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Alumni profile

Helping small science make big changes

Farnaz Niroui, SM ’13, PhD ’17
February 27, 2019
M. Scott Brauer

When Farnaz Niroui, SM ’13, PhD ’17, joined the faculty in November, she was returning to MIT for her third stint. Having been on campus as an undergraduate intern from the University of Waterloo and then again as a master’s and PhD student, she’s now an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and will be doing research in the new MIT.nano facility. What’s kept her coming back, she says, is the collaborative nature of MIT.

“You can easily approach researchers from any department or research field to ask for their advice and to collaborate with. Such an interdisciplinary environment is very important for me and my research,” says Niroui, whose work integrates electrical engineering with materials science and chemistry at the nanoscale and will greatly benefit from the state-of-the-art characterization and fabrication tools at MIT.nano.

Joining MIT this time around came with an added source of inspiration: her office previously belonged to the late Mildred Dresselhaus, an Institute Professor and world-renowned scientist. “I knew Millie as a grad student, since our offices were very close to each other, and I always looked up to her,” says Niroui. “Being in her office as I start my own independent academic career is extremely inspiring.”

Niroui first learned about nanotechnology through a high school science project focused on carbon nanotubes, which spurred her curiosity about “how and why small things can matter so much.” That’s just one of the things she says that she loves about nanotechnology, which introduces new techniques, processes, and tools to fields including medicine, electronics, and consumer goods. The science “can have implications in many fields and some that cannot necessarily even be envisioned currently without further research and exploration,” she says.

While completing her PhD working with Jeffrey Lang and Vladimir Bulović, Niroui observed some constraints on that potential. “At very small dimensions, you get limited by many factors,” she says. “For example, even the smallest amount of roughness on surfaces or the slightest vibration or interference from the environment can matter.”

Addressing this issue is one of Niroui’s main research goals and a key objective of MIT.nano. The design of the facility, she says, will offer even more opportunities for collaboration: “It allows researchers to bring in new materials and new techniques, and most importantly also provides us with a platform to work collectively to develop what is going to be needed to push the frontiers of nanotechnology.”

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