Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors





Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


android tablet pc

Home > Press > Silvija Gradečak seeks to better the world through new materials

Silvija Gradečak
photo: M. Scott Brauer
Silvija Gradečak

photo: M. Scott Brauer

Abstract:
When Silvija Gradečak was born, her hometown of Vukovar, now in Croatia, was still part of Yugoslavia. Both of her parents worked in a shoe factory, but her father, a chemical engineer, may have set the stage for her future career: "He always had a lot of chemicals and materials around the house, and from early on I started to play with these things," recalls Gradečak, now an associate professor of materials science and engineering at MIT.

Silvija Gradečak seeks to better the world through new materials

Cambridge, MA | Posted on December 6th, 2013

Playing with materials, in a way, has become her life's work: Gradečak now studies materials that could help to improve energy harvesting and conversion, or processes that could improve the properties of materials used in various industrial and high-tech applications.

Her parents always put a strong emphasis on education and a strong work ethic, Gradečak says. "They really were role models," she says, and she learned early "that hard work and effort really pays off."

But her life took a sharp turn when the situation in her homeland began to change after the collapse of Yugoslavia. "I had a very nice childhood," Gradečak says, "until war broke out in 1991, in my second year of high school. My parents had to move, and they basically lost everything that they had built, and they had to start from scratch."

The lessons of those events made a deep impression, she says. Gradečak was starkly confronted with the fact that "there are many things that happen in life that you can't control. But the things you can control are your own actions. I thought about the fact that I wanted to make this world better for my family, and for the world in general."

"The best way I could think of to do that was to excel in what I'm doing," she adds. "I was passionate about science, and about engineering. I thought if I want to have an influence in the world, I have to be very good at what I'm doing."

Gradečak's interest in science was stimulated by her experience attending an astronomy summer school during her high-school years. "We were exposed to scientific methodology and creative ways you can ask relevant scientific questions, design science experiments, and interpret the results. That was really the starting point for me," she recalls.

Later, as an undergraduate at the University of Zagreb, Gradečak continued to pursue her interest in astronomy. Together with classmates, she organized an expedition — raising funds and designing and building equipment — to observe the annual Leonid meteor shower from a vantage point in Mongolia, where the shower was expected to produce its strongest outburst in decades. Sure enough, the display was "really incredible, you could see meteors almost every second," she says. The expedition was designed to study the sounds generated by the meteors; Gradečak's results ended up being published in a scientific journal.

That reinforced her interest in physics and astronomy, Gradečak says, but "one thing that was missing for me in astronomy was the component of experiments. … I really liked it, but I always felt like an observer." After all, one of the things that had drawn her to science in the first place was that "you can set up a hypothesis, design an experiment, and eventually prove or disprove it and move forward."

That interest in hands-on experimental science propelled her toward condensed matter physics, she says. "There, I really felt I could play with materials," she says. "I could work with something I designed on my own, and with the discoveries I make I can modify the materials with completely new properties."

Gradečak went on to earn her doctorate at EPFL in Switzerland, along with her boyfriend — now her husband — Slaven Garaj, who she had met at the astronomy summer school. While at EPFL, she traded telescopes for electron microscopes: "Instead of far away, I was looking at the nanoscale," she says. She began studying gallium nitride, a promising semiconductor that was just starting to be used in devices such as light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, and high-frequency transistors. Her thesis described how defects affect the material's properties — in some cases, actually making it more efficient.

Gallium nitride, and the techniques used to study it, have continued to be central to Gradečak's career, she says.

She was offered a postdoctoral fellowship by the Swiss government that allowed her to pursue her work anywhere in the world. She chose to go to Harvard University, where she worked on nanostructured materials. There, she found herself at the cutting edge of new discoveries about how gallium nitride's properties could be tailored by changing the size and shape of the material — such as by shaping it into nanowires.

"It really opened up an entire new field of research for me," Gradečak says. In 2006, she joined MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, earning tenure this year.

These days, Gradečak's focus is on tailoring "nanomaterials on demand," with precisely tuned properties to match the needs of specific applications, such as energy production, energy storage, or LED displays. "We have the tools that enable us to really look into the materials and test their properties in situ," she says, such as electron microscopy and cathodoluminescence, which makes it possible to study materials down to the arrangement of atoms within them.

Using such techniques, Gradečak continues her pursuit of the ultimate goal that led her into science and technology in the first place: how to make the world a better place. Now, her focus is on making better materials that can help to solve problems by, for example, generating electricity more economically, or using it more efficiently. "It's something I'm really passionate about," she says.

####

For more information, please click here

Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Aerotech X-Y ball-screw stage for economical high performance Planar positioning April 16th, 2014

Energy Research Facility Construction Project at Brookhaven Lab Wins U.S. Energy Secretary's Achievement Award April 16th, 2014

Malvern reports on the publication of the 1000th peer-reviewed paper to cite NanoSight’s Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis, NTA April 16th, 2014

Biologists Develop Nanosensors to Visualize Movements and Distribution of Plant Stress Hormone April 15th, 2014

Affordable High Precision XY Nanopositioning Piezo Stage April 15th, 2014

Display technology/LEDs/SS Lighting/OLEDs

PAM-XIAMEN Offers UV LED wafer April 15th, 2014

Better solar cells, better LED light and vast optical possibilities April 12th, 2014

Nanotech Business Review 2013-2014 April 9th, 2014

Scalable CVD process for making 2-D molybdenum diselenide: Rice, NTU scientists unveil CVD production for coveted 2-D semiconductor April 8th, 2014

Imaging

Catching the (Invisible) Wave: UC Santa Barbara researchers create a unique semiconductor that manipulates light in the invisible infrared/terahertz range, paving the way for new and enhanced applications April 11th, 2014

Agilent Technologies Announces Fourth NanoMeasure Scientific Symposium: National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in Beijing to Host Event April 10th, 2014

Discoveries

Nanocrystalline cellulose modified into an efficient viral inhibitor April 15th, 2014

Tiny particles could help verify goods: Chemical engineers hope smartphone-readable microparticles could crack down on counterfeiting April 15th, 2014

A molecular approach to solar power: Switchable material could harness the power of the sun — even when it’s not shining April 15th, 2014

Targeting cancer with a triple threat: MIT chemists design nanoparticles that can deliver three cancer drugs at a time April 15th, 2014

Announcements

Aerotech X-Y ball-screw stage for economical high performance Planar positioning April 16th, 2014

Energy Research Facility Construction Project at Brookhaven Lab Wins U.S. Energy Secretary's Achievement Award April 16th, 2014

Malvern reports on the publication of the 1000th peer-reviewed paper to cite NanoSight’s Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis, NTA April 16th, 2014

Biologists Develop Nanosensors to Visualize Movements and Distribution of Plant Stress Hormone April 15th, 2014

Interviews/Book Reviews/Essays/Reports/Podcasts/Journals

Malvern reports on the publication of the 1000th peer-reviewed paper to cite NanoSight’s Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis, NTA April 16th, 2014

Engineers develop new materials for hydrogen storage April 15th, 2014

Nanocrystalline cellulose modified into an efficient viral inhibitor April 15th, 2014

Tiny particles could help verify goods: Chemical engineers hope smartphone-readable microparticles could crack down on counterfeiting April 15th, 2014

Tools

Aerotech X-Y ball-screw stage for economical high performance Planar positioning April 16th, 2014

Malvern reports on the publication of the 1000th peer-reviewed paper to cite NanoSight’s Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis, NTA April 16th, 2014

JPK announces expansion of its global sales and service activities in China and USA April 15th, 2014

Affordable High Precision XY Nanopositioning Piezo Stage April 15th, 2014

Energy

Engineers develop new materials for hydrogen storage April 15th, 2014

A molecular approach to solar power: Switchable material could harness the power of the sun — even when it’s not shining April 15th, 2014

Industrial Nanotech, Inc. Lands First Major Order from Pemex, Mexico’s State-Owned Oil and Gas Company April 14th, 2014

Scientists open door to better solar cells, superconductors and hard-drives: Research enhances understanding of materials interfaces April 14th, 2014

Battery Technology/Capacitors/Generators/Piezoelectrics/Thermoelectrics

Catching the (Invisible) Wave: UC Santa Barbara researchers create a unique semiconductor that manipulates light in the invisible infrared/terahertz range, paving the way for new and enhanced applications April 11th, 2014

Nanotech Business Review 2013-2014 April 9th, 2014

Preview of Hands-on Nanotechnology Demos at ‘Chemistry of Wine’ Fundraiser to Show Nanotech Magic April 8th, 2014

Trees go high-tech: process turns cellulose into energy storage devices April 7th, 2014

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE







  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More














ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







© Copyright 1999-2014 7th Wave, Inc. All Rights Reserved PRIVACY POLICY :: CONTACT US :: STATS :: SITE MAP :: ADVERTISE