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Luisa Whittaker-Brooks’ work with nanomaterials might one day power the planet.
Nanomaterials—substances that measure a billionth of a
meter (a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers
thick)—have been a hot topic among scientists for the past
decade or so. They are also the main focus of Luisa
Whittaker-Brooks’ (PhD ’11, MS ’09) research.
Since 2013, her findings on these miniscule materials have helped
her earn more than $100,000 in funding. Not bad for a scientist
just a few years out of graduate school.
Whittaker-Brooks, 32, has been intrigued by chemistry since high
school. A teacher in her native Panama recognized her as an
exceptional student and encouraged her to pursue chemistry as a
career. In 2007, the budding scientist came to UB as a Fulbright
fellow; in 2011, she received the Materials
Research Society’s highest award presented
to graduate students. She also completed her master’s
and her PhD within three and a half years.
For her doctoral research, Whittaker-Brooks studied vanadium oxide, an inorganic compound with intriguing properties when prepared as a nanomaterial. “The cool thing is, when you work on a nanoscale, you start seeing extraordinary properties you don’t see in bulk materials,” she explains. For example, bulk copper bends, copper nanoparticles don’t. This feature of nanomaterials opens up a wide range of applications for medical, electronic and other fields. It’s as if Whittaker-Brooks and other material chemists have a whole new periodic table to play with.