Theodore “Ted” Poehler is a research professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He earned his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1961.
How did you get interested in materials science? What interests you the most about materials science?
My original interest in materials science arose as an undergraduate student in electrical engineering. The physical properties of materials and how those properties influenced the phenomena that we observed fascinated me, and they motivated me to explore more about the materials origins of observed behavior. My interest was heightened by experience involved on projects as an undergraduate and where I recognized that I particularly enjoyed working in a laboratory.
What is most exciting about materials science?
The most exciting result to find is some new or unexpected finding. Materials science has been an exciting area to pursue because it involves a wide range of subjects including chemistry, physics, theory, and cutting edge laboratory experimentation. To be able to undertake a new problem area, synthesize new materials, and develop a theoretical understanding of what we have made and how it behaves allows us to carry out a satisfying research project for every aspect of a project on what are previously unknown solids.
What research development or discovery would you be most excited to find?
Our research has focused on exploration of materials with innovative structure such as organic charge-transfer complexes, conducting polymers and metallo-organic films produced by innovative synthetic procedures. Being able to synthesize technologically significant materials of controlled properties and behavior is an exciting goal, and has attracted much interest because of the possible improved functionality in applications such as photo-detection, and energy conversion produced by efficient, low cost processing methods. Finding polymer or organic complexes of unexpected or superior properties and performance is an exciting prospect.
Where do you see the future of your field of research headed? What innovations are coming?
Advanced organic, organo-metallic, and polymer conducting materials have attracted great interest as photonic and electronic materials. Our ability to design and synthesize materials, as well as the capability to produce working functional devices with predictable properties facilitates the systematic development of materials families for many applications. The improved understanding of how to design, synthesize, fabricate, and use materials of well understood structure, properties, and performance has encouraged energetic development of organic, organo-metallic and polymers. Improved modelling and theory have enhanced the interest in developing these classes of solids, and have encouraged their development and refinement.
The greatest attraction of these materials is that in comparison to inorganic electronic materials, organic solids provide an immense number of materials limited only by our knowledge and ability to create new complexes. Therefore, it would be expected that new discoveries may emerge from materials of currently unknown or unexpected composition that would greatly exceed known materials in performance. For example, the crystal structure of many of these solids is highly anisotropic making interpretation of their conductivity complicated and it is suggestive of what could arise in solids of non-conventional structure and properties.
What advice do you have for students and young engineers engaging in materials research?
Explore new areas of materials research. Get off the well-worn path of investigation. Do not be inhibited in asking questions and in seeking out researchers who are doing work which you find interesting and challenging. Most successful researchers are more than willing to talk with you and share information about their work.
Outside of your research, what hobbies or activities interest you?
Outside of research, I continue to be enthusiastic about teaching. I believe that sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm about our discipline encourages students to take interest as well. Helping another generation get started is one of the most important things we can do to strengthen the discipline.