Ageeth Bol is returning to her chemistry roots when she joins the University of Michigan Department of Chemistry as a professor of chemistry, beginning January 1, 2022.

Bol studied chemistry as an undergraduate, and through her masters and PhD at Utrecht University (in the Netherlands). Upon receiving her PhD, she worked at Philips Electronics and IBM TJ Watson Research Center in the New York area. “I did rather fundamental work in my PhD, and I wanted to do something that was more applied… It’s sometimes hard to see where [fundamental research] is going in the end,” Bol said. After ten years in industry, she took a professorship at Eindhoven University of Technology. “For me, the reason to move back to academia had to do with being able to really define your own research projects and go the best direction that you decide,” Bol explained.

Bol says the technical skills she gained from working in industry, as well as the ability to work on large teams of members with extremely interdisciplinary backgrounds, has been important in her last ten years as a professor. “I’ve tried to mimic industrial collaborations in academia. People with different backgrounds have a different feel for how to solve a certain problem, and this is beneficial for your research outcomes,” she explained.

This collaborative mindset has served her ability to work at the cutting edge of her field, which requires knowledge of chemistry, physics, and materials science and engineering. Specifically, she has mentored students and worked with colleagues whose backgrounds were as diverse as applied physics, electrical engineering, and theoretical chemistry, which she explained can sometimes be a major key to understanding a system.

“Ideally, I’d like to build up a group with chemistry students along with students of other disciplines. One of my atomic layer deposition tools will be in the clean room on North Campus, so I hope this stimulates collaborations as well,” Bol said.

Research Focus on Nanomaterials

Bol’s research projects focus mainly on optimizing the fabrication of new nanomaterials in order to scale up the synthesis to an industrially relevant level. “We want to develop new nanomaterials with functionalities that you can tailor,” she said.

The chemical and physical properties of some materials are quite different on the nanoscale compared to the same material on the bulk scale, and these unique properties can be especially useful for catalysis, quantum technology, and (opto)electronic applications in semiconductors. However, the fabrication of these nanomaterials is difficult, time-consuming, and difficult to replicate, so fundamental understanding of the fabrication of 1D and 2D-nanomaterials with consistency is important.

Her recent work focuses on addressing these challenges, specifically by using atomic-layer deposition (ALD) to create materials for specific applications such as photoelectrodes and electrocatalysis for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), and she has published in journals such as ACS Applied Electronic Materials, The Journal of the Electrochemical Society, and Chemistry of Materials just within the last few years.

It was the fundamental research, combined with the synthesis and characterization tools needed for her work, that made the University of Michigan’s chemistry department a good fit for her background, expertise, and research goals. The Michigan Center for Materials Characterization, known as (MC)2, will be crucial for her research projects. “Characterization is the first thing we do in the lab! We make a new material, and then we characterize it in order to optimize the synthesis. We do everything from electron microscopy to XPS,” she said.

In addition to her research goals  Bol is also excited for the opportunity to teach chemistry courses, saying “I would like to be teaching in the borderline between chemistry and materials science, which is where my strength is.” In her previous position as professor of applied physics, she had the challenging task of teaching courses in areas where she had not taken formal classes. “This was a steep learning curve,” she said, “I had to learn certain things from scratch, but it has a benefit because you can see where the learning bottlenecks are for the students.”

When asked about any advice she’d give to a current student who’d like to emulate her career path, Bol explained that she’s always been focused on researching in the areas where she’s interested, which has kept her excited about the research she is working on. “Do what you like, then it doesn’t matter whether you are doing it in academia or industry,” she said.

Outside of the lab, Bol is excited for all that Ann Arbor has to offer. She said her family has already been enjoying the Huron River--tubing, kayaking, swimming, and walking along the trails. She is looking forward to the weather and enjoying times with the diverse community in Michigan. “Our family kind of missed the United States because it’s a bit of a melting pot here!”

-- Taylor Soucy is PhD student in the McCrory group..