Carbon nanotubes .
Alexander Tsapenko, PhD graduate | Aalto University
Meet Aleksandr Tsapenko, one of the first graduates of the Photonics PhD program. During his two years at Skoltech, Aleksandr took the most from what Skoltech has to offer: conducted his own research, participated in an international exchange program in Hungary and even interned at Huawei.
about me
There were quite some things that influenced my career path but none of those would be as memorable and as essential as this one from my childhood. I grew up in both Russia and Belarus in a large family where tight relations, mutual trust, and hard-working environment are accompanied by diverse cultures and individuality. The thing I admire the most about that time is constant family support focused on children's self-education and strivings to obtain a basic physical understanding of simple principles and processes happening around. In a matter of time, this curiosity slowly but surely transformed into a desire to implement the acquired knowledge for solving engineering puzzles with numerous solutions – especially the ones dealing with the science of light.All of the endeavors brought me to Bauman Moscow State Technical University with a major in optoelectronic systems and devices for scientific research. There, in order to expand my competencies in material characterization and experimental optics, I got additionally involved in the multidisciplinary projects carried out under the guidance of professors from several institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The results of these collaborations were a number of carefully performed tasks mainly devoted to acousto-optics, acoustic microscopy, and spectroscopy of atoms and molecules, which eventually brought my attention to the whole new world of emergent optical phenomena taking place at a nanoscale level and helped me to find out extremely up-to-date topics for further doctoral education.
what made you choose Skoltech
My doctoral studies at Skoltech started in late 2014 – just several years after its foundation and several years before the official opening of the Laboratory of NanoMaterials where I conducted the main part of my research. To put it simply, Skoltech at that early stage had almost nothing we know it nowadays for, except world-renowned scientists and engineers united by a simple and yet powerful strategy – to establish an entirely new type of STEM university in Russia that would embed research and entrepreneurship into its educational core as the key ingredients. At the time of being accepted, I was so excited to be a part of that process occurring directly in my home country, but I was also rather terrified that I might additionally focus on things I previously haven't had any experience with. But you know what – it was so worth the risk: the place indeed became a second home where each of us with different backgrounds and cultures can learn from each other to create something special.
research
Being among the very first doctoral students of the Photonics center, I have been privileged to learn the laboratory construction from the ground up. Meanwhile, our cooperation with the already leading experts in the field and multiple academic plus industrial partners allowed us to gradually build excellent resources, equipment, and a unique environment here at Skoltech. Furthermore, I have met and got acquainted with various persons from around the world, discussed and got insights into a wide range of previously unknown or hidden opportunities and skills. As a consequence, I was selected to participate in a double degree program between Skoltech and Aalto University. In such a way and by doing the industry-related doctoral degrees under the joint supervision of Prof. Albert G. Nasibulin (Skoltech) and Prof. Esko I. Kauppinen (Aalto University), I was focusing on surface modification approaches that enabled to dramatically enhance the optoelectronic performance of macro-scale films composed of low-dimensional materials as well as to fine-tune the electronic structure of free-standing randomly oriented single-walled carbon nanotube films, reaching particular levels suitable for our material implementation in real products. Additionally – in partnership with our collaborators, optical properties of as-synthesized and treated/doped nanotubes were extensively studied using broad-wavelength nondestructive spectroscopies and a powerful pump-probe technique, revealing and explaining their charge carrier dynamics and negative photoconductivity. As a result, the outcomes of these findings were incorporated into the flexible/stretchable transparent electrode and energy applications.
current studies
During my doctorate journey, we as a team have performed a lot of good research but we also realized that there is just an enormous amount of work still to be done to further understand and improve our game-changing material. Along with these lines I always wanted to get an insight into pure industrial research – or to be more specific, not only to be active at the university site but also to see how the applied research works throughout the technological and production stages. And for this, Aalto University was a perfect place to proceed with due to its largest R&D cleanroom facilities in the Nordic countries, nearby headquarters and factories focusing on rapidly evolving nanomaterial products. Hereat, since the fall of 2019, I have been in a slightly different environment, where I am concentrating mainly on personal projects I won funding for and interacting with numerous professionals to spread the knowledge further. My current activities include experimental studies of novel nanomaterials and their fundamental understanding in terms of unique building-block properties they can bring to the existing optoelectronics and photonics. Through this research and development phase, we aim to explore and demonstrate new scientific phenomena which eventually in a not so distant future can impact technological businesses and society.
free time
As a researcher, I spent most of my time in labs since there is hardly anything better during experiments than the feeling of observing something no one has seen before us or of understanding how it basically can be reproduced. This is the feeling of a good job done that causes many of us to get up early and turn in late at night or to spend extra hours in a lab. Here, the viewpoints which help me to come through lots of obstacles I face daily and to learn from them are patience, persistence, and a really clear mind with a focus on the things that last. When I am not in labs, I also try to enjoy every moment. It does not matter – it is a walk, long-distance race, team game, or just a simple being together with my family members and loved ones either traveling or spending time outdoors – this all keeps me active and ready to branch out.
how has Skoltech helped you achieve your goals, grow personally and professionally, and/or led you to where you are now
The years at Skoltech will always be special for me. Especially for that magnificent chance to become a part and be an active participant of its ever-changing, international ecosystem that integrates a dynamically evolving environment with way too many specialists in so many areas and senses.I love this mixture for the occasions of failing fast while learning more productively and of finding those incredible individuals who fully share the set of values, thus everyone is able to benefit from this open nature right from the beginning. In my view, this spirit also continuously sparks the imagination and keeps the mindset in that healthy skepticism state, which in turn serves as a highly effective tool for tackling even the toughest problems regardless of how difficult those are presented originally.Yet another important point Skoltech showed me from the start on was its sincere dedication to student and staff member ambition, in particular to supporting any path we had or could decide to take for our work or life later on. What is more, the engagement of us all in such an atmosphere truly expressed the tremendous potential we can bring into and get from it. And I have no doubts that together with these distinctive perspectives the currently raised scientific and social bars will only go higher with time.
advice to applicants & new students
I suggest, the decisions we take start with questions within ourselves, that we tend to ask every single day. And maybe, for these moments, one of the interesting points to realize is the diversity we can produce to the world around us by just utilizing opportunities as a kind of toolbox for finding solutions to the problems exercising our minds. For myself, there were a few tips based on this principle, which I picked up in the course of years doing research and which, despite their simplicity, may make your days a little bit easier as well.At a start, prior digging really deep into a specific theme you are passionate about, I would recommend to accumulate a rich reserve of fundamental knowledge coupled with a long view on things you and people truly care about. This may prepare your mind for the right questions in a chosen area, allow you to retain a tunnel vision even when something will be out of your control and to do your life-work as hard as you can do your best one.Once you have a structured view of a subject-matter, it is a stage to choose a place to join and to bring possibilities for both parties. Your acquaintance and continual interaction with the supervisor, community, laboratory's network, and all the rest should lead to your independent and original ways to design an appropriate experiment, including the selection of a proper hypothesis to check and analysis of answers you get.With everything set – try to enjoy your moments, try not to get bored halfway, and try to broaden your horizons when necessary as it is that time point to make your dreams come true.
and now about Skoltech
We are Skoltech – a new international English-speaking STEM university that was founded by the group of world-renowned scientists in 2011 in Moscow, Russia. In just 8 years, we united dozens of researchers and globally renowned professors, built a stunning campus, set up world-class labs and made it to the top 100 young universities in the Nature Index. Read more >>
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