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Meet Jeffrey Mativetsky, physics

by Ethan Day

Jeff Mativetsky

The Department of Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy in Harpur College added Assistant Professor Jeffrey Mativetsky to its faculty in the fall of 2012. His extensive background is a good fit for the University’s expanding Division of Research.

“I ultimately decided on physics because it’s so fundamental a science,” Mativetsky says. “I felt that if I had that basis I would be equipped to tackle a broad range of subjects that interest me.”

As the Montreal native reflects on how he became a professor of physics, it becomes clear that he isn’t one for narrow or contained fields of interest. During his time as an undergraduate student at McGill University, Mativetsky was attracted to philosophy, physics, computer science, and neuroscience. And while he selected physics as his primary pursuit, other sciences still hold great appeal and relevance for him.

“Part of what I like about my research field — organic electronics and solar cells — is its interdisciplinary nature; it involves physics, chemistry, and engineering,” he says.

Mativetsky’s arrival on the Binghamton campus was preceded by a noteworthy academic path that spans both countries and continents. He received his PhD in physics from McGill University in 2006. He did his undergraduate work there as well. From 2007 to 2010, he was a Marie Curie Fellow at the Supramolecular Science and Engineering Institute in Strasbourg, France, and from 2010 to 2012 he was a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Environmental Chemistry Fellow at Princeton University. In explaining the importance of a far-reaching background, Mativetsky recalls three additional stops on his academic world tour.

“Working abroad allowed me to experience different cultures and research environments, to be exposed to different ideas,” he says. “In addition to working in France, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with collaborators in Sweden and Italy for several weeks. I was also a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Summer Program Fellow in the Electrical Engineering Department at Kyoto University for two months during the summer of 2006.”

Armed with this prestigious research background, Mativetsky is excited for the possibilities that Binghamton holds for him, and for what his research field holds for the world.

“The research that I’m working on is focused on using organic molecules to do electronics, so that means making devices like transistors or solar cells but based on materials that are very different from standard materials like silicon” he says. “This yields several potential advantages — the main benefits are that these materials are lightweight, flexible, and low cost, so you can imagine taking these properties and imbuing them on electronics.”

Mativetsky is teaching the basic fundamentals of physics in his first year at Binghamton, and while one might think that General Physics 131 is far apart from the complexities of his current research, important parallels exist.

“Introductory physics touches on so many topics. I enjoy fitting in real-world examples, particularly related to energy applications,” he says.

From the fundamentals of physics to the fundamentals of electrical function in organic materials, Mativetsky’s focus goes far beyond theory to the real world application of his research.

“I started with a very basic curiosity — I wanted to understand how the world works — however, over time I felt more and more compelled to apply the knowledge that I was gaining; I wanted to have an impact, so I’ve been moving toward energy applications,” he says. “Current solar cells are using semiconductors which are expensive to process. By using organic materials that open up new, inexpensive processing paradigms, there’s a chance to make solar energy accessible. We must first, however, better understand the physical properties of organic materials.”

There’s plenty to further Mativetsky’s research and curiosity at Binghamton, a key reason that, of all the places he’s been, he now finds himself here. Initiatives such as The Center for Autonomous Solar Power (CASP) and The Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing (CAMM) proved attractive.

“I saw that the University is really on track with good growth, particularly in the Physics Department, and the Analytical and Diagnostics Laboratory (ADL) has excellent facilities with tools and resources available for materials and energy research — I saw that this was a place where I could find good collaborations with other researchers.”

Seeing his relationship with Binghamton as long-term, Mativetsky is not only looking forward to the future of his own research, but also to the advancement of the Physics Department for future students. He plans to develop a course on energy science at the introductory level. And for undergraduates weighing fields to pursue, much like Mativetsky did, the elemental allure of physics might just win them over in this class.

“It will focus on introducing technologies like wind, solar, and nuclear, but also the fundamental sciences behind them and — the big picture of how we choose between these energy sources,” he says.

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Last Updated: 12/11/12