The Materials Research Boston (MRS) meeting was an intense and rewarding experience. Just to give an idea of the magnitude of the conference, at check-in I was handed a 563-page, 1-inch thick program guide with information on more than 3300 presentations, 3000 posters, and more. There were enough technical topics to cover for the symposia that they had to go through the alphabet twice and even start a third round, with labels A-AAA.
One symposium I spent some time at was W: Perovskite-Based and Related Novel Material Solar Cells, which was so popular that it had to be moved to a larger room. There were some exciting developments, including scalable production of slot-die coated perovskite solar cells. However, I learned that there are still some significant limitations to scalability, including toxicity and air stability.
Aside from technical sessions, I also got to hear some great featured speakers. One was Angela Belcher, who spoke about engineering viruses to grow materials used for battery electrodes and to image tiny tumors using second window near-infrared fluorescence. I also had the chance to listen to a lecture by Marvin Cohen, who was awarded the Materials Research Society’s highest honor, the Von Hippel Award, for his work in using quantum theory to explain material properties. At almost 80 years old, he assured that his best work was yet to come, since his award’s namesake lived to 105.
In addition to featuring past and current accomplishments, there was also focus on the future of materials. On Thursday, there was a panel discussion on the Materials Genome Initiative, which is a $250 million investment intended to minimize the time it takes to move materials from the lab to the market. One of the principle goals discussed was the creation of a data infrastructure that allows verified data and codes to be accessible and the standards that would be necessary to facilitate this.
In two days I was surrounded by more information than I knew what to do with. It was the kind of intellectual exhaustion that I can only compare to study abroad immersion, especially with respect to language and terms, except there was a whole additional dimension for image interpretation (plots and micrographs and diagrams galore).
Despite the fact that I only truly understood a fraction of the talks I listened to, one observation that definitely stuck was the general appreciation and respect for good science. After every oral presentation there were plenty of questions, and each question was framed by “Thank you for a very nice talk.” “Beautiful” is a word you expect to hear at art exhibits or concerts, but I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to hear it so many times at the conference. Whether it was a “beautiful molecule” or “beautiful data,” there was a definite appreciation for aesthetics. This was also manifested in the Science as Art competition. From a nanospider in an AFM image of a bulk heterojunction organic solar cell film to an orchid in an SEM image of self-assembled iron oxide nanoparticles, there was a wide range of creative interpretations.
Presenting my poster was also a great experience. I was pretty nervous about 3 hours of questioning, but it was really more like 3 hours of discussion. There were rows and rows of posters and a bunch of curious people seeking to make connections between their work and the work around them. I had the opportunity to answer questions and also to receive recommendations in return.
It was also nice to see some familiar Lehigh faces at the conference. I was able to listen to a lecture with Bill Heffner, professor Himanshu Jain’s talk about glass fracture, and professor Nicholas Strandwitz's discussion on situ ALD conductance measurements.
Overall, the conference was a valuable experience, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity. A big thanks to professor Strandwitz for making my trip possible!