The progress of science depends on interactions within the scientific community. You can think of the scientific community as the people and organizations that generate scientific ideas, test those ideas, publish articles, organize conferences, train other scientists, distribute research funds, etc. This scientific community provides the cumulative knowledge base that allows science to build on itself. This ideally happens on a global, national and local scale, however often scientists find themselves in a vacuum, working in isolated small groups or even alone for a large portion of their career. Sometimes this is a result of proximity, in the sense that there are not many researchers, companies or universities with a specific specialty in a given region. Other times, there is certainly a critical mass in a given area, however those individuals and groups remain isolated. This can happen for a number of reasons. Regardless of why, the end result is the reduction of opportunities for all.
I am lucky to have always been a social person who loves finding ways to bring others together. For many of my scientific colleagues, this can sometimes be challenging or intimidating, so when there is an opportunity to help create a more collaborative and social environment, I tend to pick up the ball and run with it. I also very much enjoy starting and running new programs, groups, etc. With these two skills and interests, community building has become one of my favorite and most meaning endeavors.
Over the past decade, NYC has seen dramatic increases in private and public nanotech investments. While not known as a hub for nanotechnology, NYC finds itself quickly gaining on traditional hot spots such as Boston and Silicon Valley. With several NYC institutions growing their nanotech faculty and resources, the city is now producing a new crop of scientists and engineers, enabling the creation of a new nanotech start-up community. I created Nanotech NYC to help foster this growth and advancement of the nanotechnology and nanoscience communities. The site is populated with a host of information, including listings of researchers, companies, facilities, resources, programs and events.
We aim to give students information on the many educational opportunities in the city, give researchers a place to discover potential collaborators, provide a comprehensive list of resources for anyone who is in need of specialized instrumentation or services, and be a one-stop shop for those looking for talks, conferences, symposiums and other relevant events going on in the greater NYC area.
In the process of creating Nanotech NYC, I spent a lot of time reaching out to communities with a similar mission, hoping to learn from more established organizations. For several months I sat down one to two times a week with leadership from various STEM related groups, societies, and clubs, soaking in as many best practices as I could and building bridges for possible feature collaborations. Each conversation was incredibly fruitful and during many of them, we realized that there was a need for a digital forum to host these kinds of discussions more frequently. After pitching the idea around to many of the groups, I decided to start a new Slack Group called the STEM NYC Slack Group, which is now open to all those interested. We do keep a private channel for STEM group leadership, to discuss issues relevant to running organizations, but the group has now become a wonderful place to share upcoming events, job opportunities, and ask questions of all types. If interested in becoming a participate, you can find more information here: NYC STEM Slack Group. I am very curious and excited to see how this project develops over time.
Mid Atlantic Nanotechnology Hub
As the Director of the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center Nanofabrication Facility, I worked with leadership at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Quattrone Nanofabrication Facility (QNF) to help organize the Mid Atlantic Nanotechnology Hub (MANTH). The UPenn QNF is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI) and as part of those efforts, there was a goal to create a more cohesive nanofabrication community across the country. The group consists of cleanroom directors, managers and staff from 16 universities and five government labs, spanning from New York to Washington and as far west as Pittsburgh. This particular region represents the highest concentration of cleanrooms in the country and is home to several top-tier research institutions.
Cleanroom user facilities are complex organizations with sophisticated equipment, specialized processes and highly diverse sets of users from a wide range of backgrounds and application spaces. Meeting the needs of users and their home institutional goals are often challenging. As such, the MANTH looked to create benefits for both the facilities and their current and future user bases. For the participating facilities, it allowed staff from different institutions to compare notes on topics such as troubleshooting process and equipment issues, training methodologies, operational and safety protocols and budgeting. The group still is going today, spearheaded by the amazing staff at the UPenn QNF.
Materials Research Society Chapters
While a graduate student at Boston University, a friend and I decided to create a local chapter of the Materials Research Society (MRS). As a chapter, we organized a number of fun and meaningful events, working hand in hand with the national society and other student chapters. My experience was so positive, that when I arrived at CUNY, I recruited undergraduate and graduate students to help start a local chapter there. I then served as the faculty advisor for the group for the rest of my time at CUNY. Mostly due to a fantastic group of graduate students, the chapter was highly successful, organizing educational, outreach and networking events, even partnering with international chapters to organize symposium. I continue to stay involved with the MRS as a member of the academic affairs committee and maintain close ties and provide advice to the MRS chapters at Boston University and CUNY.