Earth and Mineral Sciences

Materials science and engineering graduate student named Sloan Scholar

Alex Molina, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, received a Sloan scholarship.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Alex Molina, a fourth-year doctoral student in materials science and engineering, was recently named a Sloan Scholar.

Penn State is one of nine institutions designated as Sloan University Centers for Exemplary Mentoring by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The goal of Sloan’s UCEMs is to diversify the U.S. doctoral degree-holding workforce through the support of university-based efforts to improve the recruitment, retention and graduation of underrepresented minority doctoral students in STEM fields.

“As a man of Colombian heritage, I am proud to be the first first-generation student in my family to reach for a Ph.D,” he said. “My family means the world to me, and I am thankful to Penn State and the Sloan Foundation for providing the research experience and opportunities that I did not think was ever possible.”

In addition to financial support to underrepresented doctoral students, the Sloan program provides students with valuable mentorship and support.

“It’s like someone telling us, ‘we see that you’re working hard, and we know there are challenges that come with being underrepresented, and so we’re here to help,’” Molina said. “It’s comforting to know that not only do our advisers provide support, but we have deans and equity directors who look out for us, as well as an outside body that is helping us with our research.”

Molina’s credits his adviser Suzanne Mohney, professor of materials science and engineering and electrical engineering, for introducing him to device fabrication and processing, as well as materials and electrical characterization. Through her unique research with electrical contacts to semiconductors, she has helped shaped Molina’s doctoral work.

Molina’s research focuses on studying the interactions of surfaces and interfaces of metals on semiconductors.

“The ability to manipulate and control electronic, optical and thermal properties is one of the major undertakings in materials science,” Molina said. “Whether for aggressively scaled electronics or developing novel nanostructured materials, understanding and controlling surfaces and interfaces is a key part of this challenge.”

To fabricate devices, he selects the most appropriate metal or combination of metals that allow for efficient flow of current into a semiconductor.

"My studies of surfaces naturally lead into studies of interfaces between metals and semiconductors, which are critical for contacts in all sorts of semiconductor devices such as transistors, solar cells and light emitting devices,” Molina said.

Molina hopes that by engineering efficient contacts his work will help make semiconductor devices more efficient, saving energy and money for companies and households in the future.

In addition to his own research, Molina said he looks forward to the Sloan program connecting him to a valuable network of other scholars at universities across the country.

“The people you meet are incredible,” Molina said. “We went to a conference with all the other Sloan Scholars in October. It was refreshing meeting other Penn State Sloan scholars as well as people from other universities who you would otherwise not be able to meet. It’s given us a unique professional development that would normally be hard to obtain.”

Last Updated June 02, 2020