Lauren Otto

Area of Focus: Plasmonic devices

Graduation Year: Spring 2017

“At the Molecular Foundry, one key outcome of my work is a well-characterized and reliable process for plasma-enhanced ALD titanium nitride, which is now used by visiting researchers from around the world.”

Lauren Otto earned her doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering in spring 2017. Her dissertation was titled, “Engineering Materials and Characterization Methods for Mass-produced Plasmonic Devices” and her thesis advisor was Prof. Beth Stadler. Two weeks later, she received the Outstanding Poster Award at SPP8, the 8th International Conference on Surface Plasmon Photonics, held in Taipei, Taiwan.

On what motivated her doctoral research, Lauren says. “In 2014, I did an internship at HGST, now part of Western Digital Corporation, where I learned about some materials challenges HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) technology was facing. Around the same time, I learned about titanium nitride and saw it as a potential fix to the problem. However traditional deposition techniques were not compatible with HAMR technology. If a high-quality synthetic metal material could be generated using an atomic layer deposition (ALD) based technique, then that might prove to be a solution to the problem. This was the underlying motivation for my work, and the things I accomplished for my dissertation were stepping stones towards demonstrating this end application.”

Lauren completed a portion of her doctoral research at the Molecular Foundry, which is a nanoscience research facility at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (a DOE supported national laboratory). There she focused on developing materials called synthetic metals (for instance, a conductive ceramic like titanium nitride) using ALD-based techniques, which allows for the coating of arbitrary surfaces conformally one atomic layer at a time. For Lauren, her goal was to create a materials platform that was well-suited for industrial use and could enable mass-produced plasmonic devices such as the nanoantennas in HAMR hard drive heads.

As with most dissertations, practical factors such as access and availability of resources, both material and expert, at LBNL, also influenced the direction taken by Lauren’s doctoral work.

Impact of Lauren’s research

Lauren has seen firsthand how impactful her work is. “At the Molecular Foundry, one key outcome of my work is a well-characterized and reliable process for plasma-enhanced ALD titanium nitride, which is now used by visiting researchers from around the world.”

The result of her research is gaining public traction. 

“A highlight of my research was demonstrating some initial work towards three dimensional conductive and plasmonic photonic crystals, which I brought as a poster to SPP8 in Taipei in May. I was fortunate to win an award for my poster presenting my work, and they have invited my co-authors and me to submit an article on it to a special issue of ACS Photonics.”

Next Phase: Cyclotron Road

The next phase of Lauren’s research has taken her to Cyclotron Road: “Our desire to have a deposition tool for only nitrides (to reduce oxygen contamination) led to the invention of a new form of ALD, and is part of what I pitched to Cyclotron Road and will be aiming to develop with Laminera. If realized on an industrial scale, ALD synthetic metals could enable future technological devices in data storage, semiconductor fabrication, solar, batteries, and high surface area electrodes for supercapacitors or water desalination devices.”

“Cyclotron Road is an incubator for energy and materials innovations and is a partnership between LBNL and Activation Energy. Getting in to Cyclotron Road was a four month process with an initial application and a few rounds of interviews and pitches. Each round required me to further refine what I was pitching and create an  initial business model around what will eventually be Laminera’s product. I am grateful to my Berkeley collaborators who helped me refine the pitch as the process advanced. Out of over 100 applying projects, the program team at Cyclotron Road selected only nine. Each team receives a two year fellowship as well as support for work at LBNL, mentorship in becoming an entrepreneur in our technology space, peers to go on the journey with (the cohort model), and numerous valuable connections to and conversations with executives, entrepreneurs, and funders through the Cyclotron Road network. Based on my experience so far, the community aspect both at Cyclotron Road and in the broader network has been invaluable.”

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