Michael Braun: Complex applications

There were many factors that attracted Michael Braun tomajor in materials science and engineering in the College of

Science and Engineering.

The University is only 90 minutes north of his hometown

of Rochester, Minn., and offers the added advantage of being

located close to downtown Minneapolis, with an array of academic,

social, and cultural opportunities. Plus, CSE is highly

ranked in the field he’s pursuing.

Then, too, and perhaps most important, were the multiple

scholarships he has received, including the Clifford I. and

Nancy C. Anderson Scholarship, which nearly covered his tuition.

“This funding meant that the University was not only

highly regarded but also financially attainable for me,” Braun

said.

In naming his most rewarding experience so far in CSE,

Braun cites his work with the Leighton Research Group, headed

by Christopher Leighton, a professor in the Department of

Chemical Engineering and Materials Science who is also the

department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies. At the suggestion

of his then physics professor, Braun began volunteering

at the Leighton lab in his freshman year. He then was hired in

the fall as an undergraduate research assistant.

“The research I’m doing is in material systems on a complex

oxide that has interesting electrical and magnetic properties,” he explains. “I’m looking at the physics that causes the features

we are observing, such as a phenomenon known as persistent

photoconductivity.”

“This funding [the Clifford I. and Nancy C. Anderson Scholarship] meant that the University was not only

highly regarded but also financially attainable for me.”

--Michael Braun

Persistent photoconductivity is a property that could prove

useful for any number of applications, for example in optical

switching devices. Complex oxides also are being investigated

for their potential use in a variety of other applications.

In the Leighton research lab, Braun plays several roles in

these investigations. In addition to working with the research

team, he has, on his own, set up an electromagnet and a closed

cycle refrigerator system that can reach temperatures as low as

8 Kelvin (-265 °C) without the use of liquid helium.

He also works on his own sub-project investigating different

properties of the complex oxide La1-xSrxCoO3, in his case the

complex oxide is a film as thin as 3 to 30 nm. Thin films in general

have additional applications that Braun is particularly interested

in, such as coatings for LED displays or on camera lenses.

A May 2015 graduate, Braun intends to go to graduate school

to obtain a Ph.D. in materials science. Due to the wide array of

potential fields to work in, he says it’s difficult to pin down exactly

what he plans to do after finishing his doctorate.

“I think this is a field with a lot of potential,” he says. “Take,

for example, cracks in roads and bridges like the one that led

to the collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis [in 2007]. That

could have been prevented with a material that healed itself

when cracks first appeared.

“This could save money and lives by making roads and bridges

much safer by alerting us to the fact that things are going

wrong before, say, the sudden collapse of a bridge,” he said.