New McWilliams Fellows Named-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, February 26, 2009

New McWilliams Fellows Named

The new Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Fellows are changing the status quo. From refining procedures for preparing magnetic storage material to creating techniques for developing new polymers, graduate students Chip Hogg and Renaud Nicolaÿ exemplify the purpose of the fellowship — to support graduate students conducting leading-edge research in emerging fields such as nanotechnology, biophysics and cosmology.

“Our students continue to develop the knowledge from which transformative new technologies flow,” said Fred Gilman, Dean of the Mellon College of Science. “Our most recent McWilliams Fellows, Chip and Renaud, are poised to be future scientific leaders.”

Chip Hogg, a fourth year Physics doctoral student, is developing techniques that could lead to the next generation of data storage technology. Hogg is working with Physics Professor Sara Majetich to improve the process of creating bit patterned media, a novel, nanoscale way of storing data in increasingly tiny spaces. Specifically, he has developed a technique that allows him to etch a highly consistent, nanoscale pattern formed by magnetic nanoparticles onto a magnetic storage layer. Previous attempts to do this were unsuccessful because the nanoparticles have to be stabilized by surfactant, which gets in the way of etching the pattern. By literally turning things upside down, Hogg figured out a way to expose the nanoparticle pattern so that it can be etched onto a silicon film using a gentle reactive ion etching process. After the etching is complete, he removes the nanoparticle mask using a wet-acid etch treatment he developed, revealing the pattern on the underlying silicon layer. The pattern that remains is vital to determining the amount of information that can be stored in a small space.

Hogg earned an MS degree in Physics from Carnegie Mellon in 2007, and a BSc in Physics and Computer Science from Brock University in Ontario, Canada in 2005.

Renaud Nicolaÿ is a fifth year doctoral student in Chemistry working with Kris Matyjaszewski, the J.C. Warner University Professor of Natural Sciences. Nicolaÿ develops original approaches to prepare new polymer materials using controlled polymerization (CRP) techniques, which allows design with precise control of the molecular architecture. Using an innovative approach, he combined two CRP methods — ATRP and RAFT — to prepare polymers with very high molecular weights (1 million), something standard ATRP and RAFT techniques alone are unable to do. He was selected to present this work at the Spring 2009 American Chemical Society’s Excellence in Graduate Polymer Research Symposium, which provides recognition to outstanding graduate students in polymer science and engineering. Nicolaÿ also developed a way to make another CRP technique called nitroxide mediated polymerization (NMP) “greener” by creating a new approach that allows polymerization to take place in water instead of in volatile organic solvents. In addition to these projects, Nicolaÿ is currently synthesizing self-healing polymers that have the potential for applications in coatings and structural materials. And, in collaboration with scientists at the Dow Chemical Company, he has developed a technique to improve the process of acrylic acid distillation. Acrylic acid is used to produce polymers that are used as ingredients in paints, coatings, textiles, adhesives and many other applications. Dow has filed a patent for Nicolaÿ’s process, and he is now extending his work with Dow to areas beyond acrylic acid distillation.

Nicolaÿ earned a MS degree in chemistry and chemical engineering from École Supérieure de Chemie Organique et Minérale and a MS degree in chemistry and physico-chemistry of polymers from Université Pierre et Marie Curie.

The Astrid and Bruce McWilliams Fellowship in the Mellon College of Science was established in 2007 by alumnus Bruce McWilliams, chairman of Tessera Technologies’ board of directors and the company’s chief strategy officer; and his wife, Astrid McWilliams. It provides tuition, stipend and fees for up to one year of graduate study, as well as $1000 for conference travel or other research expenses.


Amy Pavlak