During his freshman year, Professor Eric Pop wanted to be an astrophysicist. Then he took his first semiconductor course and was hooked. Today, Professor Pop continues to explore nanoscale semiconductors from applications to far-out ideas.
What made you decide to be a professor, and what made you want to be at Stanford?
I became a professor because I enjoy teaching and research. Stanford is a fantastic place to be doing both, due to the excellent students, strong collaborations across many departments, and the presence of Silicon Valley industry, which can help "guide" our far-out ideas toward real world applications.
How did you choose your field of research?
As an undergraduate, I wanted to be an astrophysicist. A chance encounter led to an internship with IBM in microelectronics, followed by my first course in semiconductors. Beyond that, I was hooked – it became clear that all the physics I learned had real and immediate applications, yet it still allowed me to explore very fundamental (and open) questions about the world around me. I came to Stanford to pursue a PhD in EE, and since then I have worked in industry, taught at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and finally returned to join the Stanford faculty in mid-2013.
Who has influenced your work and why.
My mentors, students and collaborators have all had great influences on me. Our research is very much a social activity, where ideas are built upon each other, honed and improved collectively. The role of the professor as research leader is similar to that of a coach in sports teams (except unlike coaches, research leaders often collaborate with each other!).
Briefly explain a project you are currently working on.
One of the projects in my group explores the use of atomically thin materials (like graphene or MoS2) to design low-power or high-speed electronics. Unlike "three-dimensional" materials like Si or Ge, materials like graphene and MoS2 can exist as "two-dimensional" atomic sheets, only about 1 nanometer thin. This allows them to preserve excellent electronic and thermal properties even at nanoscale dimensions, without breaking down, while being bendable and nearly transparent. We are studying the growth, assembly and nanofabrication of such materials into electronic circuits that operate at room temperature. We are also seeking to understand some fundamental properties (e.g. thermal conductivity, band gap), many of which have never been examined before in atomically thin materials.
What advice do you have for new EE students?
Explore all that EE has to offer by attending seminars, office hours, talking to professors and other students outside of class. Spend at least one summer involved in a research project and another summer involved in industry. Take a class on public speaking and get experience writing for both technical and non-technical audiences. It is often very important to be able to eloquently describe your work – and far-out ideas – in a short one-minute "elevator pitch."