From clean energy postdoc to microscopy and nanomechanical testing expert

Filed Under: MAFNews

Q&A with Dr. Micah Glaz, MAF Research Scientist

September 16, 2020

How long have you been a MAF staff member? How did you come to work at the MAF?

I joined the MAF team in the summer of 2015. I had been working as a postdoc with Professor David Ginger on advanced atomic force microscopy (AFM) techniques when I heard about an open position at the MAF. I was really interested in the position for a number of reasons – it would allow me to continue living in Seattle, a place I love, and I would have the opportunity to teach more while staying close to the forefront of scientific research, which was what brought me to the UW in the first place.

What is your role?

As a research scientist at the MAF, I manage a range of microscopy and spectroscopy tools including three AFMs, a nanoindenter, a fluorescence microscope, and a Raman spectroscopy instrument. I also supervise our ultrafast laser spectroscopy system. Overall, I spend the majority of my time training new users on our equipment and helping users decide which tool is best for their characterization needs. Due to the diversity of researchers that use the MAF, my expertise has expanded from understanding the mechanical properties of biological samples, such as cells or biomaterials, to imaging 2D materials.

What’s your background?

I received my B.S. in Chemistry from UC Davis and my Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. My undergraduate research focused on analytical chemistry, specifically gas chromatography of phospholipid fatty acids in soil. After completing my undergraduate degree, I pursued an industry job in analytical and extractions chemistry at Air Toxics, LTD in Folsom, CA before heading to graduate school in Texas. My dissertation focused on understanding the morphological and electronic processes in organic photovoltaics using different microscopy techniques. As a UW postdoc, I worked on developing AFM techniques for understanding energy generation and losses in organic photovoltaics. Working in the Ginger lab really helped me hone my AFM skills and my microscopy skills in general.

Tell us about an interesting project that you’ve recently worked on with a MAF user.

A few years ago we added a Hysitron TI-980 Nanoindenter to the MAF, enabling us to further explore the structural properties of biomaterials, biomimetics, adhesives, piezoelectrics, thin films, microstructures, and more. One project that really demonstrates the full capability of this instrument, involved the characterization of adhesive bondlines. The aerospace industry often utilizes such bonded joints in the design and repair of composite structures; however, because of their micron-scale size, bondlines have been difficult to characterize. We worked really hard to make it possible for our user to utilize the nanoindentor to image, measure the dynamic modulus, and measure the local transition temperature along the bondline in order to observe the bond quality and performance. This analysis would not have been possible using an AFM so we are really fortunate to now have the nanoindenter!

What is your favorite thing about working at the MAF?

The team and how well we all work together! Everyone is super supportive of each other and our director Lara Gamble has done an excellent job guiding us. On top of that, I also really enjoy interacting with users and working with them one on one. It gives me the opportunity to learn about all of the cool research our users are doing while also educating the next generation of scientists and engineers.

How has COVID-19 impacted the MAF?

Due to COVID-19 stay at home orders, we had to shut down the facility for almost 3 months. It was a difficult time for us as staff as we could not be in the lab training and working with users and were really limited in what we could do from home. Thankfully, we are now open again, but due to safety precautions, we can only accommodate a few users and staff in the lab at the same time. Realizing this is very likely to be the norm for a while, we have been developing ways to help our users get back in the lab and get the data they need, while staying safe. We are working on creating online training videos and figuring out ways to train new users while maintaining social distancing. I’ve also set up a number of instruments for remote access so that users can gather data from the comfort and safety of their homes.   

Lastly, what are you passionate about outside of lab?

My biggest passion is cycling. I ride to work and try to do most errands by bike (rain or shine!). Besides cycling, I love doing anything outdoorsy: hiking, backpacking, climbing or running. Before quarantine, I was training for my first 50K race which I hope to be able to complete in person after this pandemic is over. I’ve also been active with the Mountaineers and volunteer time to help teach climbing courses.

Learn more about the Molecular Analysis Facility by visiting: https://www.moles.washington.edu/maf/