Simulation “Bumps” Nanotubes
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Scientists know superionics have these unusual properties, but they don’t understand why. Wood focuses on their quantum physical properties to find out. “If we know why, we can perhaps improve the system” to make better materials, he adds. He’s simulating how ions diffuse through the lattice of atoms in three superionic materials.
The work requires a different approach, says Woods’ academic advisor, Associate Professor of Computational Materials Science Nicola Marzari. “To characterize this requires sort of topological ideas,” he says, with “an understanding of how things are connected with each other.”
“That’s a whole direction Brandon has really developed on his own,” Marzari adds.
For Wood, the work is an appropriate mix of basic science and applied research. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at Stanford University. “I fell in love with it, I guess because it’s as fundamental as science gets. It’s pure.” Eventually, however, “I kind of got bogged down in what I thought was a little too much theory and not enough practice.” Wood chose materials science for his graduate degree to focus on more applied research. Computation provides common ground, he says: “It sits the fence very much between theory, because it’s grounded in theory…but on the other hand I’m doing applied experiments.”
Wood’s other major interest is Russian culture — a result of two years of Mormon Church missionary work in Siberia. The experience led him to earn a second bachelor’s degree in Russian Studies. He’s returned once and wants to again. “I would love to do something where I work cooperatively with former Soviet scientists,” Wood says. Beyond that, he’s unsure what awaits when he graduates in 2007.
Moore thinks Wood would fit in at a national laboratory. “What he wants to do is longer-term research, but with applications,” Moore adds. “It’s harder to do in a place like industry. National labs are sort of picking up the slack” for industrial labs.
Marzari says the DOE CSGF has prepared Wood well. “It’s a great initiative,” he adds. “It’s really helpful to prepare research scientists with the right background, forcing students to take classes beyond their usual field and putting them in touch with each other” at an annual conference. “It works very well.”