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James M

- Research Program Mentor

PhD at Northwestern University


Materials Science & Engineering


I like taking exotic materials from the lab and making them practically useful in the "real world." My research focuses on thermoelectric materials, which are materials that can convert heat into electricity. Thermoelectrics are often used to produce power on space missions, and are currently powering NASA's new Mars rovers and the Voyager probes. Working with NASA, I hope to take some new, advanced thermoelec materials out of the lab and make them usable on future NASA missions! I live in Chicago, where I love going to concerts and biking up and down the lakefront. However, my real passion is the outdoors. Whenever I can, I prefer to be outside of the city, backpacking, camping, or snowboarding (ESPECIALLY snowboarding). I hope to eventually visit every national park in the US - I'm about halfway there!

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

Phase diagram of coffee and different milks

In materials science, we like to mix different elements together and see what materials come out. If you record every material made as a function of elemental amounts, you can create a little map that shows people how much of each element is needed to create a specific material - almost like a recipe. These maps, called phase diagrams, are immensely useful for materials scientists. I have always been interested in the phase diagrams of simple components found in someone's kitchen. For example, how much milk can you add to coffee before the milk and coffee separates out to two different materials? How does this differ when you choose different percentage fats of cow milk? How about "alternative" milks? How does the temperature of the coffee affect the mixing? These very simple versions of phase diagrams can be interesting to the average person, without requiring the inaccessible/expensive equipment and high purity elements that most materials science researchers use in their labs. (image is a stock image taken from

Coding skills

python, MATLAB

Teaching experience

Professionally, I was a teaching assistant for physics and materials science courses throughout my undergrad and grad school career. I also mentored 9 younger graduate students through their thesis projects. Outside of my own schooling, I worked closely with a 1st generation American high school student in Chicago Public Schools to apply to and attend college. I am also a scientist pen pal who exchanges letters with elementary school students to get them excited about careers in STEM.


Work experience

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2020 - 2022)
Research Fellow and Visiting Researcher
ThermoAura Inc. (Thermoelectrics Startup) (2016 - 2017)
Materials Engineer
QuesTek Innovations LLC (2022 - Current)
Materials Design Engineer
Global Tungsten & Powders Corporation (2015 - 2015)
Product Line Technical Associate (Process Engineer)


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
BS Bachelor of Science (2017)
Materials Engineering
Northwestern University
PhD Doctor of Philosophy (2022)
Materials Science & Engineering

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