Associate Professor John Cumings
About Dr. Cumings
Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley, 2002
John Cumings came to the University of Maryland from Stanford
Dr. Cumings' research gets at the heart of the difficulty of working with nanoscale systems: we need to "see" what's going on. Nanoscale systems are, by definition, smaller than the wavelength of visible
Dr. Cumings' research takes advantage of electron microscopy to study nanoscale systems under dynamic conditions. "The true strength of electron microscopy is that it allows you to see what's going on, as
Dr. Cumings will be expanding this research in new directions, encompassing the creation of new exotic magnetic materials, the exploration of new readout mechanisms for DNA-sequencing, and the study of thermal transport at the nanoscale. He is enthusiastic about his work's potential: "The ability to watch nanoscale events in real-time can have an impact across vast areas of science and technology."
For more details, please visit Dr. Cumings' research page.
Q&A with Dr. Cumings
Why is your research important to your field? What impact could it have?
I envision a new future for the electron microscope as a fully functional nano-laboratory, in which scientists are able to construct new devices, watch what they do, and use this capability to learn about the basic laws that govern materials on small length scales. The ability to see how nanosystems behave in real-time and at video rates is the most powerful aspect of electron microscopy. This allows researchers to quickly design experiments and test hypotheses, and it gives the field of nanoscience a level of engineering control that it hasn't really enjoyed in the past.
What attracted you to the Clark School?
The Clark School and the University of Maryland as a whole are dedicated to growing their capabilities in electron microscopy and in nanoscale imaging in general. The environment here is keyed into creative developments in basic science and technology, and people aren't afraid of new approaches that are outside the box. The culture here is very fertile. This particularly supports my research.
Why is the Clark School a good place for students (graduate or undergraduate) to study materials science and engineering?
That's simple! The Clark School encourages its young researchers to come up with clever innovations, and is dedicated to pedagogy and mentorship at all levels. This really helps students to learn and thrive.
Why should young engineers consider materials science and engineering for their field of study?
Materials Science is all about how matter behaves. In just the past two decades we have seen a revolution in the way science thinks about the composition of matter. For instance, I remember my grade-school teacher telling our class that the atomic hypothesis (that matter is composed of atoms) could only be demonstrated through chemical analyses, and that we would never actually see atoms. It turns out she was wrong! Several tools have been invented that allow us not only to see but also to manipulate individual atoms. This is at the heart of the nanotechnology revolution. The fact that people now can see the atoms and expect this capability of their instruments has really changed the way they approach the engineering of small structures.
In this new nanotechnology paradigm, the basic laws that govern matter are a combination of physics, chemistry, and engineering, and a new interdisciplinary approach is emerging. A natural home for this is Materials Science, which seeks to understand the properties of matter by understanding its composition and structure. Materials Science has always asked the question, "Where are the atoms?" and has sought answers with a methodical and comprehensive approach. This gives the field characteristics of an engineering discipline and assigns it a key role in bringing the promise of nanotechnology to reality. Whether their future lies in nanotechnology or a more traditional science or engineering discipline, Materials Science offers a firm educational foundation for young engineers. Training in Materials Science imparts both the intellectual rigor of the hard sciences and the methodology of careful engineering and really opens the door to many careers.