Chemist David Johnson‘s research revolves around the creation of new compounds with new properties, using a breakthrough “slice and dice” method that he developed. This method involves slicing molecular structures into slabs, and layering the slabs together. “We try to understand how [chemical compounds’] properties correlate with their structure,” Johnson says, “so we can make new materials that have enhanced properties.” Johnson is also known for his discovery of materials with the lowest thermal conductivity ever observed.
When asked about his work, however, Johnson says the “key thing is the students.” Through the Materials Science Institute, Johnson created the Industrial Internship Graduate degree program, which trains 70-80 students annually for corporate internships. In 2014, the program saw 100% of participants obtain internships that pay an average salary of $50,000 per year. Historically, more than 98% of the participants get internships and nine out of ten participants get job offers with the companies that they intern with.
In his laboratory, Johnson attempts to tailor each student’s tasks to prepare them for their chosen career path. He emphasizes independent problem-solving skills, in line with his belief that the area for growth in his field is applied science — science performed to contribute to fundamental understanding, that also might lead to creating practical, real-world solutions. His advice for students is to pursue a focus that they enjoy, with the knowledge that some hard work may be required along the way.