Graduate Student Selected for DOE Research Program at Sandia National Lab

May 26, 2023 • by Emily Engelbart

Adam Christensen will work to refine performance limitations in computing systems.

Adam Christensen

Adam Christensen

The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science has selected physics graduate student Adam Christensen from The University of Texas at Austin to participate in the Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program.

Christensen’s research aims to overcome limitations related to computing applications. In traditional computer architectures, processor speeds and memory capacities have increased dramatically in recent years, but the data transfer rates between components have not kept up. This can lead to bottlenecks that drag down performance and decrease energy efficiency. 

Starting in June at Sandia National Laboratory in California, Christensen will continue a project he contributed to under the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program at UT Austin, in collaboration with Sandia, researching how a material called vanadium dioxide (VO2), found in electronics and capable of transforming from an insulator into a conductor, forms on certain integrated circuit substrates. 

What makes this approach novel is not the materials, methods, or substrates used, but how the researchers combined these elements under unique conditions: changing temperatures, pressures, and power.

At Sandia, Christensen will focus on forming integrated circuits by depositing and shaping layers of different kinds of materials (like VO2) on top of semiconductors. Ideally, this will lead to the creation of novel devices. Christensen’s research at Sandia will additionally support his dissertation research, which he plans to complete at UT Austin after this program.

“Our collaborators at Sandia made this research possible, and I’m excited about utilizing the resources and expertise they have to offer, especially with nanoscale device fabrication and characterization,” Christensen said. “This kind of opportunity is perfect for me as an experimentalist because I can rigorously test the merits of my research thus far and hone what I’ve learned to see actual results in this field.”

The 87 newly selected SCGSR awardees, including Christensen, will conduct research projects aligned with the DOE’s Office of Science mission to address critical energy, environmental and nuclear challenges.

“The SCGSR program provides a way for graduate students to enrich their scientific research by engaging with researchers at DOE national labs, learning from world class scientists and using state-of-the-art equipment and facilities,” said Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, director of the DOE Office of Science. “In addition, they get valuable opportunities to network and observe firsthand what it’s like to have a scientific career.”

Christensen plans to continue researching condensed matter physics with an emphasis on next generation computational systems.