Technological evolution and materials science go hand-in-hand. Look no further than the cell phone. Developments in materials science have helped shrink the mobile phone from the size of a brick to a calculator, while increasing efficiency.
Materials science combines physics, chemistry and engineering to solve problems for industry, society—and, perhaps, the world.
“Materials for harvesting energy is a big area right now,” said Casey Miller, associate professor and director of the materials science and engineering program, a terminal master’s degree, in RIT’s College of Science. “Photovoltaics convert sunlight into electricity, thermoelectrics turn heat into electricity and magnets are important for high-efficiency motors for wind power.”
Miller, an experimental physicist, was named director of materials science and engineering in January and is the first dedicated faculty member for the program. Prior directors held appointments in physics, chemistry or engineering.
Miller joined RIT in August from the University of South Florida, where he won a National Science Foundation Career Award for his work on “magnetocaloric effect in metallic nanostructures.” His project, now transferred to RIT, explores nano-scale magnetic materials for use in advanced refrigeration devices. His other funded work studies electronic devices using quantum mechanics.
“We make sensors out of nano-scale magnets,” Miller said. “These sensors are in your hard drive; it’s what reads the bits.”
Magnetic field sensors decipher data stored in magnetic bits on hard disc drives. Miller focuses on the basic properties of magnetic materials on a scale 10,000 times smaller than a human hair.
An engineer working in materials sciences might approach the same materials that Miller studies with a different goal and end product in mind. This range is reflected in the variety of professors who teach in the program and hold affiliations elsewhere in the College of Science, the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, College of Imaging Arts and Sciences and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability.
The materials science and engineering program also has room for a broad spectrum of students, and increasing enrollment is one of Miller’s priorities. Nearly 20 students are enrolled in the program; many are close to graduating.
Miller is tasked with reshaping the curriculum and the program to better meet student and industry needs. Input from an industrial advisement board will help provide direction. New specializations within the program could include a professional science track, pairing science and business for students entering sales or starting their own company, Miller said.
He also promotes the terminal master’s degree as a path leading students to continued graduate work at the university.
“Materials science and engineering is a feeder program for Ph.D. programs at RIT,” Miller said. “There are a lot of directions to go with this degree.”