Megan Holtz

Megan Holtz
  • Hometown: Lubbock, Texas
  • Applied and Engineering Physics

How did you become interested in engineering? 
I liked physics – understanding the fundamentals behind how the universe works – and I also wanted to do something applicable that would make a difference in the world. I was concerned about global warming and so I became interested in renewable energy, which is in part an engineering problem.

What drew you to Cornell's Applied Physics program?
I liked the Energy Materials Center at Cornell and the collaborative environment that was happening across Cornell sciences and engineering. It was a great environment to work in with top-end facilities, so Cornell was my top pick.

What is the current research project you’re working on and how is it applicable to the outside world?

I worked on energy-related materials for a while: in particular, I wanted to watch what happened to fuel cell and battery materials as they operated on the nanoscale.  We were able to put a tiny, Li-ion battery into a transmission electron microscope and watch the battery charge and discharge. We saw how the Li ions moved in and out of the battery electrode, and we also saw how the material cracked and degraded. We also saw fuel cell catalysts degrade on the nanoscale.

Now, I’ve transitioned into working on functional oxides: this is a cool area where physics and materials science meet. Working as the TEM specialist in a team of people, we developed an oxide where the magnetic moment in the material is coupled with the polarization, something that hadn’t been done that well near room temperature in the past.  My piece in the puzzle was finding how atoms were arranged in the sample, and measuring their picometer scale atomic displacements that gave the material its particular properties. If these types of materials can become implemented in computer memory, it may make our hard drives more energy-efficient and stable.

What is your most memorable AEP moment?
Probably having to take the qualifying exam was the most memorable AEP moment. After passing, I felt like I might actually belong here.

What is your favorite place at Cornell?
My favorite place at Cornell is possibly the Plantations, for its beauty, but it could also be Duffield Hall because (who are we kidding) the lab is great too.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to cook, hike, and enjoy the outdoors. 

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