Newswise — Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve, but Elizabeth Wille-- who spent the last four months learning crystal growth techniques from Ames Laboratory senior physicist Paul Canfield--  took it skin deep, tattooing her affection for the crystal ruthenium on her bicep.

“I’ve wanted to get a crystal tattoo for about three years now and found an artist in Ames whose body of work includes a lot of beautiful tattoos of  crystals,” said Wille, “I thought it was pretty ironic that I came to Ames to grow crystals and ended up getting a tattoo of crystals as well!”

Wille is a fourth year graduate student at the University of California Davis, where she’s working to complete her PhD in inorganic chemistry.  As part of her PhD research she wanted to learn about crystal growth techniques, so her “boss” Susan Kauzlarich, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and a former post-doctoral associate under the late Ames Laboratory senior scientist and ISU Distinguished Professor of Chemistry John Corbett, encouraged her to come to Ames and work with Canfield, who is also an Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Physics.

“Susan called Paul the ‘master of crystals’ so I had to experience it myself,” said Wille.  

To fund her research at Ames Laboratory, Wille applied for a supplemental award through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program. SCGSR’s program prepares graduate student recipients for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers critical to the DOE Office of Science mission. According to the SCGSR program, funded research opportunities advance the graduate students’ overall doctoral thesis while providing access to the expertise, resources, and capabilities available at DOE laboratories. SCGSR awards range from three to 12 consecutive months; Wille has been working with Canfield since January 2017 and will finish her research at Ames Laboratory near the end of April.

At UC Davis, Wille works on Zintl phase compounds used in thermoelectric applications such as Yb14MnSb11.  She’s been extending that research focus at Ames Laboratory by honing her crystal-growth skills using the zinc analogue of Yb14MnSb11 .

“I’ve just learned an amazing amount of crystal growth techniques, stuff that I was never able to do before,” Wille said. 

Wille is the first student to take advantage of the SCGSR program at Ames Laboratory, but Canfield says she’s really the second student he’s worked with over the past 20 years through collaboration with UC Davis. 

“UC Davis sends students who are experts in bonds, diffraction and chemistry to Ames Laboratory and we help them learn crystal growth,” Canfield said. 

As for his interaction with Wille, Canfield says it’s been a delight.

“We’ve benefitted immensely form Elizabeth being here.  She brings an expertise in scattering and analysis of structures that we don’t really have,” said Canfield.  “It’s been like any good collaboration-- both sides learn, both sides benefit.  Hopefully we’ve given her some insight into crystal growth, into physical measurements, and how to drink brutally strong coffee at all times of the day. She has brought a lot to us. I consider this fantastic.” 

Ames Laboratory is a DOE Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems. 

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