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Ertekin joins faculty for Fall 2011

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Elif Ertekin

Elif Ertekin, a postdoctoral research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be one of three new assistant professors in the Mechancial Science and Engineering Department in Fall 2011.

Ertekin works in the field of computational materials research: a research area that uses computer simulations, modeling, and theories to describe the properties of materials, including nanoscale systems such as carbon nanotubes, and bulk systems such as new materials for solar cells. Carbon nanotubes—cylindrical tubes made with the strongest tensile strength and stiffest elastic modulus material system currently known—are new mechanical components used in modern devices.

“I think the richness of the behavior that you can get out of materials—combining materials in different ways and introducing interfaces between materials—is pretty amazing,” Ertekin said.

As a graduate student, Ertekin developed models of defect-mediated plastic deformation in carbon nanotubes, and has explored phenomena such as ductile-brittle phase transitions at the nanoscale. Her post-doctoral work has focused on describing how defects can be introduced in a material to control its properties, such as how to make silicon a better absorber of sunlight for photovoltaics, and how to turn ceramic oxides into conducting materials for oxide-based fuel cells.

Ertekin received her masters and doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley. Her father, a professor at Penn State University, graduate school advisor Daryl Chrzan and postdoctoral adviser Jeffrey Grossman, all provided an inspiring environment for her to pursue research and education.

“Elif worked really hard, could solve any problem that was put in front of her, and developed her own problems to solve,” Chrzan said. “She’s not afraid of conflict so she will tell you if she thinks you’re wrong and she will respect you if you tell her you think she is wrong.”

Ertekin said that her experiences with current state-of-the-art modeling techniques developed her appreciation for computational modeling and also revealed limitations in the field. Her well-rounded experience gave her ideas on how to further develop and improve current models. For example, her work on carbon nanotubes combines quantum mechanical methods with continuum mechanics to describe plastic deformation processes.

“I find I like to play at the edge of what we really can do and figure out how to make our models more effective,” Ertekin said.

In fall 2011, she will introduce a new special topics course on the fundamentals of photovoltaics. This course covers the intricacies of how a solar cell works. The content elaborates on all processes that are necessary for the successful conversion of sunlight to electricity, such as absorbing light, separating charge, transporting charge, and collecting charge.

Ertekin feels that models, algorithms, and computation power have now advanced to a point where simulation and experiment can work hand in hand, guiding each other, to quickly predict and design new materials with desired functionality. She believes this will be critical to addressing key issues in the areas of energy, the environment, health, and transportation.

“I feel like we have a big opportunity right now to make a big impact in the world in a lot of important areas,” Ertekin said. “And I would like to be a part of making that happen.”

This article was posted on June 10th, 2011 by William Bowman.
Archival articles can be found online.