical Engineering, Colorado State University
Goodnick is a Professor at ASU’s School of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering, and is Deputy Director of ASU Lightworks, the umbrella organization for all of ASU’s renewable energy activities.
Advice to Students:
“Nanotechnology is a very interdisciplinary field, so what’s important actually is to have basic skills in math, physics, chemistry, and even biology. Having a solid core in those areas allows you to choose the disciplinary area that you want to go into.”
Q: When did you first find that your career path focused on nanotechnology?
Goodnick: I guess it would be when I started my graduate education in the early 80’s. I was interested in solar energy, and I went to Colorado State because there was a lot of activity growing in the solar energy area there. And I started working on understanding how the cells work, and what was responsible for them failing, and what was happening at the interface between two materials. When you look at interfaces between materials, interfaces occur over a very short distance — so everything was happening at a nanoscale dimension. At that time, I was involved with using analytical tools to find out what was happening within a few angstroms or a few nanometers of the interface, and that led me to work that was involving imaging atoms at the atomic scale. Because we were interested in how rough the interfaces were between these two, we used new imaging techniques where we could actually see the atoms. Being able to see the atoms using electron microscopy was really neat. You could really understand what was happening at the interface, and that just got me more and more interested in things at the atomic scale. And at that time, all these new techniques were just coming out one after another, the scanning atomic force microscope, the scanning tunneling microscope, an exciting time.
Q: What current nanotechnology applications are you working on?
Goodnick: My research is focused in nanoelectronics, including nanophotonics and energy conversion, molecular electronics, and computational nanoscience. One of the main efforts at the moment is on the applications of nanotechnology in the improvement of performance of energy conversion devices like solar cells. We are also looking at the integration of nanowires as functional components in integrated circuits.
Q: What’s the most rewarding thing about working with nanotechnology?
Goodnick: I think nanotechnology is rewarding as it offers ways of creating new materials that could lead to new applications. It’s like a playground where we have all these new tools and new material possibilities that did not exist years ago. For example, the first commercial solar cells were made in the 1950s, and the efficiencies of solar cells has grown slowly over time. Nanotechnology gives us the possibilities of looking at these challenges again — can we make new materials that would make a solar cell work much more efficiently? At the same time, this is true in many other fields such as electronics and biomedicine. You suddenly have this new toolbox of materials and concepts that can make a big impact in fields that are already established. So it’s really an enabling technology that offers a lot of opportunity.
Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you’ve worked on has positively impacted the world?
Goodnick: All scientists make so many contributions that are part of a larger body of work that impacts a field. So I could think that my work of understanding the role of interfaces in electronic devices, for example, has helped to make those devices faster, smaller, and cheaper. And it’s still an area where the role of interfaces on the performance of devices is still growing.
Q: What do you think is the single greatest impact nanotechnology has had on the world thus far?
Goodnick: Some people don’t recognize it as nanotechnology until you point it out to them — but I think of the entire semiconductor industry is a nanotechnology industry. All the state of the art microprocessors and memory — and all the integrated circuit technology that currently is being manufactured — is based on nanotechnology. So are all the critical dimensions in silicon transistors and memory cells — they all have critical dimensions that are on the nanoscale. So really, the entire computer industry is based on nanotechnology, and many people don’t realize this fact because it’s been happening over many decades, with feature sizes getting smaller and smaller and smaller. At some point we crossed a threshold where it was not nano and now it is, and that’s really a soft threshold. Really, all the information technology and communication technology we have today is based on nanotechnology.
Q: Please give an example of what you envision nanotechnology applications leading to in the future.
Goodnick: In terms of electronics, the promise of nanoelectronics is to provide revolutionary capabilities in all areas of science and technology, ranging from physics, to the fields of computing, medicine, biology, and materials. High speed will revolutionize communications and computer performance. Among the concepts envisioned are quantum computing, supercomputers on a chip, instant-on computers, implanted medical monitoring devices, neural prostheses, self-aware and adaptive robots, and autonomous surveillance systems, all of which show opportunity for invention and technological enterprise. I think that another big area is nanomedicine, because I think you’re going to see a lot of impact on human health and on biotechnologies because of the fact that we can make electronics at the same scale as the biological systems we are trying to impact. This is very important for medicine — we’ll see new diagnostics and new therapies based on nanotechnology. You’re working at the same level as the cells and biological entities in the body — so we’re really working at a molecular and cellular level. Also, I think, nanotechnology in energy is going to help enable that field as well as the development of new energy conversion technologies and battery technologies — it’s already happening now.
Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Goodnick: Nanotechnology, I guess by definition, is multidisciplinary, and so it’s almost impossible to work solo. I find myself working with groups that span a lot of fields.
Q: If you work more as a team, what are some of the other areas of expertise of your team members?
Goodnick: For me, it’s more practical and interesting to work together with physicists, chemists, and biologists in this area because nanotechnology, I think, enables the development of technology at the nexus of all these different fields.
Q: Did your university training help you in your nanotechnology work?
Goodnick: Yes, I think so. When I went to school, although there was less emphasis on teams as compared to now, I still had a pretty good training in team building because I went to a small undergraduate institution. We worked on teams all through my entire undergraduate education. As a graduate student, you do work more individually, but in the particular environment I was in –a relatively large research group where there were other masters and PhD and postdocs — we all worked together. All the publications we had were multiple author publications. So I guess for me it was just natural to work as a team in doing scientific research, because it just was easier to collaborate and use different techniques that you couldn’t do yourself.
Q: Do you have a mentor? Did you in your college years?
Goodnick: I would say that my PhD advisor was a big mentor to me, first of all in terms of scientific integrity, and obviously in the research I did. But in the broader area of how you work together — the aspects of ethical research — he was a good role model in that sense. He mentored me on how to behave and work with people that you don’t agree with, and to function in a collaborative environment.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still focus on nanotechnology applications?
Goodnick: Most likely, yes. Who knows how we end up in different career paths. A lot of it is happenstance, and you happen to fall into an opportunity, and make the most of it. So it wasn’t that I picked nanotechnology, because it didn’t exist at the time, but things just converged in terms of my life, and I ended up in it. I probably would end up in it again, but it’s quite different now from when I started.
Q: What advice do you have for pre-university students?
Goodnick: Nanotechnology is a very interdisciplinary field, so what’s important actually is to have basic skills in math, physics, chemistry, and even biology. Having a solid core in those areas allows you to choose the disciplinary area that you want to go into. It’s not always clear what you want to do, but as long as you have those skills — those basic skills — you can move between a lot of fields. You’ll end up being interested in some particular application area, which may decide which department or disciplinary track will be important to you, but it’s important that you take courses outside of that specific discipline to be able to jump around. You need a grounding in the sciences and math, and once you have that, being able to be flexible to work between disciplines — meaning taking or studying material that is broader than just your discipline — is very important.