Hovden and Heron mark special career milestones

Both assistant professors recently had their first Ph.D. students graduate.
Hovden and Heron mark special career milestones

Assistant Professor Robert Hovden and Assistant Professor John Heron

A Ph.D. defense is obviously a momentous occasion in the life of all doctoral students. But it’s also a meaningful milestone for assistant professors, especially when it’s their first student to earn his or her doctorate.

"The first Ph.D. student dissertation defense is a once in-a-lifetime milestone in any assistant professor’s career, just as a Ph.D. defense is a big moment for the student,” commented MSE chair Amit Misra.

This spring both Assistant Professor Robert Hovden and Assistant Professor John Heron celebrated this special event with students Jiseok Gim and Peter Meisenheimer, respectively.

On March 10, Jiseok Gim defended his Ph.D. thesis, “Hierarchical Nanostructure of Natural Biominerals and Man-made Semiconductors.”

Gim joined Hovden’s group in December 2016, when he came to U-M after earning two MSE degrees from Korea University and working briefly at LG Chem. At the time he had little knowledge of electron microscopy, but, under Hovden’s expert and patient guidance, Gim’s materials characterization skills began to grow – one image at a time.

“Without any frustration at all, he started to teach me step by step theoretical background, experimental and computational skills by himself,” Gim said. “During the first six months that I was learning scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), he showed me multiple times how to align the electron microscope, put a sample on-axis and image with sub-angstrom resolution, and take an EELS map.”

Under Hovden’s tutelage, Gim eventually mastered the skills necessary to study hierarchical structures in natural biominerals and man-made semiconductors that traverse the atomic, nano-, micro-, to macro-scale using electron microscopy. Over the course of his four years in the Hovden group, Gim produced two first-authored papers and eleven co-authored papers.

“During my time in his group, my skills as a researcher, writer, and presenter dramatically improved as a direct consequence of his skill in these areas and how closely he works with his students,” Gim said. “With his understanding and patience, I was able to focus on my research and get the most out of my time as a Ph.D. student at Michigan.”

Post-graduation, Gim plans to apply his materials characterization skills at Intel (Hillsboro, Ore.) as a PTD Module & Integration Yield engineer. 

"Working with Dr. Jiseok Gim throughout his Ph.D. is one of the most productive and rewarding experiences I've had,” said Hovden. “He is extremely considerate and pleasant to work alongside and brings people together within and across laboratories. I look forward to seeing Jiseok's future contributions to science and technology."


Two weeks after Gim’s defense, on March 24, Ph.D. candidate Peter Meisenheimer defended his dissertation, “Disorder-Engineering of Ferroic Properties,” officially becoming Assistant Professor John Heron’s first Ph.D. student to graduate.

Meisenheimer joined the Heron lab in July 2016, after graduating from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s in MSE.

“I wanted to work with John pretty much immediately after meeting him,” Meisenheimer said, “because it was clear how excited he is about research and the projects we have been working on. John is also very approachable and cares a lot about his students.”

In addition, Meisenheimer added, Heron highly values creativity in science, which comes through in his own work and how he directs his students.

“One of the most valuable things I have learned from him is how to leverage creativity into new projects to come up with more impactful science,” Meisenheimer said. “I can also say that I am confident in the quality of the work that I have done here. For all of my projects, I feel like I have done everything to as high of a standard as I can, in part because John really pushes for students to be independent and to be proud of what they do.”

The research that Meisenheimer is proud of is finding new materials and designing devices that can mitigate heating from electronics, saving a tremendous amount of energy in the long run. To this end, his research explores the frontiers of materials synthesis to engineer new, sustainable, non-volatile devices with unprecedented performance. His research centers around discovering new ferroic states in disorder-driven materials. This includes synthesis and characterization of new, magnetic, entropy-stabilized oxides and device implementation and optimization of existing composite multiferroic systems. Through these projects he has experience with many aspects of materials design, ranging from material deposition and basic characterization to nanolithography and coupled electronic measurements.

This summer Meisenheimer will be moving to California to start a post-doc position in Berkeley.

“Working with Peter has been a blast,” Heron commented. “He is intelligent and applies his creativity to his projects. I, along with others in the field, learned a great deal. I wish him the best in the next stages of his career and look forward to seeing more great work from him.”

Congratulations to Robert and Jiseok…and John and Peter!