Posted in ISM Stories
Alexis Demirjian is a graduate student in Georgetown’s Physics department, in the second year of her Ph.D. program. Currently, she is part of ISMSM Director Emanuela Del Gado’s lab. She is funded under the National Science Foundation’s DMREF grant (Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future). Alexis’ research focuses on cement hydration and calcium silicate hydrate (C-S-H), one of the compounds that forms and is responsible for the strength of cement-based materials. Alexis works to examine these nanoparticles with the aim of performing rheological tests, such as shelf life and fatigue tests. Her goal is to understand the shear stress and flow, so it can be applied to 3-D printing, a main focus of the Del Gado lab to make the construction industry more environmentally friendly.
Alexis has recently been trying to stabilize the C-S-H gel. Since the particles are free-flowing and random in the space, one can’t perform shearing on the gel due to thermal fluctuations. Therefore, Alexis has been exploring different methods to equilibrate the gel. She runs simulations using the molecular dynamics simulator LAMMPS (Large-scale Atomic/Molecular Massively Parallel Simulator) to precipitate the gel and better understand the system.
An initial interest in science was sparked for Alexis while taking IB classes in physics and calculus in high school. She continued with introductory physics courses at Barnard College, where she fell in love with the physics community. Seeing the supportive environment, and enjoying the professor who would later become an important mentor for her, Alexis was drawn to the physics community and all the impressive work they were doing. Her advisor encouraged Alexis to take a research position over the summer at the Flat Iron Institute, where she examined data concerning the Andromeda Galaxy under Dr. Sarah Pearson. Not only did Alexis get to be listed as an author on a paper, but she also discovered her love for computational physics. The next year, Alexis worked with the Department of Energy’s SULI (Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships) to do work with spectroscopy at Princeton University’s plasma physics lab. The continuation of computational work helped direct her path to where she now pursues computational work at Georgetown.
Alexis appreciates the soft matter community because she feels there’s many directions for applications and she finds the basis of squishy materials that one can change to be interesting. In particular, the colloquium given by Emanuela Del Gado on cement piqued her initial fascination. Alexis feels that soft matter allows her to utilize her background in computational physics and molecular dynamics without going into quantum mechanics. After enjoying soft matter in classes, she found her interest and background made her a good fit for the Del Gado group.
The chance to collaborate with others is a big part of what makes research enjoyable for Alexis. Even when working on individual projects, she never feels alone because she can always ask a colleague about their work, and learn about the breadth of research being done. She also enjoys the diverse scope of possibilities for future research directions and applications of her experience. Not only is it exciting for her that there are endless niche fields for people to explore, but there are also many ways to advance far in one’s career.
Alexis’s current research in the Del Gado lab is a project she’s especially proud of and excited about. Even though she is still at the beginning stages of the work, she thinks it can lead somewhere really interesting. She also enjoys getting to be part of collaborations under her grant, working with researchers and experimentalists from Northeastern University, the University of Delaware, and the Air Force.
A big draw for Alexis in choosing Georgetown was how small and close-knit the Physics Department is. She also appreciates how Georgetown is flexible with the comprehensive exam, which allows her to focus on classes and research opportunities. However, the biggest factor in her decision was Georgetown’s ILP program (Industry and Leadership in Physics) that gives her the opportunity to take part in an internship during her Ph.D. program so she can explore the industry facet of physics research and not just academia. This is especially beneficial because in the future, Alexis is hoping to work in industry. Although her future is open-ended for the moment, she is especially interested in potentially working in a government lab, and she has the possibility of interning with the Air Force’s research lab in Dayton, Ohio through her grant.
When asked if she has any advice for young scientists considering pursuing research or graduate school, Alexis recommended taking advantage of all the opportunities and resources that schools provide, as there can be a lot more than people realize. Additionally, she says to talk to as many people as possible, including professors and graduate students like her!