Alumnus Vincent Holmberg Wins Hertz Thesis Prize

Vincent Holmberg on a snowy mountainAlumnus Vincent Holmberg, Ph.D. ’11, has won the Hertz Thesis Prize for his dissertation entitled “Semiconductor Nanowires: From a Nanoscale System to a Macroscopic Material.” Some years there are no Prize winners, in other years up to four prizes have been awarded.

“Vince’s Ph.D. thesis is definitely one of the best I have seen in my career,” said Holmberg’s Ph.D. advisor and UT ChE Professor Brian Korgel. “I was especially impressed by the wide range of topics he addressed in his research, from cutting-edge electron microscopy experiments to transistor fabrication and development, and the deep insight and extraordinary creativity infused in each of these activities.”

Holmberg’s dissertation focused on silicon and germanium nanowires, which are long, threadlike, single crystals of semiconductor. Semiconductor nanowires have practical applications in many electronic, optoelectronic, and energy storage devices, including transistors, chemical sensors, optical detectors, solar cells, batteries and biological applications.

“A large portion of my research was devoted to studying the properties of these crystalline nanowires,” said Holmberg. “We studied their surface chemistry, mechanical properties, phase transitions, and melting dynamics, and we did lots of experiments where we heated nanowires to very high temperatures (up to 900C) inside of an electron microscope, and watched how metal atoms like copper, nickel, and gold diffuse through the nanowire crystal.”

Holmberg is currently working as a postdoctoral scientist with Professor David Norris in the Optical Materials Engineering Laboratory at ETH Zürich in Switzerland.

“Our process allows us to develop large amounts of nanowires to develop sheets of nanowire fabric.  We’ve been very successful at taking the nanowire fabric and using it to make lithium-ion batteries with very large energy storage capacities,” Holmberg said.  Improved lithium-ion battery capacity will increase battery life in a range of products from electric cars to smart phones, increase grid-scale energy storage and reduce lifetime battery costs for consumers.

Thesis Prize winners receive an honorarium of $5,000. In addition, the Foundation gives $1,000 to an academic specified by the winner who profoundly influenced their work. Holmberg selected Korgel to receive this honorarium, while fellow UT ChE Professors John Ekerdt and Buddie Mullins will also each receive $500 for their support.

Before completing his Ph.D. at UT Austin, Holmberg graduated summa cum laude with high distinction from The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a B.Ch.E. in chemical engineering and his B.S. in chemistry in 2006.  He was a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar in 2004, and was also the recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2007.

Since 1963 the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation has awarded over 1,000 doctoral fellowships with the mission to support graduate students in the applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences for the purpose of solving difficult, real-world problems. Each Hertz Fellow is required to send the Foundation a copy of their doctoral dissertation upon receiving their Ph.D. Every summer, members of the Foundation’s Thesis Prize Committee examine submitted dissertations for their overall excellence and pertinence to high-impact applications to select recipients for the Thesis Prize.

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