Force Microscopy Research Networks Ph.D. Studying Fellowship and Job with DOD – The NAU Review

Jorge Munoz, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science at NAU, recently awarded the U.S. Department of Defense SMART Scholarship, which covers tuition and all education-related expenses, a stipend, research opportunities and mentoring. Muñoz will also work for the DOD after graduating. This means that instead of worrying about finding a job, he can focus on his job and career goals with DOD.

The award is proof of the type of scientist he has become during his student years.

“One of the things we were trained to do is be very versatile – to be an interdisciplinary scientist, so we don’t always have to stick to one area,” Muñoz said. “We can dip our hands pretty much anywhere we can and use our ability to learn so that we can learn whatever we need in any different environment. So I’m very excited to see what kind of opportunities this will bring.

“From the start, I appreciated Jorge’s willingness to adapt and to be open to exploring new ideas and research concepts,” Montaño said. “He quickly acquired a vast experience in multiple techniques and project coverage that will not only result in a very good doctorate. research but make him a valuable scientist moving forward. I think this is something the DOD has recognized, and I’m so excited about the opportunities this incredible scholarship will bring!

Coming to NAU

Muñoz, who is originally from Puerto Rico but moved to Tucson in 1997, started life as a lumberjack in 2013. The journey from there to here, however, is a bit “spicier.” He came as a master’s student in what was the Department of Physics and Astronomy, but had trouble with his thesis, then ran out of money and decided to return home to Tucson.

During his break from graduate school, Muñoz became an adjunct professor, then a community college lab specialist. He met a woman who soon became his wife, and they followed their marriage with a month and a half of roaming through Europe. It was a honeymoon that was interrupted by a few gigs with Muñoz’s metal band. He plays bass guitar.

After returning to Arizona, the couple moved to Deer Valley so Muñoz’s wife could attend the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. When she finished, Muñoz decided it was time to complete her master’s degree. He contacted what is now the Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science to see how to pick up where he left off.

His query landed in the inbox of department director Gabriel Montaño, who was impressed with the research Muñoz had done so far. He offered to be Muñoz’s master’s advisor when Muñoz reapplyed to NAU to complete his master’s degree; Montaño was impressed with his candidacy and his story. It only took a few months before Montaño came up with a different path – going straight to a doctorate. Muñoz liked the option and moved on to the doctorate. program. He is now one year to 18 months after graduating.

Force Microscopy Research

Muñoz’s research focuses on using a type of microscope, called an atomic force microscope (AFM), to measure the properties of materials with extremely high resolution. The approaches he uses and develops allow him to interrogate a variety of materials ranging from artificial aneurysm models to reRAM technology, as they allow him to probe much smaller than the limit of typical optical microscopes. To be able to interrogate such systems, Muñoz not only uses existing technologies, but develops his own technology along the way in the form of probe design.

His research was conducted through the Center for Materials Interfaces in Research and Applications (¡MIRA!), a pioneering research center focused on materials science and the growing diversity in STEM fields. Jennifer Martinez, a teacher and ¡MIRA! director who worked with Muñoz in his research, his research was a perfect fit for DOD.

“Through this DOD SMART Fellowship, Jorge will gain valuable experience in using force microscopy to understand electronic structure and function at the interface of defects and hard materials,” Martinez said. “Understanding not only the structure of nanomaterials but also their function is extremely important, and Jorge will use the knowledge and expertise he gains here at ¡MIRA! and NAU at DOD. NAU, and I am sure his great skills and personality will be greatly appreciated by his DOD colleagues.

The SMART Application Process

When he decided to apply for this, Muñoz found himself faced with a long and complex application process. It’s not exactly unusual; most major grants and scholarships ask for personal statements and research statements, etc. But the DOD, considering that they are in fact hiring these fellows, also asked how the work fits into DOD projects and which department would sponsor a candidate.

“What differs from all other applications and grants is that this is more than just a personal statement,” Muñoz said. “It involved me answering questions regarding my desire to be part of the DoD workforce, how I might contribute and how they would benefit me, what type of research I would conduct that might overlap one sponsorship facilities, and I had to iteratively attack this process with my adviser. »

He wrote several drafts of each of the statements needed and got edits from mentors Montaño, Martinez, former postdoc Matthew Rush and Gregory Uyeda, head of the APMS laboratory and research platform. Muñoz also did extensive research on various DOD facilities to learn their needs; from there, he also had to work to frame his research using their vocabulary and addressing the unique needs of the facilities.

It was a long but ultimately fruitful process. On average, the DOD receives about 2,500 applications, and between 13 and 17 percent are selected.

“It’s not that they have a threshold, it’s just finding a good fit, which I think was the goal here,” he said. “I found a great facility to sponsor me and was able to market myself the right way and it all worked out.”

Muñoz also offered advice to future applicants, starting with being a stickler for organization.

“The most beneficial thing one can do is to start immediately with a schedule of required tasks and that you have it structured in a particular way that allows you enough time to work on those things.”

His other tips:

  • Speak to your advisors early and make sure they know your academic and research background.
  • Order transcripts. This seemingly easy task can take a lot longer than you think.
  • Contact your reference letter writers.
  • Start writing and revising early so you have plenty of time to revise and revise.

And, most important, apply again, if you don’t get the scholarship this time around. Tenacity helps with applying for grants as well as deciding whether to go back to school and pick up where you left off, as another of Muñoz’s mentors observed.

“One of the most admirable traits I’ve noticed in Jorge since working with him on his research is his perseverance,” Uyeda said. “There is a pretty substantial jump in expectations between undergraduate and graduate studies, especially in the research lab. This difference can often be a source of frustration for students as they feel these expectations are unreasonable. What they often don’t understand is that they are reasonable precisely because we can see their ability and know that with proper guidance and effort, they can meet those expectations. Jorge certainly experienced such frustrations, but at every stage he was willing to overcome these difficulties. I hope that by receiving this scholarship, Jorge will see that it is not only us here at NAU who can see his promise, but that researchers and scientists at some of the best research facilities in this country see him as well.

SMART scholarships are funded by the Under Secretary for Defense Research and Engineering, National Defense Education Program, and BA-1, Basic Research.

Heidi Toth | UAN communications
(928) 523-8737 | [email protected]

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