Doctoral student earns dissertation award for emerging field of plasmonics

David Kubarek
June 04, 2020

Parivash Moradifar, a doctoral candidate in materials science and engineering (MatSE), earned the Alumni Association Dissertation Award from the Graduate School for research related to plasmonics, an emerging field between electronics and photonics.

Plasmonics is the study and application of the interactions of optical-frequency electromagnetic field oscillations with the free electrons in a metal, which behave like a charge-separated gas, or plasma. It takes advantage of the coupling of light to charges such as electrons in metals and allows light to be broken into subwavelength dimensions, enabling strong field enhancements.

Plasmonics is potentially useful in a wide range of high-tech applications including ultra-efficient solar cells, high speed nano-devices with the ability to compute and transport data at the speed of light, photothermal biomedical therapeutic applications for less invasive and highly localized removal of cancerous cells.

Moradifar researches ways to understand, tune and create materials with the desired properties for various applications. She probes materials at the nanoscale in both two- and three-dimensions. She looks at how the structure of the material dictates the properties and how methods used to create these materials impact those properties.

Moradifar said the ability to work in an area with potentially life-changing findings is what drives her to succeed.

“The ability to solve real world problems with great societal impact is important in addition to the purely academic interest of my work,” Moradifar said.

Moradifar works under the direction of Nasim Alem, associate professor of MatSE and member of the Center for Nanoscale Science, which is a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center supported by the National Science Foundation. Moradifar said the center connects her with cutting-edge resources and talented researchers. She also said Alem’s mentorship allows her to excel.

“Working with Dr. Alem gave me the opportunity and support to pursue new ideas,” Moradifar said. “Her support and drive for excellence gives me the confidence and motivation to constantly do better.”

Moradifar also credits the late John Badding, a renowned chemistry expert at Penn State, for having a big impact on her graduate journey.

Because plasmonics is a newer research area at Penn State, Moradifar said her group took on several challenges such as working with new materials, applying new techniques and using advanced data analysis to gain fundamental insights into the field. She’s grateful to see this work rewarded and hopes this inspires other students to take on new research realms.

“The award is an acknowledgement of the hard and, at times, frustrating work in the pursuit of something new,” Moradifar said. “The fruitful outcome of my research — in addition to this award — goes to encourage and acknowledge students for creative thinking and pursuing something challenging by investing a lot of time and energy in achieving the necessary results.”

Moradifar said she chose Penn State because of its world-class research facilities and reputation for materials research. But she quickly found that communication and collaboration are equally critical for conducting science with a high level of success.

“Penn State has given me the skills to be both a great team player and individual researcher and has taught me to communicate effectively, manage my time and prioritize resources to achieve specific goals that can be broadly applied to both academia and industry,” Moradifar said. “These abilities, along with out-of-the-box thinking and the specialized knowledge I have acquired during my time here, will provide a solid foundation for any future challenge I encounter.”

The Alumni Association Dissertation Award provides funding and recognition to outstanding full-time doctoral students who have passed their comprehensive exams, have received approval of the dissertation topic and are within their final year of enrollment. This award is considered to be among the most prestigious available to Penn State graduate students and recognizes outstanding achievement in scholarship and professional accomplishment.

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Last Updated June 04, 2020