Kathy Aidala

Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Changing the electronic status quo, Kathy Aidala works to increase the efficiency of devices and characterization methods.  She is an expert in altering electronic states with magnetic and electric fields and watching topographical features, magnetism, and charge transport through scanning probe microscopy (SPM).  With these tools, she studies charge transport in nano crystal quantum dots with an eye towards improving the efficiency of devices using quantum dots and arrays.  Such devices include LEDs, photodetectors, solar cells, and lasers.  The Aidala group also studies the magnetic states in ferromagnetic nano structures with the goal of increasing magnetic memory device bit density for the next generation of computers.  Kathy not only has the pulse on how electronic state heavy lifting can improve devices but also how mechanical characterization can aid our understanding of soft materials.  In collaborative projects, she has worked on understanding how bacteria stiffness influences adhesion and growth of cells as well as characterization hydrogel thin films with the aim of folding gels into useful structures.  There seems to be no limit to how cleverly Aidala applies the laws of physics to improvement of devices and increase our understanding of physical systems.

Kathy had her research start working on single electron transistors as undergraduate Applied Physics and Psychology major at Yale. After earning her Ph.D. in Applied Physics at Harvard with her dissertation on “Imaging magnetic focusing in a two-dimensional electron gas,” Kathy Aidala joined Mount Holyoke College in the fall of 2006.  In 2010, she received the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, individuals whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America's pre-eminence in science and engineering.  This award was “for her ambitious studies aimed at understanding critical charge transport mechanisms in nano crystal quantum dot materials, and for her comprehensive education and mentoring activities for female undergraduate students.” 

Her research has been published in Nature Physics, Physical Review Letters, and Nano Letters.

She has written over forty peer-reviewed articles, earned over a million dollars in funding, and has mentored over 35 undergraduates and over 5 post-doctoral researchers.

Although this award recognizes Kathy for her outstanding scholarship, she is also a beloved faculty member.  Her students say:

“She taught me lifelong tactics and she made me aware of some of the challenges many women face in the field of research.”

“Kathy Aidala is the kind of person you want to keep listening even when your brain is hurting and you can't register anything anymore. She can deliver incredible amounts of information in a succinct, quick lecture.”

Kathy also cares deeply about issues of underrepresentation of women in science, particularly in engineering, physics and computer sciences, and is often asked to speak on this topic. She teaches a course on Gender and Science, where she opens the eyes of her students to the effects of unconscious biases and stereotype threat.  She started the popular SciTech café, which is supported by the Community-Based learning program at MHC and Materials Research and Engineering Center and the Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She is a regular contributor to Amherst Live, and she appears monthly on The Bill Newman show on WHMP to promote SciTech Café and to talk about science.   She was named by Nerdwallet as one of “40 under 40: Professors Who Inspire.”

For all these reasons, the College is fortunate to have Kathy Aidala to represent us!  Given the importance of her scholarship and her dedication to bringing science literacy to this institution as well as the broader community, please join me in honoring Kathy Aidala with the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship.