Alumnus Wins Graduate Student Mentorship Awards

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University of New South Wales associate professor Nagarajan Valanoor (Ph.D. '01, materials science and engineering).

Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) alumnus Nagarajan "Nagy" Valanoor (Ph.D. '01) has received the University of New South Wales, Australia's Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Postgraduate Research Supervision and its Faculty of Science Research and Teaching Excellence Award for his work with masters and doctoral students. Valanoor is an associate professor at the university's School of Materials Science and Engineering.

The competitive awards require candidates be nominated by their department chairs—following a rigorous selection process and their deans' approvals—and to demonstrate their students' past and ongoing success in areas such as publishing, research impact, working with external collaborators, and acquiring positions in academia or industry. Valanoor's candidacy was also bolstered by letters of support from former students, colleagues who worked with or supervised his students, and his students' current employers.

Valanoor, who studied the synthesis and characterization of ferroelectric thin films under professors Ramamoorthy Ramesh and Alexander Roytburd during his time at the Clark School, has continued his research in that area at the University of New South Wales. He has also maintained his relationship with MSE, working with Professor Ichiro Takeuchi on the development of environmentally friendly piezoelectrics.

Despite what he describes as "radical" changes to his approach over the years, including substantial improvements in materials synthesis, measurement, and data processing, he still finds the work challenging.

"[It's] exciting because we still don’t know answers to so many basic questions," he says. "My research involves everything from understanding the chemistry of what makes a ferroelectric material work to how it will be used in a device...I like the fact that we go from basic sciences right to the applications."

Valanoor thoroughly enjoys his role as a mentor. "I think the greatest joy of [my] job is to have students come in with no clue [about] what a competitive research program entails, and for them to leave in four years with an entirely different perspective on how to accomplish research," he says. "…it is fantastic to see the students land amazing new positions or publish in Science [or] Nature." But, he adds, he feels particularly proud when they begin to ask questions about their own data. "When they begin to do that," he says, "you know that you have done a good job!"

Learn More: Visit Professor Valanoor's homepage »

Published January 24, 2013