Graduate student pursues research passions with help of scholarships

David Kubarek
July 23, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jason Munro, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, credits two recent scholarships with allowing him to pursue research that’s both his passion and relevant to advancing the needs of society.

Munro earned Penn State’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering’s Robert E. Newnham Award for Research Excellence and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Scholarship (NSERC) from Canada, where he is a citizen.

Munro works in the computational realm of materials creation, relying on his math and physics background to source materials to improve ferroelectrics, which are useful in a wide range of areas including sensors and memory storage devices. He also works in areas of renewable energy.

Using computer computations, the properties of new and existing materials can be explored much more quickly

“Computation really allows you to circumvent a lot of experimental trial and error that takes a long time,” Munro said. “It not only allows you to speed up that process but it allows you to probe certain things that are difficult to determine. That sort of combination really allows you to speed up the process of understanding the properties of materials.”

By improving the calculations, Munro exploits symmetries found in the properties of materials to explore new and better avenues of usage. He conducts his research under the guidance of Ismaila Dabo, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and Venkatraman Gopalan, professor of materials science and engineering. For ferroelectric materials, the group has discovered new symmetries that probe pathways of kinetic processes more comprehensively, finding opportunities that were missed using more conventional techniques.   

“We’ve developed this new framework for describing the types of intrinsic patterns or symmetry that are exhibited by the motion of atoms in the material,” Munro said. “We’re finding that this language of symmetry is useful for a lot of these very common calculations that people do to try and study those processes.”

Munro chose Penn State after visiting because he liked the faculty and what he calls a "we" versus "I" culture. He also appreciated that the department offered a large range of research opportunities. Although computational research is often separated from the creation of the resulting material, he said he enjoys research with a practical purpose in mind.

“I like computational research because of the heavy focus on math and physics but I still wanted that tangible application side,” Munro said. “I think there is more of that in materials research. I want that tangible application to be in sight. I want there to be a more direct connection with the types of materials that my research will have an effect on.”

Munro was nominated by faculty members in the department for the Robert E. Newnham Award for Research Excellence, awarded to students based on the quality and uniqueness of their research.

“I really like research and doing work that is interesting to me,” Munro said. "I like contributing to the development of the things that will make society better — in this case, materials that can be incorporated into new types of technology that will enhance and advance the world.”

  • Jason Munro, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering

    Jason Munro

    IMAGE: Lucy Lu

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 23, 2018