Student advising

Getting started in the lab

Before doing hands-on work in the lab you need to pass the lab safety quiz from the safety section of this wiki.

The admin page will help you get keys, a computer account (T drive access), print posters etc.

As part of a research team, there are a some fundamentals about how you conduct research.

Make use of online access to scientific journals for your research.

Both undergrads and grad students can benefit from funding opportunities which pay tuition and stipends.

Making the most of grad school

Some good advice from a recent PhD science-2015-advice.pdf

Examples of assignments for undergrad experience

  • Running the CNT growth furnace (preparing samples for grad students)
  • AFM characterization of samples (measuring CNT diameters for grad students)
  • Electrical characterization of samples (measure basic transistor properties for grad students)
  • Design/implementation of outreach activities and/or 211 labs.
  • Computer programming for data analysis (analyzing the single molecule events from CNT biosensor data)

Additional ideas for undergrad projects.

Graduating seniors and PhD students

Balancing TA Assignments with research.

PhD thesis guide and a checklist of final thesis formating from the OSU Graduate School. Ideas for farewell parties.

Discussion topics for the First Year Grad Student Research Seminar

Advice about undergrad scholarships, writing a senior thesis, applying to grad school and looking for jobs.

Committee meetings for grad students

A useful list of groups who do work closely related to our group.

Famous/inspirational quotes

Useful classes outside of physics


  • ph415 Computer interfacing. Offered in the spring. A good opportunity to learn labview and some other experimental techniques.
  • Machine shop class - The physics department has a nice machine shop on the 4th floor. To gain access to the machine shop you must complete a short course to learn machining basics. The class is offered “on demand”. The class is free and takes a few hours per week for 3 weeks. The class is useful beyond gaining you access to the physics machine shop. There are a lot of skills involved in getting things made that you can't learn without trying.
  • ph481 Physical Optics - This is a lab course where you will learn useful techniques for building optical paths and working with lasers.
  • Advanced Experimental Lab - This course doesn't exist yet… but we're working on it.


  • 481/581 Biophysics: “Introduction to the physical study of biological systems”. Intended for seniors and grad students. The course runs every year in a three semester sequence.

Chemical Engineering

  • 444/544 - Growth processes of nanomaterials (chemical vapor deposition, physical vapor deposition, plasma etching etc.) Capstone project is the “Design of Experiments” (DoE) optimization of a virtual CVD reactor. Classic text book on DoE is “Design and Analysis of Experiments” by Montgomery.
  • ? - Semiconductor processing lab class - build and characterize a modern MOS-FET transistor on a silicon wafer, doing every step yourself. A good intro to making carbon nanotube transistors.
  • 417/517 - Characterization (Light spectroscopy, electron spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction, AFM, SEM, TEM etc.)


  • 221 - Scientific, Engineering, and Social Impacts of nanotechnology (survey course).


  • 499/599 Special topic: Physical chemistry of nanomaterials, taught by John Conley. Ask Jorg.


  • 445/545 Physical chemistry of surfaces, taught by Phil Watson.

Writing an Experimental Paper

Basic formula

based on wisdom from Paul McEuen 1/19/05

Title: State Main Result Clearly (note: there is only one main result in any paper)

Abstract: Summarizes results that lead to the claim in the title

Body of the paper:

  1. Introduction – gives historical perspective, background, leading to the central burning issue that this paper resolves.
  2. System – describe devices, apparatus, etc used.
  3. Data – describe with no interpretation the bulk of the measurements performed. (Just the facts….)
  4. Massaging – describe any nontrivial analysis you did to make things clearer
  5. Theory – present any theory needed to understand data
  6. Interpretation – describe what you think the results mean.
  7. New experiment - present one extra bit of data motivated by 4-6. (“If x is true, then y should happen. We measured, and indeed y happened….”)
  8. Conclusion – repeat central result of paper and then say a few words about its implications for previous or future experiments/theory.

A few comments:

(4)-(6) can get mixed up sometimes, but keep them as segregated as humanly possible. “What I think” should not get mixed up with “what I did”. For this reason, ALWAYS keep (3) unsullied by interpretation. You are an experimentalist first. Report the results of your experiments. After you’ve done that, you can comment on them. (and if you keep your comments separate, people are free to ignore them if they think you are full of hooey. But they can’t ignore the data!)

Be careful to properly reference other people’s work. Similarly, be careful to delineate what you did that was new, versus what other people did, versus you did that confirms what people did before. (note that this is commentary, and with few exceptions should not be allowed in (3)). Do not assume that the reader knows the field.

Intellectual Property

Before submitting a paper is standard to secure any possible financial benefit of yourself and the university by the process of disclosure.

Type setting conventions
  • Roman symbols (a, b, c…) are always italicized.
  • There is always a space between a number and its units, for example 10 mV. (10 and mV are treated like two separate words).
  • Abreviations and acronyms are writen out in full when they are needed at the start of a sentence. “Figure 3 and Fig. 1 both show CNTs. Carbon nanotubes are not seen in other experiments.”
Writing Style

There is a good, up-to-date article at the website for the journal “Nature”: how to write a Nature paper.

A critical aspect of doing science is producing clear, concise writing. One of the most influential and best-known guides for writing clear, concise english is "Elements of Style" by Skunk & White. The text of this book is available for free on the web: free text.

One of the many tools that helps make writing clear and unambiguous is the comma. Bill Bryson has written an excellent short explaination of comma usage. This excerpt is taken from “Bryson's dictionary of troublesome words”.

When writing a scientific article, you must be familiar with the conventional framework of scientific articles. The only way to gain familiarity with this framework is to read many articles. You will start to notice techniques that good authors employ (especially as you start to write your own article). For example, in the article by Sazanova et. al, try reading only the first sentence of every paragraph. In this way, you can grasp the strucutre and logical progression of the whole paper in sixty seconds. The style ensures that you are never lost and you can quickly locate information you are seeking.


Preparing figures requires the same skills as preparing digital artwork. You have an 8.5 cm wide column to prepare a 300 dpi image that visually communicates a range of information. A single figure often includes multiple graphs, a cartoon of the experiment, an AFM image and many text labels. Powerpoint is often useful for assembling all the components of a figure and create a balanced layout. The powerpoint can also be rearranged later to give a talk.

The weakness of powerpoint is the limited export options. The final format of the figure will be a high resolution jpg with the correct linear dimensions and pixel dimensions (unless you are submitting to Nature journals, which accept powerpoint files). A useful way to export from powerpoint is the “print screen” button on your keyboard. This gives you 1200 pixels to work with when the screen capture is opened in photoshop. Linear dimensions and pixel dimensions are easily controlled using photoshop.

Evaluating a proposed research project

Establish the goal, the path to achieve the goal, the milestones that will indicate good progress, and the major challenges.

If there are more than 2 major challenges, go back to the drawing board.

If the project is successful, will it be worthwhile? i.e. Does it score 6 or more on either of these rubrics:

Anticipated ImpactWhat it will enable
1. no publication1. sets the field back
2. conference abstract2.
3. 3. unlikely to be cited
4. 4.
5. APS/ACS specialized journal5. Follow up paper
6. Nano Letters6. Extensively cited
7. 7.
8. Science, Nature8. New applications
9. 9.
10. Nobel Prize10. Changes the field

Tips for scientific posters

Ethan 2/14/2008

  • Avoid writing detailed text. Most details are better explained in person. Let the figures and figure captions tell the story. Text which is absolutely necessary must be big.
  • Graphs must be easy to read. Axis labels and tick numbers at least 16 pt and curves drawn in bold lines.
  • Don't use more than 2 different font sizes. For example, 16 pt for labels and references, 20 pt for important captions.
  • Imagine presenting the poster to someone, the poster should include all the diagrams and graphs to support your explainations.

There is more to learn. An excellent overview of how to make a great posters was recently published by people working in the Cornell Physics Department: how to design a scientific poster.

Books and blogs about nanotechnology and condensed matter physics


Doug Natelson's Blog from Rice University.

Introductions for the layperson

Ratner & Ratner wrote an excellent book “Nanotechnology:…” in 2003. It shows how many concepts in nanotech can be related to Coloumb's Law.

Books that need a little background

“Soft machines” by Richard Jones (2004), examines the idea that we can copy the living cell. What will work, what won't work.

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