Alumnus Profile: Eric Toberer, Ph.D. 2006

Monday, April 18, 2016

Eric is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at the Colorado School of Mines and has a co-appointment at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Through his research, Eric seeks to design new materials for energy conservation through a mixture of solid-state chemistry and material physics.  The nexus of heat, light, and electricity offers both challenging materials design problems and societal applications.  While he runs a largely experimental group, the efforts are guided by high throughput calculations to predict material performance.   

Eric received the 2015 Cottrell Scholar Award, which acknowledges simultaneous excellence in the classroom and the laboratory and his efforts to bridge the two domains. Additionally, he is currently the Principal Investigator on two National Science Foundation awards to develop thermoelectric materials from radically different angles. In one approach, Eric and his team are using high throughput computation to lead the search for new materials, and in the other approach they are using exquisitely detailed measurements of charge carrier transport to unravel the behavior of known materials.  The research is particularly engaging because it allows Eric’s team to illuminate thermoelectric phenomena in two very different lights, from which new opportunities for designing materials can emerge. 

Looking back upon his time at UCSB as a Materials Ph.D. student, Eric offers the advice to current and future doctoral students to, above all else, collaborate extensively. He feels that students should learn every technique they can, and embrace serendipity. Eric encourages students to seek mentorship on soft skills since the ability to orally communicate the impact of their project is critically important throughout their careers. Additionally, the ability to receive, and ultimately offer, constructive criticism is an excellent path towards learning to empathize with an audience. 

Eric graduated from UCSB with his Ph.D. in Materials in 2006 on research advised by Prof. Ram Seshadri. Before coming to UCSB, Eric received his B.S. in Chemistry from Harvey Mudd College. Eric joined the faculty at the Colorado School of Mines after conducting several years of postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology. As a postdoctoral researcher, Eric found working with graduate students to be extremely rewarding and chose to pursue a career in academia to remain in an environment filled with people bringing fresh insights into science.

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