Materials Science Undergraduate Jake Song Wins Gotaas Award

Winning paper uses computation to understand nanoconfinement

Snapshot of an indenter approaching a polymer confined by a rigid substance to probe mechanical properties.Snapshot of an indenter approaching a polymer confined by a rigid substance to probe mechanical properties.

As electronic devices become smaller and smaller, the scientific community has been pressed to better understand the physics of materials’ behavior at the nanoscale. This can be particularly difficult for materials scientists who study polymers and soft matter because the structural and dynamic complexity in these materials are difficult to access through conventional methods.

Jake SongMaterials science undergraduate Hyuk Joon (Jake) Song spent the past two years using multi-scale molecular dynamics simulations to study the deviations in dynamics and mechanics of polymers at the nanoscale. 

His work in this area, titled “Dynamics, Mechanics, and Multi-scale Modeling of Polymer Nanostructures,” received the 2017 Harold B. Gotaas Undergraduate Research Award from Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.

The prestigious award, named in honor of McCormick’s third dean, is given annually to the senior who presents the best research paper in the competition as judged by a panel of faculty members. Song conducted his work alongside adviser Sinan Keten, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering.

Through his studies, Song made two key findings: a relationship exists between a polymer’s configuration and its glass transition temperature, and polymers experience stiffening near a rigid surface in nanocomposites.

“I feel these findings demonstrate the strength of computational materials science techniques in probing nanoscopic materials phenomena, which are traditionally quite difficult to study with experiments, and in aiding the rational design of next-generation devices,” Song said. “Computational materials science can be a useful tool to investigate polymer nanostructures and unravel mysteries surrounding the particular effect of nanoconfinement.”

After graduation, Song will pursue a PhD in materials science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.