Featured Engineer

Interview with Alexander Balandin

Alexander Balandin

Alexander Balandin - Professor, University of California - Riverside

How did you get into electronics/ engineering and when did you start?

When I was a student in a high-school in a small Russian town, I started to read a lot of science fiction. Some of the authors were American. The excitement about science fiction and space exploration stimulated my interest to physics, engineering and electronics. That is when I got into electronics and engineering, and decided to continue my education in the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT). After graduating from MIPT with MS in Applied Physics, I was admitted to PhD program in Electrical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame, USA. At Notre Dame, I switched my research field from electromagnetics to solid-state electronics.

What are your favorite hardware tools that you use?

Hammer

What are your favorite software tools that you use?

Origin – this is software to plot experimental data. I use it myself and make my group members use it as well.

What is the hardest/trickiest bug you have ever fixed?

I am not able to fix any bag. I always ask my wife to do it. She is great at fixing computer problems.

What is on your bookshelf?

I have everything from Alexander Pushkin – the greatest Russian poet – to the five-volume Handbook of Semiconductor Nanostructures and Nanodevice (ASP, 2002) that I edited.

What has been your favorite project?

Digging a big hole in my backyard and creating a fish pond together with my son Alec.

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

I have a lot of engineering experiences. The most fun, recently, was figuring out how to measure a thermal conductivity of graphene – a single atomic layer of carbon atoms. The paper that reported this experience – A.A. Balandin, et al., “Superior thermal conductivity of single-layer graphene,” Nano Letters, 8, 902 (2008) was cited more than 800 times in just 3 years. In order to measure the thermal conductivity of graphene I had to invent a completely new method where Raman spectrometer was used as a “thermometer”. Regarding the note-worthy awards what comes to my mind is the IEEE Pioneer of Nanotechnology Award, which I received in 2011.

Can you tell us more about the Pioneer Award?

The IEEE Pioneer Award in Nanotechnology recognizes individuals who by virtue of initiating new areas of research, development or engineering have had a significant and transformative impact on the field of nanotechnology. The award was given to me for “pioneering contributions to nanoscale phonon transport with applications in nanodevices, graphene devices, thermoelectric and thermal management of advanced electronics.” The Pioneer Award is administered by the Nanotechnology Council, which consists of 21 IEEE member societies. The award recognizes individuals whose technical achievements go beyond the borders of individual technical societies. The main considerations for selecting the award recipients include distinctive long-term technical achievements, research leadership, innovation, and impact on nanotechnology and engineering.

You discovered unique thermal properties of graphene: are there any practical applications of these properties?

We found experimentally that the intrinsic thermal conductivity of graphene can exceed that of bulk graphite. The details of this research can be found in my review – A.A. Balandin, “Thermal properties of graphene and nanostructured carbon materials,” Nature Materials, 10, 569 – 581 (2011).

After discovering the excellent thermal properties of graphene, we proposed a number of possible applications, including graphene lateral heat spreaders and thermal interface materials (TIMs). Rapidly increasing power densities in electronics made efficient heat removal a crucial issue for progress in information, communication and energy storage technologies. Efficient heat removal became a critical issue for the performance and reliability of modern electronic, optoelectronic, photonic devices and systems. TIMs are applied between heat sources and heat sinks. They are essential ingredients of thermal management. We have shown that the use of graphene as a filler in TIMs allows one to substantially improve their thermal conductivity and efficiency.

Do you have an experiential stories you would like to share?

A few years ago, my group members (mostly graduate students) were puzzled by the fact that micro-Raman spectrometer was not functioning. They checked the manuals, lasers, called the vendor, etc. and asked me to come down to the laboratory to have a discussion of possible plan of action. After spending some time discussing possible reasons for the problem and what to do next, I noticed that the spectrometer was unplugged. It turns out that the cleaning person accidentally unplugged it. Since we never do it, this simple reason was overlooked.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a creating an entirely new computational paradigm based on the charge-density waves instead of electric current. This work is supported by a $1.5M grant from the National Science Foundation and Semiconductor Research Corporation.

What challenges do you foresee in our industry?

The biggest challenge that I see is that USA, unfortunately, is losing its technological leadership. No country can be successful in the modern world if its high-school students can graduate without a single course in Physics.

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