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Combining Stretch-ability and Semiconducting for the Future of Biomedical Devices and Humanoid Robotics

The SENIC Undergraduate Internship in Nanotechnology (SUIN) program is a major component of the Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor (SENIC), at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology at Georgia Tech, that focuses on providing undergraduates in engineering the chance to spend a summer conducting research in a world-class collaborative lab with prominent Georgia Tech researchers. GT-IEN hosted 4 undergraduates from various U.S. colleges over the summer that engaged in hands-on research in a number of fields of nanotechnology.

Over the next months, IEN will be highlighting the undergraduate participants, their research topics and experience in the labs, as well as what they gained from the program and their time at Georgia Tech, and in Atlanta

Our third interviewee from the program is Nicholas Theut, an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at Arizona State University.

Name: Nicholas Theut
Mentor: Guoyan Zhang
PI: Elsa Reichmanis

1. What sparked your interest in engineering and what problems are you hoping to help solve as an engineer?
In high school, I joined the robotics club my freshman year. The robots required creative problem solving and teamwork. I had always been a person to tinker, but it was when I had this defined project and role on a team that really sparked my interest in engineering. I also really enjoyed chemistry and physics in high school, so it seemed to be a perfect fit for me to go into engineering. As an engineer, I hope to work toward improving solar and battery technology to allow for a better energy future.

2. What research are you conducting at GT and what applications do you feel this research may have?
I am researching semiconducting polymers and their use in stretchable electronic devices. I am specifically working on a blend polymer system to be used for stretchable electronics. The system blends two polymers: one with the semiconducting properties and the other with the elastic properties. Together, they allow for the device to be semiconducting as well as allow for the device to stretch and flex without losing those properties. This research is aimed at creating transistors and other electronic components from biodegradable, environmentally friendly polymers that can flex and stretch unlike the current rigid electronics. These electronics could be used effectively in biomedical applications with implants that will be bio-compatible. In addition, the stretchable devices could be used in wearable electronics and other products where flexibility is ideal. It could also be used to fabricate components for soft robotics, which focuses on creating a more human like robot.

3. What has been your favorite lab activity/ tool training/ etc. thus far and why?
I have really enjoyed the different imaging instruments on which I have been trained. I primarily have been working with an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). This microscope allows me to get details on my polymer structure on a nanoscale by moving an incredibly small probe across the surface. I can see how the formation of the polymers changes with different processing variations. Thus, it gives me the opportunity to make conclusions about the processing of my polymer that I would have not been able to otherwise. The imaging instruments like this are so incredible because the data it gives you can be so valuable when attempting to move forward in research.

4. Do you feel this REU experience has helped prepare you for working in a collaborative laboratory environment and furthered your education goals?
This REU experience did help me to become more familiar with working in a collaborative laboratory. The REU gave me access to so many phenomenal people and instruments for research, which I would not have been able to have elsewhere. I have increased my skill sets with a variety of lab equipment and learned an immense amount from my mentor and other people in my lab. I learned not just about the technical research but about the life of a university researcher and the work behind the scenes. Seeing this work behind the scenes had been a big part of the reason I wanted to attend a REU program. This REU has given me a more well-rounded view of research, which has contributed enormously to my education. I hope to continue to add on to this knowledge and move forward in my education.

5. What are your plans post-undergraduate?
After my undergraduate degree, I am not entirely decided, but for now I plan on pursuing a masters, most likely in materials science and engineering.

6. What is your favorite thing about/impression of GA Tech and ATL?
Georgia Tech has a very nice and green campus with great people from all over the place. I met people from many different backgrounds all working together toward similar goals at Georgia Tech. The clean room instruments at Georgia Tech were also very impressive. I saw Atlanta as a very happening place especially when I went to Ponce City Market and the Belt Line. The shops and food around Ponce City Market were remarkable, and the fact someone thought to convert an old Sears warehouse into that market was genius. Going there was definitely one of my favorite experiences