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From skateboards to nanotechnology —
a UAlbany student’s journey to his future

Jonathan Rullan
Jonathan Rullan

When he arrived at UAlbany at age 17, Jonathan Rullan was “still influenced by skateboarding and all of the adolescent style that came with it: big jeans, tongue piercing, bleached hair.” In the six years since, he has traded in his skateboard, piercing, and bleach for an atomic force microscope (AFM), a scanning electron microscope (SEM) – and a future in the nanotechnology field.

Now 24, the New York City native “really had no idea what I wanted to be” when he enrolled in 1998. “All I knew was that I wanted to do something in science, and when I was trying to think what I could do with science, I really wasn’t sure. So I took one step at a time, taking the courses I liked.”

Jonathan became interested in nanotechnology – the science of manipulating matter on the atomic scale – and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) “before the school was even up and running. In my senior year, doing independent research at Albany NanoTech, I was exposed to something I didn’t even know existed and decided to pursue it.”

After earning his B.S. in physics in 2002, Jonathan studied in UAlbany’s physics graduate program for about a year and half. He “switched over to CNSE” last spring. Now working toward his master’s in nanoscience and nanoengineering, he is considering the idea of earning a doctorate in the same field. “I’m studying the surface morphology of copper interconnect wires as a function of time and heat. It’s important to understand the stresses induced on a copper wire – all the different material being applied on top of the copper, which requires different heat processes.”

Left to right: Assistant Professor of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Kathleen Dunn, Jonathan Rullan, and and graduate student Susan Huang, who also does research at CNSE.
Left to right: Assistant Professor of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Kathleen Dunn, Jonathan Rullan, and graduate student Susan Huang, who also does research at CNSE.

Jonathan works closely with his faculty mentor, Assistant Professor of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Kathleen Dunn. “She lets me do work I’m interested in, but leads me in the right direction. I look up to her.”

“Mentoring is a vital part of the faculty-student relationship,” says Professor Dunn. “Classroom teaching can only go so far; most students learn better from watching and doing.”

The mentoring relationship, she adds, benefits faculty, too: “It keeps us young. The students are a constant source of new energy and new ideas that catalyze our own research interests. It’s very fulfilling to watch the evolution of a student as we nurture his creativity and equip him with the critical analysis skills required to tackle the problems presented to him. In Jon’s case, particularly, it has been rewarding to see him learn to focus his tremendous energy and to see him develop the analytical skills to complement his innate enthusiasm and abilities.”

Related Links:
Albany NanoTech
College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering

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