This is the seventh in a series of stories delving into the various research that College of Science faculty members at the University of Findlay are working on. In an effort to show readers, in part, what UF offers its students in the areas of science, these stories will reveal the diverse methods, processes and topics that faculty shares with students.
There will come a day, says Nathan Tice, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry at University of Findlay, when, if your video screen wears out, you’ll simply print a new one and hang it up.
If that sounds like an impossibility, you haven’t spent time with Tice and senior chemistry major Eston Macharia, a pair who have been researching together to make this seemingly inconceivable notion, and others like it, a reality.
They call it “small molecule synthesis for electronic materials,” but what it boils down to is the inevitable opportunity to, among other exciting prospects, take your electronics – laptops, cell phones, and the aforementioned video screens – and roll or fold them up small enough to fit into your pocket with room to spare.
According to Tice, all of our current electronics are based on traditional semiconductors like silicon, and that’s what integrated circuits are made out of. These integrated circuits make up the insides of all of the electronic devices that we use, normally without even a glance toward what is inside them and making them work. Alternative types of electronics, however, those that you can make out of the organic molecules that Tice and Macharia are actively researching, are poised to make a big leap in the coming years. “Materials are currently being made that are foldable yet functional,” Tice said. “They’re starting to be commercially available, but they are really expensive, and the science hasn’t quite been perfected, just like any other technology when it starts out.” Currently, the rollout for Samsung’s “Galaxy Fold,” for instance – an event that was to take place late in April – was delayed due to the test devices malfunctioning, proving the timeless adage claiming that “science and its research are never ending” to be accurate. The men’s research is focused on how to make the materials, along with a collaborator who is working on polymerizing some of the materials and testing the conducting properties. “As a fairly small school, we can’t do a lot of this ourselves, but we have some help with polymerization. We send them the materials and they do it. It’s getting exciting,” Tice admitted.
Tice and Macharia have been researching together since not too long after Macharia arrived as a transfer student in 2016. A senior from Kenya who recently presented at UF’s Symposium for Scholarship and Creativity, Macharia is, according to Tice, “one of UF’s best students.” This is supported by the facts that he commutes to campus from roughly thirty miles away in Bowling Green, has a nine-year-old son, works a full-time job on third shift, Sunday night until Thursday morning, and regularly finds himself on the Dean’s List. He typically puts in five to ten hours of research on a weekly basis, based on the class, and, Tice said, “could certainly continue to do it in the fall.”
“Sometimes I try to set up some sort of schedule but most of the time, I get off work and try to get some sleep,” Macharia explained. “I normally have class at two every day, and try to set up times to get work done before or after class. I generally work Sunday night to Thursday, but sometimes there are Friday nights. I’ve grown accustomed to just sleeping for a couple of hours. But, I’m almost at the finish line.”
Since Tice is a professor of chemistry and Macharia is a chemistry major, the partnership in academia and research is a mutually understood and respectful one, and the level of language used in research discussions between the two is as interesting as the research itself. Terms like “polymers,” “diodes,” and “substrates” are regularly employed to explain the concept of foldable electronics, and it’s clear that the men are valuable to both UF and the resulting research.
As Macharia plans to graduate in December of 2019, both he and Tice know there will come a time in the not-so-distant future where their collaborative research will end. But, according to Tice, the research will continue. “That’s kind of the fun thing as well, and is very typical of science, in that it keeps on going and continues to build upon a foundation and the previous individual,” he explained. “When Eston graduates we’ll get someone else to dip their toes in synthesis and see if they like it, and if they don’t, that’s okay; but it gives students a good marketable skill set for sure.”