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Gabriel A. Vázquez-Lizardi
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Q&A SCGSR Gabriel A. Vázquez-Lizardi

21 May 2024

Gabriel A. Vázquez-Lizardi has recently been selected as an outstanding graduate student through the Department of Energy's Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program. In this story, he shares advice for future applicants and his experience applying. Vázquez-Lizardi is also a chemistry graduate student. 

Q: What is your research area?

GAVL: My work utilizes the transmission electron microscope (TEM) as an analytical tool to study and correlate structure/property relationships in two distinct sets of materials: nanocrystals (NCs) and polycrystalline piezoelectric films. For NCs, I am interested in understanding atomic-scale transformations due to electron irradiation and heating, as well as their effects on the optical properties. Meanwhile, for piezoelectric films, I aim to understand and correlate the chemistry and microstructure with the piezoelectric performance of the films.

Q: Through the SCGSR Program you will receive training at a national lab. Which lab will you train at and how does it connect to a priority mission area in the Office of Science?

GAVL: I will be working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The work I will be performing at ORNL aligns with the DOE Office of Science priority mission areas in two main ways. First, this work aims to correlate the interplay between structure, chemistry, and properties of polycrystalline piezoelectric films using four-dimensional scanning electron microscopy (4D-STEM). Unraveling this correlation will lead to the development of devices that exploit ferroelectricity, such as sensors, actuators, etc. Second, this project aims to implement machine learning models to analyze the large and complex datasets obtained by 4D-STEM. This ties to the Data Science priority area, which is interested in developing robust analytical methods to obtain data-driven conclusions.

Q: What is something you will bring from your time at Penn State with you to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory?

GAVL: I have always been fascinated with instrumentation, and how to process and think about data to extract important results. This is one of the reasons I joined a group focused on electron microscopy. Because I will be in a place with world-renowned scientists, I will bring my curiosity to ORNL, to expose myself to the science performed at ORNL and the unique perspectives data scientists bring to analyze a diverse array of datasets.

Q: What advice do you have for future applicants?

GAVL: This award is extremely competitive; however, it brings the unique opportunity to work at a place where scientists are on the top edge of their scientific fields while using high-end instrumentation. I think two of the most important messages to convey across the application are: (1) explicitly writing the question this proposal will address, followed by a concrete and detailed plan, and (2) describing why it is crucial the experience at the national Laboratory to move the thesis project, while simultaneously detailing how this experience will advance your scientific career. I believe that the SCGSR office is interested in both pushing various scientific fields, but also ensuring that the experience will be an important part of the growth of us graduate students.

Q: How did you feel when you learned you received the SCGSR?

GAVL: The day I received the notification that I received this award, I was exhilarated. My parents were visiting me here in town, so it was a nice excuse to celebrate. Additionally, I felt grateful for all the support and advice from Danielle Hickey, my thesis advisor, and Debangshu Mukherjee, an ORNL collaborating scientist. If it were not for their encouragement, I do not think I would have ever applied for this award, even less received.