Julia Downing

My journey in science has come full circle. In 5th grade, I won the county science fair with my project called “What’s in Your Water?” studying water quality of local bodies of fresh water with a friend. Fifteen years later, I am using advanced top-down manufacturing techniques to fabricate flexible sensors that will one day be able to detect lead and other heavy metal contaminants in drinking water. As a PhD student at Northwestern University, I am able to leverage knowledge of nanoscale materials like graphene and boron nitride in the design and creation of novel device systems (transistors, sensors, and batteries). I love my job!

I’m originally from Maryland, USA and got my B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park on a full scholarship that motivated me to work as hard as I possibly could beyond the classroom. I quickly fell in love with research by my sophomore year and participated in a research experience for undergraduates in Kyoto, Japan five years ago focused on nanotechnology. After NanoJapan, I knew I wanted to pursue a doctorate within this discipline and came to Northwestern to learn from some of the most ambitious thought leaders in the nano world. I am also the incoming president of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE) at Northwestern, and a GEM Industry Fellow (being half-Cuban, half-American). My experiences as a multi-ethnic woman in STEM have catalyzed a desire to make academia more accessible to women and people of color, while becoming the first member of my family to earn a PhD. However, it takes a village, and my PhD journey has been enriched by the community of women in STEM and having the opportunity to support one another. My long-term goals are industry-focused; I dream of leading a team of researchers in research & development, bridging the gap between advanced materials and consumer products. I can’t wait to see devices reimagined by nanotechnology improving lives of those around me! I would also love to teach someday, perhaps as an adjunct professor, but there’s no telling what the future holds. 🙂

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